“My most successful moments in the studio are when I’m sitting down, looking at the canvas and just waiting to figure out what’s happening. It’s not like following a recipe. It’s very much waiting, seeing and trying different ideas.”
Bloom, 2022, Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 55.88 cm © The Artist
Kelly Foster – How are you finding balancing being an artist and a mom?
Charlotte Evans – Finding time to paint was always difficult as soon as kids started coming along, but being a mum has solidified some of the ideas that I had around my work. Being a painter was my identity first and foremost, and then being a mum is something you can’t switch off either. When I’m with the kids, I’ll think about painting, but when I’m painting I will have moments of feeling guilty that I’m not with the kids. I was completely exhausted after having kids. You’re hallucinogenic at some points, and then there are moments of quiet where everything percolates, and all of the layers start to come out.
KF – Can you tell us a little bit about your work?
CE – My work is about identity, belonging, how our environment shapes who we are, how it makes us feel and our relationship to that environment. I absolutely love colour, and I wanted an excuse to be able to play with colour all the time. Landscape served as a perfect opportunity for that. I love drawing and the more illustrative side of me became bolder and found its own voice.
I was always very interested in how we inherit our DNA and the traumas and experiences of past generations. I’m interested in nature and the stories we’ve been told which inform our relationship with ourselves, who we become and the effect that the environment has on us.
During the early stages of my kids’ lives, I couldn’t make bigger works so I started making small 7×7 inch gouache paintings. The work was becoming more illustrative, layered, narrative, intimate and jewel-like. I was using small gouache paintings like a sketchbook, where I could experiment and play with ideas in a safe space. These would then inform the bigger paintings. There is a close relationship between the two formats.
Fold, 2021, 7 x 7 cm, Gouache on Paper © The Artist
KF – Your works are excellent at incorporating colour to fuse the figures in the foreground with the background. The works have a sense that everything flows together.
CE – There has to be harmony in a painting for it to feel finished. The subject may change a million times throughout the process, but it has to feel balanced to be resolved. I’m interested in harmony and how it can be unsettling or affect the mood of the work.
KF – I chose the painting Bloom for the cover. Can you tell us about that work?
CE – I have done very few portraits, so it was slightly uncomfortable for me. Currently I’m working on something much bigger because I felt that I managed to get to a place where I felt comfortable with Bloom. I’m working on something where the figures are far more frontal whereas previously they’ve always been a ghostly shadow in the background.
My mum was an actor and I grew up going to the theatre a lot. I used to think about my paintings as a pop-up paper theatre that we had as kids. There’s layers of scenery that drop back and the figures and everything else comes into the foreground. I’m thinking more about having one plane at the front to bring the decorative aspect together.
Crown, 2021, Gouache on paper, 7 x 7 cm © The Artist
KF – Looking at the painting Friends and Relations, there is a cutout quality to the layering of the florals and silhouettes of figures in the background.
CE – In Bloom there’s more of a confrontation with the portrait looking directly at the viewer, which is something I don’t do often. The small gouache paintings allowed me to have more figures in the foreground, which I’m comfortable with. For a long time I was very engaged with landscape, but I ended up needing more. That’s not to say that I think my work will ever be purely figurative. Even if the work has multiple figures, they don’t often engage with one another or the viewer. The figures are always very solitary. Ultimately my work is about our relationship with one another and the impact our environment has on us.
KF – What’s your process like? Are there certain experiences that you have which you reflect on?
CE – The time I have is very broken, so I don’t have a strict process. There’s more risk now than there used to be. I always do the gouaches in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed when it’s quiet. The gouaches are like sketchbooks of works. I’ll have a flash of an idea and I paint the gouache immediately to get the idea started on paper. I feel very comfortable with the square format. I don’t often refer directly to the gouaches when I start a bigger painting. I have an image of something, and I feel like it’s in those moments when I’m least paying attention and my brain is very calm.
My most successful moments in the studio are when I’m sitting down, looking at the canvas and just waiting to figure out what’s happening. It’s not like following a recipe. It’s very much waiting, seeing and trying different ideas. Some paintings are far more fluid, and with others I have to try a lot of things out to make them work. I feel like now there’s a thread that runs through everything. When I’m almost done with one painting, another painting is already presenting itself in my ideas. It’s like a really good conversation carrying on and flowing.
KF – In Kith and Kin there are figures holding hands with a lot of florals. It seems different from the other two works. What was the inspiration behind it?
CE – Kith and Kin is more about the figures and solidarity. It was painted during the height of COVID. Originally it had two figures who weren’t connected, but were looking towards one another. During the pandemic, during the periods when we couldn’t be close to anyone, all we wanted to do was hold someone’s hand and be connected.
For the arches, there’s a lot of history associated with them. They provided a safe space and a nurturing shape to put over the top. I didn’t want to make COVID paintings, but I don’t think any of us could really avoid it. Everyone’s work was impacted one way or another. By not having as many florals, it also has a more serious tone. I didn’t want it to be pretty or to distract from the core of what I wanted to do.