Charles Williams

Charles is taking part in our coming Home is a Feeling show in Faversham on 13th and 14th November.

Describe what you do as a creative.

I am a painter, I also write. At the moment I am (I hope) at the end of a PhD, in which I am trying to work out what I have been doing in the past thirty years.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Chicago, in the hospital that is featured in the TV series ER. My Dad, who was a professor of chemistry, had a sabbatical year at Northwestern University, and I came too. When we went back he began teaching at the newly formed University of Kent at Canterbury, in what I now realise was a beautifully made Brutalist building, purpose built for the Natural Sciences. Now they study Business or Media or something there. Bit sad. Anyway, I then grew up in East Kent.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Writer, artist, actor. Something like that.

How did you begin doing what you do?

I failed so miserably at my public school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, just not any of the horrible things everyone else was doing. Then I tried a second time at some A levels at what was then Canterbury Tech, and found myself spending lots of time in the Art department, which was then two rooms. Mary Stockton Smith smuggled me onto the Pre-Foundation course before my parents could find out, and I was able to drop the frankly rather dull A levels. Then I went to Maidstone College of Art, where I did my degree, and then, joy of joys, the Royal Academy Schools in London. Since then I’ve been an artist.

What turns on your creativity?

No trigger necessary. Just being in the studio. Honestly. Painting is about the best fun you can have with your clothes on, and I don’t need a project or an exhibition or something to get me going.

What do you like best about your work?

It’s always in flux. There are never any endpoints, because one painting suggests another, and I could just go on finding interesting things forever, really. I like the way I can have a sort of conversation with other artists, too – my painting might answer their painting, and theirs might set a problem for mine.

When were you most satisfied in your work?

It’s wonderful to sell a piece, because you can afford more paint, more canvas, more time in the studio: it’s better to win a prize for it, because you have the money and you still have the painting. But the best bits are with the paintings, when a problem you have set yourself starts to resolve and you can see it all fall into place.

Describe a memorable response to your work?

Early in my ‘career’ I had a show at Rye Art Gallery. There was a painting that I’d shown in another exhibition that I had painted in response to a painting by Ribera called ‘The Flaying Of Marsyas’, mainly because I liked the idea of a figure upside down in a group of standing figures. This had resolved itself into a painting of a man having an epileptic fit while on a country walk with his family. Why I thought anyone would buy it I don’t know, and I remember thinking ‘when this painting returns from the show I’ll take it out of its frame and re-use it’. Anyway of the two paintings that sold at the show, this was one. I asked the person who bought it why, and she said that it reminded her husband of his father, who had epilepsy.

What is the most exciting part of your work at the moment?

I have a couple of interesting projects on the go – one is working with on another exhibition like, and the other is a solo show at New Arts Projects in London in 2022

What is your dream project?

See above

Which artists / creative people are your heroes and inspiring figures?

I have lots and none at all. Arthur Neal taught me at Maidstone and has remained a friend and mentor. At the moment the painters I am most in thrall to are Phil King, who is also the editor of Turps Banana, a magazine for painting founded by Marcus Harvey, and Dexter Dalwood, who Phil introduced me to. All three of these are contemporaries, people whose abilities, self-awareness and intelligence far outstrip mine. There are so many other artists whose work I look at, from the Fayum portraits in Roman Egypt to Annibale Carracci, from Joseph Highmore to my friend Iain Nicholls, who I guess, along with Tracie Peisley, is the person I talk about art to most.

Your idea of happiness


What art/creativity related book should everyone read?

Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy by Michael Baxandall

Tell us a lesson life has taught you.

It just goes on

Anything else you would like to add

Humans find things beautiful for reasons. Art has a lot to offer, and without asking yourself honestly why you think something is beautiful, you won’t get very far. Being satisfied with what’s easily on offer is a recipe for a dull life.

Author: nathalieb