Cecilia Charlton’s work combines elements of painting and craft, building in an interest in pottery and needlework to a painterly sensibility of color and form on a surface. I was happy to see some examples of her work at the Royal College of Art degree show, and thrilled to share them here with you!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am currently based in London, but I grew up in Corning, NY and studied for my BFA at Hunter College in NYC. I recently completed my MA Painting at the Royal College of Art in London. Before finishing my BFA in 2015, I completed year-long apprenticeships with two ceramic artists: Anne Schliffer (pottery) and Tim Rowan (wood-fired ceramic sculpture). This craft-based training informs my approach to my current studio practice. Another large influence in my work is to do with my family history. I am a third-generation textile artist — my mother is a seamstress and my grandmother completed her MA in textiles in the 1940s. My work draws on these influences — textiles, craft, abstract painting — to highlight the emotions tied into personal as well as human history.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My path towards art was a long and winding one. I have lived many lives. When I was 19, I studied to be a professional SCUBA diver. Then I began studying engineering, dropping out after one semester — I quickly realized that engineering was not for me. After a backpacking stint in Central America, I went to a vocational school to learn silversmithing. Then came the pottery apprenticeships. Each of these steps brought me closer and closer to my final destination: Fine Arts. In 2012 I enrolled at Hunter College, and finally began painting. In painting I found the creativity and commitment that was present in pottery, but also a greater sense of freedom. In this environment I flourished, and it has led to where I am today.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
In my practice, I explore personal history as well as cultural associations connected with textiles. Textiles as materials and processes open up the conversation to many metaphors: time, calendars, diaries, digitization/pixels. This range of themes result in works that seem both historical and contemporary, both deeply personal and relatable. I have transitioned away from abstract acrylic painting and towards this new form of textiles over the last year, and look forward to plumbing the depths of its possibilities.
What is your process like?
I read quite a bit — both fiction and non-fiction. There is a necessary balance of intellectualization and narrative which I think plays out in my work. The duration of the works has changed significantly since my transition into textiles. The needlepoints that I create take months to complete, rather than weeks. This has been a welcome change, as it forces me to embraced a more expanded time scale. I work within knitting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, and embroidery. I also sometimes paint in oils, when the project calls for it. The difficulty is that in the space of my studio it is hard to work on painting and textiles at the same time. One medium requires cleanliness; the other, a degree of mess.
What is your studio like?
I am quite fastidious in my studio. People often remark that it is the cleanest artist’s studio that they have ever seen. It seems necessary for me to maintain a high level of order so that my thoughts can also remain orderly and for the work to get made. An important fixture for my studio is a broom, which studio mates often find quite amusing — until they would like to borrow it for themselves.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
For me, the most daunting aspect of pursuing art is the internalization of other people’s reactions to your work. It seems that one could carry on happily creating work forever were we to be simply making for ourselves — for our own pleasure or our own benefit. This becomes complicated when our work is evaluated by others, we become influenced by what other people like, what other people don’t like — our motivations become distorted once we engage in the larger scope of an artistic practice. Our own opinions cannot help but be altered as we observe viewer’s reactions. I am constantly questioning this in myself, and attempting to decipher which path forward is the one with the most integrity.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Tactile, laborious, colorful, attentive, human, honest, open, personal, well-crafted
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am working on a series of needlepoints called “As a child, the only things I drew were rainbows and unicorns”. This is a true statement — most of my childhood drawing were of rainbows and unicorns. I question my role as an artist — my siblings creative projects had much more scope, innovation, and ingenuity and yet I am the one who is working as an artist. The work will consist of a series of 8 needlepoints, all the same composition but completed in a different ROYGBIV color, and installed on top of a wall painting which will also be the ROYGBIV colors.