They say taking a picture is akin to stealing a piece of someone’s soul, and placing it on to a flat sheet. If that is so, then I would go further and say that painting a portrait is akin to absorbing someone’s soul, filtering it through the lens of the painter’s soul, and smearing the glorious culmination on to a blank medium. Charlie Schaffer is one of these soul filterers/portrait painters. He has painted numerous portraits of his friends over time, where each of them yield unique outcomes. I think he would agree if I say that painting portraits is a good way for him to learn more about his friends. I ought to know this as he had also painted my portrait
Charlie studied Fine Art at the University of Brighton, majoring in painting. We met through a mutual friend in a pub – a cliche Brighton situation. As it turned out, both of us share various interests. Some more peculiar than others. We both love the blues and we also love to surf. Charlie loves and listens to a lot of blues music. I figured the blues augments his soul with a touch of melancholy. This translates to his paintings, and can be seen with his choice of colour and style. For instance, I found that Charlie tends to use lighter colours and hues. An artistic selection that has the propensity to emphasise the finer features and translates more emotions out of his portrait subjects.
The subjects of Charlie’s portraits are generally people from his life – his friends and families. The people he comes in contact with regularly. Since each painting generally takes some time to do, each of them is a product of a close relationship between Charlie and his subjects. I think this is the reason why each of his paintings appear to have come from a natural and organic inception. The judges of the Lynn Painters-Stainers Award seem to agree. Charlie was the winner of the Young Artist Award 2014. His winning portrait painting, Antonio, was chosen over more than 2,000 other entries. He has used a portion of his winning prize to set himself up in a studio in London – painting and filtering souls regularly.
In the age of social media – of Facebook and Instagram, and of selfies and instant gratification, a painted portrait is no longer ubiquitous. There is a certain quality in the experience of having your portrait painted, and Charlie is trying his best to keep that experience alive.
HOW DID YOU COME ACROSS PORTRAIT PAINTING, AND WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN FOCUSSING ON THIS GENRE?
I had always been drawn primarily to drawings and paintings of people. Whenever I would pick up a pencil to draw anything, it would be a face. I suppose most children would probably draw a face of some kind if they were told to draw something. As one goes through the years in art school, understandably, they would try to lead you away from figurative work in an attempt to explore other areas. Retrospectively, I have realised that I’m quite a naturally contrary person by nature, so I guess the persistent advice not to paint people only increased my tendency to do so.
For me, the major attraction to paint people, is the fact that you get to spend a prolonged period of time with another person, in a setting that can only occur through the act of sitting for a painting. It is very rare these days for one to be able to just be alone with another, and talk for hours at a time. In this sense, the painting is more of a means to facilitate the experience, with the end result being more of a by-product of the experience rather than the sole purpose.
HOW LONG DO EACH PORTRAIT SESSION NORMALLY LAST? AND WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST OUT OF EACH SESSIONS?
Each session usually lasts about 2 hours, with breaks in between. Obviously, the duration varies from sitter to sitter, and from session to session, depending on many factors affecting both mine and the sitter’s life. That variance between each sitting, due to life getting in the way, is what keeps me painting from life. The idea of knowing exactly what one is going to do and how it is going to go before one has even started (in terms of painting and in other areas in life) seems terrifyingly dull to me. By painting from life, one has to allow certain things to be beyond one’s control, and to work with whatever happens.
PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT THE PORTRAIT ARTIST WHO HAS INFLUENCED YOU THE MOST?
Lucian Freud has definitely been the biggest influence in my progression as a painter. His paintings tend to depict people as piles of meat, rather than a being with a consciousness. However, it was his ability to look at the subject with such tenacity. He had the ability to really see, and this attracts me to his work. He never allowed his past understanding and preconceptions of what a person may look like to bleed into his work. Rather, he saw each part and painted each stroke with a freshness unrivalled in my eyes.
Arry at Brighton Creatives