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Charley Peters was born in Birmingham, UK and now lives and works in London. Starting from an interest in the legacy of hard-edged abstraction, her work considers the manifestation of painterly language in the context of contemporary visual media. She is concerned with the spatial potential of the painted surface, on which she applies subtle variations in colour, tone and scale to construct illusionary light and structural depth. Peters exploits the materiality of paint through layering, opposition and juxtaposition, exploring the disrupted syntax of pictorial composition synonymous with our experiences of reading space, substance and abstract form in the post-digital image world.
FINE: We are honoured to have you here today. Thanks for giving us this opportunity to get to know you more. Could you briefly introduce yourself in one sentence?
Charley: I'm a painter based in London. I make work that originates in the language of hard-edged abstraction but sometimes challenges what that means in contemporary terms. I'm interested in the spatial potential of painting, the relationship between image and surface and I'm led by colour. I also sometimes write about abstract painting. That's more than one sentence I know, but I don't always do what I'm supposed to...
FINE: Have you always known that painting would be the focus of your career? Can you share some stories about the very beginning?
Charley: I've always wanted to be an artist. I was an introspective child and spent a lot of time in my room drawing and reading. My parents separated when I was young and I wasn't very good at making friends - I was very shy and enjoyed creative side things more so than being outside with other people, drawing was my way of thinking and speaking. These days I, talk a lot and have plenty to say, I'm not sure what happened there. More importantly, I still love making things, the impulse to 'do' has never gone away.
FINE: Where did you grow up and how has the city moulded your perspective?
Charley: I grew up in Birmingham, UK. It was an urban, ugly city then - full of concrete buildings and noise. I'm not sure if it had an impact on my work but it probably did on my sensibility, the way I feel about spaces, structures, colour and light. I mean this positively; I'm not sure I could ever live in the country, I like cities and the sense that there are always things happening around me, I think quickly and find it difficult to turn my mind off.
FINE: Could you please share about your concept behind your practice?
Charley: The term 'concept' sounds too deliberate, I'm not sure this is the right word for what I do. I'm not trying to prove anything, it's more like an ongoing process of investigation that could go on forever.
FINE: What is your methodology and working process, for example, how do you decide the colours, composition, and their relation in your work？
Charley: Decisions are hard to articulate in work as they don't all come from a conscious place. It's difficult to identify what is purely instinctively made and what might be based on prior knowledge, logical thought or reason. I always start with colour and I think this is intuitive, I pick up a colour without too much thought and apply a ground that I then look at spatially and divide it up into different areas of pictorial information. I consider how the application of paint can change the painting's surface, either physically or in illusionary terms. My process is a mixture of chaotic 'doing' and more rational thought but it's hard to say where ideas or decisions come from. On each painting I will keep adding and removing/overpainting elements until the painting feels balanced or 'still', and then I know it's finished.
FINE: What is your relation to your art, is it a personal reflection?
Charley: I don't think so, but again, it's hard to say definitively. I don't intend there to be anything of 'me' in my work. I remain emotionally detached - my paintings are not precious to me, they are 'work' and they are difficult things to make, I don't feel sentimental or particularly warm towards them. I think that I am objective and experienced enough to always walk into my studio and paint regardless of how I'm feeling, but at the same time I can see how my mood or how tired I am might impact on the results - but more significantly I know that I work very hard and I'm strong-minded enough to think that I can paint over and above my feelings. I always feel good in the studio, it's a space where I feel free. My work isn't about me, it's not about anything other than the act of its own making. I feel totally compelled to make it.
FINE: How do you distinguish yourself from the other contemporary painters?
Charley: I think I have my own ways of doing things that are distinctly different from other people. I think in material and formal terms, more so than pictorial ones. I feel like I'm on my own journey, finding my way as I make each new painting and that this is a long process in which I never stop learning about paint and what it can do. Although I may see people making work that might somehow feel similar to mine, I'm sure that we aren't doing the same thing.
FINE: In this post-digital era, we found that your work has a "second life" existing on your social media and online, how does this virtual environment influence your practice and what is the relation between the two lives of this one artwork?
Charley: I'm not sure if it influences my practice in terms of what I make, but it does play a significant role in how it is circulated - more people will see my work on Instagram than they will in a gallery and as such their perception of it will be skewed towards an image-experience rather than a surface one. Screens are a very seductive way to experience images, especially those involving colour and graphic forms. In the flesh my work looks more like a painting than it does on screen, there are inconsistencies in the execution of it because I'm a person and not a machine. Things like scale change how the work feels and on Instagram everything is the same size - it's a dishonest portrayal of the work albeit an attractive one. I like that painting, which is a very sensual, physical experience, can also exist virtually as a sort of beautiful lie.
FINE: Who is your favourite artist, and what inspired you the most?
Charley: It's too difficult to name just one artist when you paint I think there is so much to learn from a lot of different artists - paint is tricky stuff and everyone deals with it - and the problems of colour and composition - in their own way. Certainly, Carmen Herrera has a significance for me, as well as making strong, confident paintings she also exemplifies the true resilience of creative spirit over a long career. Likewise, the focused and sustained enquiry of Agnes Martin over her lifetime is something that I am inspired and encouraged by. I recently had the great pleasure of spending time with Tess Jaray, who I interviewed for Instant love land, an online forum for new writing on contemporary abstraction. Tess is an amazing artist and the experience of talking to her about her work has given me so much to think about in terms of what I do and wider issues around an abstract painting. She's a very inspiring person, I'm hugely grateful for the time I've had with her.
FINE: I am wondering how your home interior looks like. Are they the same palette as your paintings?
Charley: My flat is very minimal. I hate clutter so it's always tidy and clean. I like cold light so I have very bright daylight bulbs at home - I can't stand warm lighting; it makes me feel sleepy and irritated. I have artworks from other artists in my home but none of my own, I'd almost certainly drive myself mad looking at my own paintings in my living space. So no, it's quiet and calm at home and that's important to me, it's completely separate from my workspace.