Charlie Edmiston | Artist
Artists are the original, quintessential rebels. Stretching across centuries and funneling through different mediums, whether it be music composition, fashion design, painting or sculpture–rebellion is a driving force for creativity. So it comes as no surprise that abstract artist Charlie Edmiston laid his foundation with graffiti, by first finding expression as a street artist. Putting your artwork out in public–on the streets–certainly requires a guerilla-stye sensibility. Being rooted in taking risks has evolved into an impressive signature approach to his work, which boldly celebrates color, often in large scale pieces. Undoubtedly, the calling to create for this Los Angeles native is in his blood. Charlie graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and comes from a family of artists (his father was a Calligrapher and his Grandmother was a Cartoonist). Although his work spans from small to large, geometric to free form, he consistently channels an undercurrent of verve, vivacity and challenges the viewer with compelling compositions of color. Last week we were welcomed by Charlie (and his Dachshund, Luna) into his Venice studio, where we saw color come to life.
When did you first discover your creative calling? Was there a particular event or experience that first spoke to you as an artist?
Like most people, I started drawing and making art when I was a little kid and then basically never stopped. I painted my first large-scale mural early on in high school, and just continued from there. One experience I can still remember that definitely had an impact, was visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam when I was very young. Although I couldn’t grasp the importance of his paintings, nor did I really know who he was, just seeing such an incredible body of work had a huge influence on me.
How did you practice and evolve your technique over the years? Did you ever have a mentor or formal training that pushed you in a certain direction?
Everything evolved during my four years at art school. I went from painting photo-realistic, grayscale oil portraits to vibrant hard-edge abstractions by the time I graduated. My mentor for a few years while I was attending Otis was Scott Grieger, who I owe a lot to. He is an amazing artist and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Although he’s not an abstract painter, he pushed me to continue in that direction and introduced me to the work of many artists that would later help guide me.
What creative risks have you taken to get to the place where you are today?
Painting graffiti for 13+ years is probably a big one. Running across freeways in the middle of the night, to climbing countless buildings and billboards just to spray my alias all over the city, was pretty risky. It was a risk in the literal sense, but also trying to make it in the fine art world having a background in graffiti isn’t always easy and some equate it to illegitimacy. However, my early years as a “vandal” gave me unparalleled experience with color, composition and ultimately served as a starting point for the work I make today.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
I haven’t dabbled too much in the 3-Dimensional world, but the last series I just completed sparked the beginning of a new direction, with new materials. The pieces hang on a wall but definitely have a sculptural element to them, which I’m very excited about. I share a studio with a friend of mine that mostly works with metal and he’s been showing me the ropes and helping me execute some new ideas.
What are your daily rituals that keep you in a creative, productive flow?
Aside from the essential morning Starbucks run, organization is my key to productivity. If I know the house and studio are clean, I can begin the day with a clear head. If the studio is a mess or I don’t have a list of all the projects that need to be completed, it’s very difficult for me to get anything done. Music is also a big part of the creative flow. A carefully curated playlist can help do wonderful things.
What’s on your playlist while you’re working in the studio?
When I’m working on a painting or mural, I’m always listening to music and very rarely work in silence. There is a producer from Belgium named “The Magician” who releases an hour-long continuous mix every month. These mixes have basically been the soundtrack to all my work for the past few years. There is another band on the complete opposite side of the spectrum that I’ve been listening to a lot. They’re an African psych-rock band called “Witch” from the 70’s (not to be confused with the metal band from Massachusetts).
Is there a past or present artist who has been highly influential or impactful on how you approach your art?
There are many artists from the past that have been highly influential, but Ellsworth Kelly is my all-time favorite. The evolution of his work and how he used shapes and color has absolutely had an effect on my art. As for the present, there is an artist named Jason Williams (aka “Revok”) that is doing some very interesting stuff. Observing his constant progression and work ethic is truly inspiring and pushes me to think about the future of my own work.
One of the perks of living in Los Angeles is our proximity to all types of natural environments. Tell us about the last road-trip you took.
I recently went to Solvang, which is a little Danish town about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara. There is an amazing ranch up there I’ve been going to for years with my family. The property is beautiful with a huge man-made lake in the middle and it’s surrounded by mountains. It’s always a surreal feeling being in that setting and knowing you’re so close to the city.