“My paintings are a reflection and expression of unification. It is not about trying to represent beauty. It is about looking beyond that.”
Meeting Charley, artist and capoeirista
It would have been an absolute pleasure to visit Charley in Colombia, where he currently resides. However, a tight schedule before Try it ART’s San Francisco exhibition prevents me from straying too far. So a web-meeting is what we have to settle for, for now at least.
Once we settle into the conversation, it becomes clear that I am talking to an interesting man today. Charley is his name, Charley Jones. An artist, and a capoeirista with a strong sense of social responsibility and a special interest in ancestral heritage. “We are all connected as people, as beings, whether we like it or not.”
“Nothing can inhibit you”
Granted a special protected status as “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO, Capoeira combines dance, acrobatics, and music. It is considered an ancient Afro-Brazilian martial art technique with deep cultural meaning; practiced in a variety of styles, all over the world. Especially in the UK, the Capoeira Angola style, originating in Angola, Africa, is currently used as a tool in sports development to create positive social change. Charley, who has the British nationality, explains he sees it as a social movement to help people and youth cope with living in a capitalist society. And he loves not only to practice but also to teach it.
Expression through visual art and movement has been very important to Charley since he was 5/6 years old. It continues to be a big part of his identity, and his inspiration to create. “It is a way to unify us as human beings and to enjoy life. One of the higher levels of enjoyment even, shutting everything negative out. Art provides me with the opportunity to do just that and is the ultimate celebration of freedom. Nothing can inhibit you.”
Charley’s subject matter, especially his portraits, is heavily influenced by South America, and ancestral reflections. For him, art is about one world, understanding the other; learning from and about each other. It is about acceptance, and freedom of identity, capturing this cultural heritage on canvas. Facial features, expressions, feelings of struggle, and the beauty or sadness of it. Sometimes revealed, sometimes more outward. It is all part of the process of painting for Charley. With an end-result that is not about the aesthetics. “I start with pretty and nice, then I mess it up in a way and go back in to fix it. A painting is not complete without that struggle: did I go too far, did I truly ruin it this time? I cannot leave a painting until I have worked through that state of angst. But I have the freedom to let the process take place. I am an artist, not a designer.”
It is the way he learned it from his abstract painting teacher. This man, unfortunately no longer with us, used to tell Charley: “Keep going, go deeper, give more. It is not done yet. It is not about ecstatically pleasing paintings, yet about bringing your subconscious in your work.”
On the floor or on an easel, Charley starts with an intensive charcoal drawing before layering the colours. An unusual and undefined layering of pigments. Sometimes veering away from the original which can be a photographic reference, memory, nature of simply looking for images to help him with composition. It often is a mixture.
“My art is made to be shared”
Although attached in a certain way to each of his paintings, he needs them to go back to the people. “I have all the images of my paintings inside me. I want people to enjoy them, I want them to have access. My art is made to be shared.”
Charley has found a nice balance in life between the individualistic and lonely hours of painting and his more community focussed Capoeira training and teachings. He sells hats on markets and loves to paint outdoors, in parks.
I hope to meet Charley in person, one-day soon. For now, I feel it is my task to share his beautiful art with you and I do hope you enjoy it. Are you also curious about what his late art teacher would think about his ex-students work today?