An Interview with Charles Sluga

 

I decided to interview myself.
I just hope I don't get into an argument with myself!

CI - Charles Interviewer
CA - Charles Artist

 CI - Thanks for joining me today.

CA -  My pleasure.

CI-  Let's start at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to be an Artist? 

CA - I didn't think of career choices when I was very young,  I would just draw.  It was  just something I did.
I don’t know if  I was drawing while still in the womb, but I remember in primary school staying inside at recess to draw. I also remember some early portraits I did of my father. I was probably about 9 and I would draw on cheap cardboard with a bad pencil. It was in my early twenties that I made the actual decision to be an Artist.

WHY PAINTING CAN BE DANGEROUS

CI - So did you have any lessons?

CA - Yes, I grew up in a small country town and when I was thirteen I would go to a local Artist every Sunday to learn how to paint in acrylics.
Carmen Puls was her name and she introduced me to the old Masters through her collection of books (which I now have).
I would occasionally copy one of the paintings as practise and we would also go out en plein air painting (or as I like to call it since I'm not French "painting outside" :) ).

It was a special time … Sundays with Carmen … (laughs) … she used to drive this old black Holden with fins … I think it was an FB.
I remember she almost killed us once when she swerved into the path of oncoming traffic while looking around for painting locations …. I thought my life was about to come to an abrupt end at thirteen.  At the last minute she looked back at the road and returned to her side of the road ... and all it cost me was a clean pair of underpants :)
I  never realised painting could be so dangerous.

CI – Do you remember any particular paintings you did with her?

CA – Yes, of course.  I still have some of them.  I remember finishing a copy of a Rembrandt painting called 'Man in Armour'.
Now it probably wasn’t that great, but I thought it was brilliant (remember I was about 13 or 14).
I remember walking home with the painting tucked under my arm – I walked very slowly making sure the painting was facing the road.
I really thought someone driving by would see it, screech to a halt, leap out, tell me I was a genius and offer to buy the painting …. it never happened, but I still live in hope :)

 My Rembrandt copy when I was 13

My Rembrandt copy when I was 13

CI - Did you study Art at school?

CA - Only in the early years of Secondary School. Then I went into the Sciences.

CI -  Yes, I have heard that you have a Bachelor of Science, with a major in Mathematics. This seems to be a contradiction to being and thinking as an Artist.

CA - Not at all. There is a correlation between Mathematics, Music and Art. Have you heard of  Leonardo da Vinci? :)

CI - Are you saying that you are some kind of genius?

CA - No, of course not.  I am just saying that there is a link between these different disciplines. 
One of the most important aspects of painting is design and that is linked to harmony, cohesion, unity .... something that is often found in Mathematics and Music.

 Charles Sluga Contemporary Watercolour Artist

CI – So would you say that Mathematics has helped you with your Art?

CA – Well, I wouldn’t say I get the calculator out when I  paint, but I think indirectly it has helped me in working with pattern and design …. but I think more importantly, really, Mathematics has taught me to problem solve and think …. and there is a lot of problem solving that takes place when painting.

Yep, doesn’t make it sound very romantic does it? ..... but when painting, you ask yourself a series of questions and you need to work out the answers.

CI – What about emotion or intuition?  Doesn't that come into it?

CA – Of course, but it isn’t as simple as that ….. it is a combination of all those things. Emotion, intuition and problem solving ..... and other things including blood, sweat and a lot of tears.

CI - So you learnt acrylic painting with Carmen, but you are a Watercolourist.
Tell us a little about that.

CA -  Well after I finished secondary school, I studied Engineering for three years (and hated it), so I dropped out and did the Mathematics Degree. Studied a Graduate Diploma of Education and then became a Mathematics and Physics teacher for a short time.

THEY LAUGHED AT ME WHEN I SAID I WAS GOING TO BE AN ARTIST, BUT WHEN I STARTED RECEIVING RECOGNITION OVERSEAS.....

CI - Then what happened?

CA - Well, I went to an Art exhibition.  It wasn't anything major (just a small local group exhibition in Bendigo where I lived), but it stirred the desire in me to go back to Art.
I guess that is when I  finally decided I was going to be an Artist.

They laughed at me when I  said I  was going to be an Artist, but when I started receiving recognition overseas and also winning exhibitions, they stopped laughing.

So I studied drawing for a year and then oil painting for a few years with an Artist who worked as a tonal realist.
However, then I discovered Watercolours and fell in love with the medium.

THE SIMILARITY BETWEEN SKY-DIVING AND PAINTING IN WATERCOLOUR

CI - Why?  What is it about Watercolour that you like?

CA - Well, I still love oils and acrylics, but it is Watercolours that give me the biggest adrenaline rush.
It is like sky-diving .... they both involve risk, speed and adrenaline, but painting a huge Watercolour is more exciting :)

Watercolour painting is not for the faint hearted.
It is a bold and exciting medium …. unless of course you are one of those people who do prissy little watercolours.
Watercolour is not for wimps :)

CI – Don’t people think of watercolours as soft and pale … and dare I say "prissy"?

CA – You are lucky I am in a good mood :).
Look, many people think of Watercolours that way because that is all they have seen .... but it can be as bold as an oil.
If this perception of Watercolours being prissy is ever going to change, then it is up to us … the Artists to change that, and if we keep on doing the same thing and not bring Watercolours forward into the 21st Century, it will always be seen as second rate and a pale comparison to oils.

 Charles Sluga Contemporary Watercolour Artist - 1812 Overture

WHAT DEFINES AN ARTIST

CI - There are some that come into your Studio and Gallery in Yackandandah and expect to see paintings of the local landscapes, the historic buildings and main street, and are surprised not to see them.

Some may even criticise you for not doing them.
Why do you not do them?

CA - The simple answer to that is because I am an Artist and not merely a painter .... and there is a difference!

I am not interested in painting chocolate box lid paintings of the local scenes. That has been done to death … and it kind of comes back to the prissy or standard kind of work.

CI - But isn't that what people want?

CA - Some people may, but there are plenty who want their Art to be more than that.  Anyway, the question isn't what people want, but what do I want to express as an Artist?


Don't get me wrong ... Yackandandah is a beautiful town and I love the people here and living here, but that doesn't mean I want to paint it. There is a certain demographic that think that things like gum trees, sheds and dirt roads is what Art is, but my Art is deeper than that ... and more personal.

Just because I live in the country, doesn't mean I have to paint clichés of country scenes.
I am not interested in doing the tourist snap shot painting of Yackandandah and surrounds. 

Of course I paint scenes on occasions but it is not about copying what is there ... recording the scene.  It is about looking at it with an Artist's eye.

The painter copies, but the Artist manipulates and composes to present a fresh look .... or at the least his/her vision or interpretation.

CI - Some people may describe you as a bit arrogant.

CA - Yes, I have heard that, but there is a difference between being arrogant and being confident, passionate and focused on what one does ....

CI- but isn't  

CA- let me finish please..... 


I have been doing this for thirty years and I know what I am doing.  If that seems arrogant to some, so be it.

As I said earlier, I do occasionally still paint landscapes or local scenes, but this isn't what I generally consider to be my 'real Art'..... unless I come up with something fresh and new.

It was Whistler who said, "an Artist is not paid for his labour, but for his vision".

I just don't think there is much vision happening with most paintings that are done of local scenes.

CI - Are you saying that those people who paint landscapes are not Artists?

CA - Not at all, but what I am suggesting is that those who paint the standard scene in a standard way, haven't matured as Artists. They don't often take risks with composition or technique and produce what I  refer to as 'beige' paintings.
I see this all the time.
Let me clarify that - just because you paint landscapes doesn't mean you aren't an Artist. It depends on the motive behind it and what you manage to do with the landscape ... what you are saying ... how deep the work is.
See, it isn't about simply having good technical skills .... that is a given ... it is about vision and interpretation and creativity.
That is what separates the 'Artist' from the 'Painter'.
Look, I don't care what others paint.....what ever floats their boat. I am just telling you where I am coming from with my work and my opinion of what makes an Artist.
 

CI - So, if you don't  paint local scenes, what can people expect to see when they come to your gallery?

CA - Quality Art :). Seriously though, they will see some landscapes, but very few. They will see watercolours with a difference (also works in other mediums).
Watercolours outside the square.


Here is an example - I had a young couple walk past my Gallery and not come in initially because they thought they were going to see the standard Watercolour paintings of Yackandandah.

Anyway, they eventually did come in and to use their words were "blown away".
They said, "You are a monster ... we never imagined watercolours could look like this and the compositions are amazing".
A few thousand dollars later they left with a painting, and more importantly a new appreciation of watercolours .... and that isn't an isolated case.  I love changing people's perception of watercolour painting ..... especially young people.

 

 This painting completed a few years ago now, is full of stories

This painting completed a few years ago now, is full of stories

CI - So, will you ever paint Yackandandah and surrounds?

CA - F&$*, back to that again.  I am obviously finding it very difficult to get across what painting is about to me.

I have been described as a research based Artist, but that doesn't mean every painting I do has research behind it.
Let me put it this way .... yes, occasionally I have painted a scene of the area, but it is not particularly difficult and has no challenge for me.
The simple answer to your question is yes,  I will ..... but not until I have something to say.

I remember someone coming into my Gallery once and asking ..."Where are your paintings of Yackandandah?"
I said, "here it is", taking them to my painting of a milkshake maker and flavour bottles.

They looked at me strangely and said ..."Why would you paint that?  Who would buy it"?
It always makes me laugh .... not only was the comment rude, but they missed the point completely .... as if the determining factor for a painting is if someone will buy it or not .... and before you ask .... yes, it did sell ..... but not to them ... thankfully :)

CI - Do you swear often? :)

CA - F#$&  no! .... only when I'm painting.

 Five Flavours

Five Flavours

 

WHAT HESTON BLUMENTHAL AND CHARLES SLUGA HAVE IN COMMON

CI -  To finish off this first part of this interview,  I want to ask about something that was written about you in the Sunday Mirror in the UK.
In an article by Margaret Yue, she describes you as -
"the Heston Blumenthal of the Art world".   What do you think she means by that?

CA - I guess she is simply implying that there is research behind much of my work and .... I have this science background .. .I push the boundaries of the medium .... and I also use technology to help me with my paintings ....  I guess Heston does all these things with his amazing dishes ..... or maybe she just means that I am bald and wear dark framed glasses :)

CI - Join me next time as I ask Charles Sluga questions about his Art, influences and direction ... I may ask him about his dog too :)

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