Interview: Charles Wilkin
First few basic question, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?
Hi there! I’m Charles Wilkin, a collage artist, beekeeper and designer. I currently split my time between studios in Brooklyn and the Upper Delaware region of the Catskills Mountains in New York. I grew up in Grand Island, New York, which is a rural suburb of Buffalo and relocated to New York City in 2001 after living in Arizona and Ohio for many years.
Why collages? How you started to do them? What was the first thing that really caught your attention and made you want to do your own collages?
To be honest I fell into collage by accident in college when I was late for my drawing class. I was not prepared with paper or pencils; all I had was some poorly printed photos from my previous class, which happened to be across the hall. My teach Ms. Dawson took pity on me as being late has never been my thing, she suggested that I use my photos to make a collage. I was terrible at printing photos and always had dust on everything so in weird way this idea seemed ok too me. She gave me some books on Joseph Cornell, Juan Gri and Robert Rauschenberg and I spent that class make collages. I don’t remember what I made but in the end Ms. Dawson saw this was working for me, I never really liked figure drawing and the need for perfection that seemed to come along with that medium. Collage felt natural and I loved how spontaneous it could be and found inspiration in the challenge of making something out of nothing. And to this day these are the very same things that motivate me to make collages. A collage can be anything and there are no rules conceptually really. It’s always moving, changing and that’s the mysterious part of collage that still fascinates me even after all this time.
Your collages are very recognizable – usage of colors and beautiful mixture of realism and dreamy shapes creates hypnotic ensembles that takes my breath away everytime. How you quickly you found your ”style”?
Wow thank you! This honestly is a difficult question to answer really as I feel like I’ve always been working in a way that’s me. The look or style of my work has certainly evolved over time, as it will with every artist. But I’d say where my work is today is a direct result of many years of continuous experimentation and a willingness to push through the awkward times when things were not working. There is maybe a handful of pieces I’d say are those break out moments when things changed and whatever I was looking for became clearer. I don’t ever like to say I’ve found some type of answer creatively because the beauty of collage is it’s never the same twice, ever. I know that sounds vague but for me collage has always been about letting the process itself be my guide conceptually. I think the key to finding your voice as an artist is to know when it’s working both emotionally and visually then committing to exploring that idea fully until your work gives you the signal its time to move on a new idea.
“The beauty of collage is it’s never the same twice, ever.”
What’s the best part of the collaging process?
Finishing. It’s an exhilarating and euphoric moment of pure joy, calm and peacefulness.
And then, what’s the hardest part?
The hardest part for me is fumbling through the moments when a collage is not working and the answer seems lost or impossible to find. It’s like waiting for a balloon to pop or watching that Bjork movie Dancer In The Dark. So stressful!
How critical you are about your works, how easy/hard is to finish your works? Is there any singular part of the creating process where you often find yourself struggling?
I’m very self critical, often to a point were it can be problematic and self-defeating. I’m constantly working and reworking my ideas as I go. Which is why it’s probably hard for me to know when I’m simply frustrated by the process or just over thinking it. Perhaps it’s one in the same? I’m not really sure. But I do think being critical of your work is important, I see it as a motivator, filter and direct means to push my it further. I often find the frustrating part of collage to be somewhere in the middle of the process, it’s that grey area where my ideas are coming together but the scraps I’m working with are not what I want or need at that moment. I almost always finish a work in one sitting, I never liked leftover dinner as a kid and the same goes for collage. I prefer to live in the moment and I’d say in general I rarely abandon a work because there’s always success in a “failure”.
Do you observe your development as an artist? And when was the last time you had an AHA -moment while creating and what was it?
I’d say I’m generally aware of my progress creatively but it’s not really something I actively analyze. Usually once a work in done and scanned it goes in my flat file and I move on to the next one. Sometimes If I’m feeling stuck I will hang previous work on the walls as reference but this is rare. I really do prefer to keep moving and not get too hung up on a previous success or failure. I feel there’s always some sort of small Ah-Ha moment towards the end of each piece, sort of when everything comes together. The bigger break through moments certainly less frequently and usually after months of struggling with new ideas.
What drives you forward as an artist?
For me, it’s an innate desire to create, endless curiosity and a willingness to accept failure as part of the creative process. Taking creative breaks were you do no work are also very important as a means to recharge and discover new ideas.
You have showcased your works in many art shows and been featured in various books and medias… So what’s next?
More shows and books would be very nice, but I’m hoping to explore larger scale work, sculptures, collaborations and multi media, perhaps film. Only time will tell…
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?