Hi, I'm Charlayn. With a PhD in Fine Art and Masters degrees in Sculpture and Ancient Cultures, I'm a complete creative Classics nerd.
There was a time when artists could remain aloof while critics and dealers explained their art to the world. This system was exclusionary, but it had its benefits: imagine if Picasso and Braque, instead of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, had explained Cubism to a wholly unprepared audience for the first time. That artistic revolution might never have made it out of their studios.
Nowadays, artists are increasingly expected to explain their own work, with varying results. After all, many people express themselves through visuals because words fail them. I like to think that I'm not completely incapable of providing at least some insight into what I do, and why I do it. But I still like to dream of the day my Kahnweiler comes along.
I'm intrigued by how humans imbue the things we create with meaning, and how both objects and images can acquire, hold, lose, and shift entire sets of associated ideas depending on their contexts. I'm particularly interested in scenarios where an image or an object has become so familiar that it is noted but not scrutinized, and the ideas associated with it are abbreviated to the most commonly agreed-upon highlights. This is a natural feature of the human brain: skimming over the familiar allows for focus on the unfamiliar in case it poses a danger. A consequence of that selective focus survival feature is that familiarity invariably induces a type of invisibility. Where an image or an object no longer activates intentional visual analysis on a regular basis, the set of complex ideas associated with it lie dormant.
I use a process of iconographic substitution to provide new visual formats to concepts and ideas that appear to me to be trapped in images and objects that have lost the ability to provoke curiosity. My chosen subject for this re-calibration is archaic Greek literature, the equivalent of cultural wallpaper in most Western contexts. Here in South Africa with its mixture of African, European and Asian cultures, I have the advantage of experiencing the Classics through a different lens, as familiar and unfamiliar in equal parts.
The complex artistry of the Homeric and Hesiodic poems is largely obscured by translations aimed at making these works as accessible as possible to modern readers. The result is an emphasis on content, character, and plot at the expense of form. An experience of the full mesmerizing strangeness of ancient poetics, both in terms of their composition and content, remains the preserve of specialists. I spent years acquiring academic specialization in this field purely so that I could find a way to allow modern viewers to encounter these ancient artworks as unfamiliar, intriguing, and new.
My fascination with objects is reflected in my preference for sculptural assemblage. I do not use objects without altering them in some way, and will where needed, simulate objects and construct forms from various materials. Not only does using objects with preexisting associations allow me to construct visual puns and metaphors, it is also the constructive process most similar to the creative strategy of oral-formulaic composition that Homeric scholars theorize produced archaic poems such as the Odyssey and Iliad.
I prefer to use predominantly mass-produced utilitarian objects designed for personal or hand-held use. As a result, the scale of my work is relatively modest, reflecting the world of every-day items, the types of things with which humans are most likely to forge a meaningful connection.
Allusions to ancient art and artifacts do occur, the most obvious of which is my use of color. Ancient sculpture was painted in vivid (and by modern standards) garish colors. The simple act of changing an object's color, or even adding pattern or other surface detail to it, can completely change how it is seen and interpreted. The bright colors in my sculpture change, reanimate, and unify the objects used to construct it, while nodding to antiquity.
Another core trait of my work is symmetry. Assemblage and collage are largely associated with visual chaos, chance, and randomness. By contrast, my works are deliberate and measured with carefully calibrated proportions that are worked out in advance through the production of scale drawings. Symmetry is a characteristic of art from the Geometric period, when the phonetic alphabet was just coming into use, and before the Greeks began to favor naturalistic representation. It lends my works a sense of quiet timelessness, and enables me to place each element within the sculpture in clear relation to the others.