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Six of the Best, Part 27

Interviewee number 27 in this series is painter Nancy Charak, who is one of my studio mates in the Cornelia Arts Building, Chicago, to which I moved two months ago. (Previous interviews: 123456789101112, 13, 141516171819202122232425, 26). Her work caught my eye because of its force and expressiveness. If you live in Chicago, you can see her work at an upcoming open studio -- after which she is moving out to the western United States. Last chance, Chicagoans!

"Orpheus & Eurydice_12," 8" x 8", watercolor on clayboard

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Nancy Charak: For the last three years mostly watercolor on paper and on birchwood panels. I have worked in oils and acrylics on paper, panel and canvas and enjoyed the work I produced. But watercolor is my natural medium of late. I prefer to work on paper or panel, and I work much less often on canvas. I like to work into the watercolor while it is both wet and dry with pencils and other marking tools, the paper and panels display more details and sublety than rougher toothier canvas.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Nancy Charak: I am actually staring at a 36” x 36” canvas that I had set aside because I couldn’t decide if it was finished or not. Also there is a 30” x 22” watercolor on panel that is waiting to be worked on, but that one is not in the “don’t know if it’s finished” category, it definitely needs more. And, episodically, on sketchbooks.

"Snowmass," 48" x 48", watercolor, graphite, prismacolor on 140# Fabriano Artistico

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Nancy Charak: My sketchbooks are a surprise to me. Even more surprising and delightful is how well they’ve been received. For the longest time I shied away from sketchbooks, thinking that each page had to be special and that notion got in the way. Then I saw how Darrell Roberts and Ruyell Ho go at their sketchbooks. They work unselfconsciously with elan and joy. I realized that was the same process I use on my other paintings, so I just eliminated that mental thing about fear of sketchbooks.

Let me add one another note about sketchbooks. I had a chance to go through a large number of Judith Roth’s sketchbooks, spanning her entire artistic endeavors. Judith, for all that she is totally a figurative artist who cannot work without a live model in front of her, is also unselfconscious with her sketchbooks. She avoids worry about proper fit or composition, she just dives in. Sometimes, there’s a sketch where the foot or some other body part falls off the page, that doesn’t bother her, she just flips and goes to the next page.

The sketchbook lesson or creative surprise is not only about being unselfconscious, but about quantity, about constantly being engaged in making art.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Nancy Charak: I read a lot, voraciously. At the age of seven my father taught me how to speed read. I have a passion for big stories, King Arthur going from Star Wars back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Beowulf battling the monsters from the dark underworld, the new Battlestar Galactica which is quite simply the Aeneid on a giant space borne aircraft carrier, the buddy story in its migration from Gilgamesh and Enkidu through Sam and Frodo to Thelma and Louise. And of course, I’m now totally in thrall to Game of Thrones.

"Realization," 30" x 22", watercolor, graphite, prismacolor on 140# Fabriano Artistico

Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Nancy Charak: I honestly can’t answer that. My father was an artist, my mother had an artistic soul, my brothers and I grew up in a house that had music, paintings, photographs in it as a matter of course. No one ever demanded that we color in between the lines. We had paper, pencils, crayons always.

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Nancy Charak: I suppose I could answer with one of those philosophical explanations about some sort of feedback loop. It took me a long time to actualize the difference between worrying about being an artist, and just making art. The latter is a much easier posture.

At some level and in some place in an artist’s psyche is the willingness to step into the unknown. This kind of courage is not necessarily a drive to produce something totally unique, but to see if that frontier can be approached. At times it seems like a quest, a search, a journey, and perhaps like Gilgamesh, we don’t find any answers, but just get to ask the questions.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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