Kent's very own portrait prize winner, Charlotte Harris
In the heart of Folkestone's Creative Quarter, Kent's very own portrait prize winner, Charlotte Harris, creates some mouthwatering pieces.
Words by Diana Crampton pictures by Manu Palomeque
A couple of years ago, I was in Charlotte Harris’ studio, admiring her burgeoning portrait of a mature woman. What struck me was the texture of the sleeve. It reminded me of the self-portrait of Raphael and Charlotte, knowing immediately which painting and pose I meant, said “yes, Titian – it’s in the National Gallery.”
It was a commission for Diane Church and Charlotte was thinking of the famous Titian sleeve when she set up this portrait, and very successfully too.
So I was delighted when the opportunity arose to speak to Charlotte about her work, two years on. Walking into the studio was one of those particular artistic pleasures: the smell of oils, and the works in progress studded around walls and on easels.
In front of me is a mouthwatering boiled egg with soldiers, but it’s a canvas, and it’s a work in progress. Charlotte admits she had to cook herself an egg after working on the painting: “Setting up the egg was great fun. The yolk looks scrumptious and the sandwich tasted good, too!”
Charlotte’s prize-winning portrait for the BP National Portrait Award, ‘Granny’, went into the competition in January 2003 and won that summer, coinciding with the completion of her three-year BA at Leeds. From this she got several commissions, including most of the portrait commissions for the next five years – and a slot on Woman’s Hour.
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I had also seen more of Charlotte's portraits and the hyper-real still lifes at a show in Folkestone’s George’s House Gallery, under the aegis of Strange Cargo. Again I was to see that painstaking work on textures: a wonderful portrait of Charlotte’s sister in a red dress with a black overskirt in lace, which gave plenty of opportunity for detailed work.
Charlotte’s artistic heroes include the great masters, Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and the Spanish Old Masters, such as Velezquez, as well as the Dutch Frans Hals. “More recently, I love the work of Stanley Spencer and David Hockney," she adds. “I enjoy looking around different galleries and I like Gwen John.”
The love of the traditional does not mean eschewing an interest in the contemporary: “There is such a massive wide range out there. I think there is some fantastic painting going on at the moment, much is photo-real and hyper-real. The way painting progresses in tandem with digital media is very interesting.” However, Charlotte has always loved portraiture, and says she always will.
I ask Charlotte how she starts new projects. First, she may refer to the painters who inspire her. “If I’m stuck, I’ll look at their work. With portraiture, the inspiration is often family and friends, people I’m close to. With still life work, I’m often inspired by an object, by the way light falls on it, even fruit in a supermarket, everyday things around me.
She adds: “I love painting material and different textures and fabrics and getting that texture onto canvas. I love painting glass, the way it reflects and plays with light, it has a very magical quality.”
On the wall, we look at the work in progress and I get a lesson in painting. These works start with a grisaille, a monotone with raw umbra. This sets out the tonal values for the painting, so when you glaze colour over the top it gives depth and realism and you work into those glazes and bring them up to the finished level. You can do glazes with acrylic, “but I always use oil,” adds Charlotte.
She enjoys working in the Creative Quarter and tells me. “It’s been good. It’s developed a lot, particularly over the last four years. I’ve met a lot of people and fellow artists. It has a nice community and the potential to grow even more.”
Currently working on canvases for an art exhibition, you can see her work at the Fairfax Gallery, with five pieces on show, as part of a group exhibition, until the end of April.
Charlotte has taken part in the Affordable Art Fair in London and her ambition is to start exhibiting more, hoping to put portraits in open exhibitions in the capital.
Charlotte Harris can be found at her studio at 35-37 Tontine Street, Folkestone CT20 1JT, %01303 212361 or %07990 945457, )firstname.lastname@example.orgYou can also see her work at the Fairfax Gallery, 23 The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TD, %01892 525525, )email@example.com
Charlotte Harris can be found at her studio at 35-37 Tontine Street, Folkestone CT20 1JT, 01303 212361 or 07990 945457, firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also see her work at the Fairfax Gallery, 23 The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TD, 01892 525525 email@example.com