Charlie Easton is a Vancouver-based landscape painter who moved to B.C. from Britain, where he grew up in a family of artists.
What draws me most to your paintings are the vibrantly warm colours – your landscapes are rich in incandescent oranges and blues that give these scenes the feel of being bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Can you talk a bit about why this particular palette? It seems full of joy – is that the intended effect?
Well, I paint as much as I can on location as I firmly believe that photographs are so limiting. They are amazing for detail, but they tend to flatten colours, blending them instead of layering them. When you are sitting in a field, or on a mountain, or by a river you see more colours – transparencies, hints and colour changes. I work in acrylic so you can apply glazes and scumbled layers really quickly to capture the colours without too much fussing.
It’s interesting that you pick up on the joy in the colour choice, I’m pleased you do. I often find that an artist’s work reflects his or her mood, and I’ve got to say that right now I’m an incredibly lucky guy. I’m doing what I love, and I’m glad that comes through in the work.
What prompted you to make the move from England to British Columbia? What differences did you notice in the artistic environment/community once you settled in?
I was working in advertising in London, and when the company I was working for was bought by a Canadian company the opportunity to transfer was too good to refuse. I initially thought I was going to be in Canada for just a year, but I soon fell in love with the country (and a fine Canadian girl!) so it is now my home. Seven years on my love for the place, for its amazing beauty and for the openness of the people, continues to grow.
In comparison with the UK, I find the art community here is more open to sharing ideas and techniques. I have painted with some phenomenal artists here and in the States – and that is far more difficult to do in the UK, where people are a little more guarded in their professional outlook.
When it comes to your process – what proportion of your paintings do you complete on site versus in your studio? Where do you enjoy painting most?
I start it ALL on site. Whether that is getting the piece 95% done in the field, or 5%, I think it’s really important to understand colour relationships on site. Sometimes I might paint a full 36”x48” piece on site, other times I might use a photo and a colour sketch I had done previously. Either way, I need to have an understanding of the colour complexities that I’m going to use in any piece, and you can’t beat it when you have worked those out first hand. In this way I guess I subscribe to the old traditions of the classic plein air painters.
I have just had the best painting experience of my life so far – I’m currently in Alberta, preparing for an exhibition in Calgary, and I have driven through the Rockies painting as I go. A few nights back I painted the sun going down at Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of it. I like the painting I did there, but there’s just no way you could ever capture the scale, the grandeur and the beauty of such a sight on canvas. But hey, what an experience.
What is it like growing up in a family of painters? Did you always know you were going to be an artist? Or did you go through a rebellious teen phase where you threaten to run away and join an investment firm?
Actually, the pressure was probably the other way around – to do something proper and make a living! And I can’t argue with it because when I left university I don’t think I was mature enough to really know what I wanted to do, so getting a good job in an advertising agency and rising through the ranks there was awesome experience. And then when I was 30 – a little more mature (but not totally, where’s the fun in that?) – I was able to take a balanced decision to pursue a life as an artist. And at that point, my family, and the family of my wife, were really supportive.
It’s great to know that I’m following in the footsteps of some of my ancestors; I went to the British School in Rome recently to retrace the steps of my grandfather who studied there when he was at the Royal Academy. We found a box of his etchings in the archive, and it was magical to flick through them and see his artistic progression.
What do you find most challenging about painting?
Painting outside is the best way to paint, but, boy, can it be frustrating. Light changes, humidity changes affecting the drying time of acrylic, mosquitos, and the wonderful Vancouver rain pose huge challenges every time you paint. But that’s what is so exciting about it, I love the process of painting – observing, feeling, constructing, and executing. Large scale paintings on site are also a bit of a beast.
On the site of the gallery which represents you in Whistler there is a quote from you: “I like to paint in a style which mirrors my life motto. Minimum fuss, maximum enjoyment.” What are the things you most enjoy in life besides painting?
Haha, yes, this motto is engraved on the inside of my wedding ring as well. I don’t like fuss, I don’t like bureaucracy, I like simplicity and cutting to the chase. I love my wife, my little 100 year-old yellow house that is in constant need of repairs, backcountry skiing, kayaking, tennis, bike touring, eating good food, and playing volleyball with a beer in my hand (don’t get me started about the Canadian laws of no beers on the beach, bah!)
Charlie’s recent paintings of Georgian Bay scenery are currently on display at the Canvas Gallery in Toronto.
All images in this interview are © Charlie Easton and are used with the artist’s permission.