Not Your Average Palm Tree

All work by Charlotte Keates

Recently, I’ve become addicted to an iPhone app called Design Home.

It’s pretty much what the name suggests—an interior decorating app where you’re given a design brief and a budget to work with. You go shopping for the perfect couch, coffee table, and rug to execute your vision. Then, you choose an artwork to tie the whole room together. Since discovering Charlotte Keates’ work, I can’t help imagining how good every room would look if only I could hang her art. I’d be undefeated on the app. 5 stars across the board, just from looking at the wall.

Man, I need to get a life. But I also need to get a Charlotte Keates painting.

The London-based artist just exhibited her latest body of work, Sojourn, at Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh. The series, inspired by a three month trip through the US and Canada, features large-scale paintings on wood panel, and many a palm tree. “I’m actually half-way through a painting right now, so probably 270.5?” she says when asked for a ballpark figure of just how many of the trees she’s painted in her life.

With a bunch of paintings on the go at one time, it’s hard for her to give a definitive answer in terms of how long some of her biggest works take. “I work on quite a lot of paintings at one time, often 8-10 pieces of all different sizes so it’s really hard to know how long a specific piece takes. I am always reworking pieces and changing sections in the lead up to an exhibition.” And what are the perks of working on such a large scale? “You can become much more gestural with the paint, and it’s quite freeing when you have been working on small pieces. I actually really like working on a large scale.” But, just like in real life, all freedom comes with a price. “I suppose the cons are the logistics of a piece—I need bespoke panels made up as they are larger than any standard boards. I also paint with the piece flat on the floor so that can become a challenge, as it suddenly looks very different when you finally prop it up and look at it from a new perspective.”

For me, the most striking and intriguing aspect of Charlotte’s work is the sky. It’s always brown. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s honestly what peaked my interest in the first place. No one’s ever penned a song about a brown sky, but here’s an artist dedicating every painting to one. Upon closer inspection, I discovered each work is painted on wood panel, thus the caramel colour. But, there’s a twist. “I start each painting by sealing the wood with a unique take on a gesso ground. The chalk in the ground creates this very smooth surface, where you can see the wood through. I feel like this initial surface I create is as much a part of painting as the paint itself, and using it as negative space within the works is part of the challenge I give myselfI want to try and find the balance,” she says.

It’s no exaggeration to say that every house featured in Charlotte’s work looks like my dream home. Do these places exist in real life? “Sort of,” she says. “They are often inspired by real spaces. My latest body of work is inspired by our three month inspiration trip around the States and Canada. Each space and landscape that I paint is sort of a collage of places that I have seen. They are a combination of memory, observation, and imagination, brought together in one painting to create surprising and illusory spaces and places.”

After seeing these works, you can’t help but wonder what kind of a space Charlotte lives in herself, and if it’s ever featured in one of her works. “My London studio is actually a live and work space. I have this beautiful 4.5-metre x 4-metre window, so the light is incredible, with a mezzanine for my living space. Below is my artist studio and kitchen. I am always using what’s around me to inspire sections of a painting, but I am yet to directly paint parts from this current studio space. My previous studio in Westminster, London had these lovely black and white tiles and I suddenly found myself painting lots of black and white tiles in my paintings…”

It comes as no surprise to learn that Charlotte is a huge fan of 60s and 70s mid-century architecture and interiors. “It’s the combination of colour, light and form that intrigues me, with the geometric beauty within the architectural forms, and the calming aesthetic that they evoke. And her geographical inspiration? “Palm Springs was an obvious inspiration for my recent body of work, but I’m really excited to travel all around the world and find new inspiration. I think I’ve really discovered how important travel is for my work.”

You can see more of Charlotte’s work here, and learn more about her process in the video below.


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