Painting the World in Pure Imagination

Charlie French is an abstract artist who currently lives in Dallas, and has painted almost every day since high school. He has studied primarily in London, Santa Fe, Dallas, and online. His art has been sold worldwide. Here, he speaks with Chelsea Francis, Austin-based photographer and connector of people, about his art and the freedom it gives him to express himself to the fullest. 

Chelsea Francis met artist Charlie French when she was photographing him for an upcoming collaborative exhibition with Will Bryant, an Austin-based artist. She was immediately struck by his love of creating and his willingness to work on piece after piece alongside another artist. They created several pieces of art together that day, making plans for an exhibition that’s now been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The work they created that day, and all of French’s work, for that matter, is exuberant. His art is full of color and rich in texture—powerful works that convey real feeling to the viewer, whether in person or online. For French, his art is equal parts passion, profession, and therapy. He puts all of himself on the canvas, and invites you to see who he is when you view his work. In doing so, he invites you to see yourself more clearly as well. French is represented right there on the canvas in paint, pencil, and whatever other tools he’s chosen to create with that day—vibrant, complex, and ready to tell you a story.

Chelsea Francis: Hi Charlie! It’s so nice to get to sit down with you virtually and have a chat. Let’s start at the beginning—you are an artist. First and foremost, you are an artist who is incredibly talented. How did you get started with your work? 

Charlie French: Thank you! I have painted since I was a little kid. I tried finding a job, but I didn’t like them. Painting was what I loved to do. Every day. So I practiced every day. And I took classes. I had tutors. I still work with on-line teachers.

C Francis: I know that most of your work is acrylic on canvas, but I’ve also seen you work with a pencil and paint pen on paper. What medium do you most enjoy working with and what medium would you most like to try? 

C French: My favorite way to paint is using a BIG canvas and acrylic paints with lots of my designs in pencils and markers, and sometimes acrylic paint pens. Recently I spent a month learning monotype printing and that was fun—but what I really like to do is try new painting tools!

Like using mops! Mops make cool ridges of paint on a canvas, and makes me think of splashing water.  Earlier this year, for a commission for the Texas Rangers Globe Life Field, I used a baseball bat and baseballs to paint. That was so much FUN! I love playing with cool tools and just seeing what happens.

C Francis: What’s a typical day in the studio like for you? 

It feels good to be free. To listen to my imagination. That’s easy for me.

C French: OK. I have a list on my table of my work to do. And I do that.

But first I warm up. Sometimes I sit and sometimes I stand. I use a pencil on paper to be free. Then I paint those designs. I use different tools to paint every time. I am just free.

Then I do my list: thank you cards, painting a series, learning something new, making videos, reading messages from people. In 2020 I have been working hard on color values: light, medium, and dark. Sometimes medium is a little hard for me.

Oh, and I always have a snack and a drink! I like to take breaks and have cheese and crackers or chips and salsa. 

Sometimes I help mom clean up. But mostly not. When I am done, I am done! 

C Francis: Your work is inspiring to so many people who love art and are interested in exploring art as a career. Where do you find your inspiration? 

C French: My inspiration is mostly in my imagination. But I also like to paint things that make me happy: music, movies, food, bubble gum, water/weather, and travel. 

I have been working on some landscapes from places I have visited and places I miss seeing. I print out pictures from my trip, put them all around my studio and then just let go. Two places I love are New Mexico and Sherman, CT. These are the places my grandparents lived. I have happy memories from my trips there. Painting those places makes me smile.

C Francis: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way while making your career as a fine artist? 

C French: I am happy to have a job that I love to do every day. That makes me feel good.

C Francis: What do you hope people gain from getting to know you and getting to know your art? 

C French: To smile. To be happy. To see my freedom and my humor. I like to share my imagination.

C Francis: Making your way in the art world is something that many people dream of doing, but never do because of obstacles and their inner critic. I’d like to talk about that for a minute. What are some obstacles you’ve faced in your life and in your career so far? 

C French: In my life, I had a hard time with Regression Disorder. It can make me sad. But in my career, I don’t have any obstacles.

C Francis: Do you have an inner critic? What does that critic tell you and how do you put that voice to rest and get it to quiet down? 

C French: I don’t have that voice.

C Francis: Wow. I am so struck by that. No inner critic sounds wonderful. I’m sure you have a ton of fans and people who have supported you and your work along the way that have helped that critic not appear, but who has been the loudest in their support? Who is your biggest cheerleader? 

C French: My little sister, Hope. She gets me. She believes in me. And she really loves my fathoms below series. That makes me happy!

C Francis: Let’s switch gears a bit. We’re, of course, in the middle of a global pandemic. We’ve seen major shifts in what we’re doing throughout the day and how we’re navigating the world we live in. How has your routine changed since March?

C French: Not a lot. My studio is at my house. I work every day. I do miss restaurants and I do miss traveling, especially on airplanes. I love American Airlines. Business Class.

C Francis: How do you continue creating, and continue navigating the art world with an attitude of optimism? 

C French: Because it feels good to be free. To listen to my imagination. That’s easy for me.

C Francis: Do you have any creative communities you’re a part of? 

C French: I am a part of the arts community in Dallas. That makes me happy. 

I am a part of the arts community for people with disabilities like SAGE studio and ArtLifting. That’s nice because I sell my art! 

But my favorite arts community is on Instagram. It includes everybody from all over the world! There’s the Down syndrome community, new artists, successful artists, art teachers, new friends, old friends, grammas, and even kids. People send me messages. And that makes me feel good.

C Francis: As someone who has been doing this for a while now, what’s the biggest piece of advice that you have for an aspiring artist who is looking to get their start in the industry? 

C French: Oh this is easy: listen to your imagination and let go! 

You can follow French on Instagram to view his work and check out available pieces. 

Photo credit: Chelsea Francis (left), Charlie French (right) 

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