This interview was conducted by Angela Manno for the Crestone, Co newspaper prior to a week long workshop that Chuck taught there.)
Can you describe the method of painting that you teach?
It's really pretty simple in context and an endless challenge it terms of practice. In the simplest terms, it's about seeing how light affects the appearance of color. The process is one of standing in front of your subject and observing the colors as they're presented to your eyes. There's no color theory or formula to this approach, simply the direct perception of color and color relationships. The challenge in this is that we have a tendency to name things, so that what we actually see is not the thing itself, but our idea of it. The world is not a conceptual experience, its actual. In terms of seeing, the actual experience is simply shape and color. As we diminish our tendency to name, we begin to see more clearly what's really in front of us: colored shapes.
Why do you teach this method of painting?
The more I paint and teach, the more fascinated I am with this experience of seeing. It's amazing to me how profoundly the way we see the world is a reflection of our expectations. If we expect clouds to be white, that's what we'll see. If we expect the leaves of trees to be green, that's what we'll see. As we drop our expectations, we actually begin to see color differently. We begin to see a beauty that is truly staggering, even in the most mundane of subjects. We begin to appreciate the power of light to create this beauty, to create color harmonies that are unexpected and breath taking. We have all been blown away by the beauty of the colors in a sunset. But how many of us have been as blown away by the beauty of the colors in the pattern of light and shadow on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon. That's why I teach. Henry Hensche taught me how to open my eyes and truly begin to "see". The beauty I experience in this moves me to try and share that discovery with others.
How does painting affect your life?Probably the most profound affect has been in getting me out of my head and more truly present to the world, to the moment. Painting has taught me that when I am spending time thinking, I'm not really here in the moment. I'm removed and not as fully alive. The process of painting, and dropping my expectations, brings me more present to the experince of sight, as well as to sound and the other senses. I've come to see that the arts are really a celebration of the senses; painting is a celebration of seeing, music of hearing, cooking of taste and smell, and sculpture of feel. So painting has taught me how to celebrate life more. How to revel in the beauty of the senses. How to simply be more present and in touch with the passion of life.
What kind of impact can learning this method have on beginning students?Beginning students can avoid learning formulas and theories that can tend to keep them in their heads, locked in the process of thought.They can more quickly come to a place of learning that is free from self judgement and right and wrong thinking and discover a process of simply trusting their seeing and refining it endlessly. This brings a lifetime of revelation and inspiration instead of some formula for making "successful"paintings.
Advanced students? Talk about the directions some of your students have come from and what directions they have taken as a result of taking your classes?Advanced students can learn to break out of repetitive color usage, the overuse of white and learn how to bring greater light effects into their work. They can learn more of how to create the illusion of volume and atmospheric perspective by seeing the world simply as shapes of color, with no attempt to conceptualize things into "trees" and "mountains", etc. I've seen students move from formula painting to really inspired painting. I've seen people who were very afraid of color become amazing colorists. More than anything, I 've seen students move from a very predictable way of painting, predictable in the sense of painting tonally to a way of painting that becomes quite radiant and bold with unexpected color use. I've seen lots of students shift from a very tight, controlled way of painting to something quite free and uplifting. I'm very often inspired by the paintings of my students; I learn as much from them as they may from me.
Talk about anything else -- the spiritual aspects of painting this way, your personal experiences. . . . etc.Spiritually, this way of painting, in bringing me more present to the moment at hand, has shown me this state of being, this presence, that is most amazing. Many artists, over the centuries, have described this experience of feeling "at one" with their subject, a feeling of very expansive ease and even love. I've come to see this as actually being "awake" to a greater level of life. There is constantly the sense, when painting and when looking at a finished painting, that "I" had nothing to do with it. Even in the process of painting, there is a sense of just following this thing that's showing me what's next. I understand now that this process lifts me out of my head, and out of my sense of identity or ego and into the experience or awareness of the greater self, that self that is common to all of us. I've been learning to sustain this awareness on a day to day basis, in large part because of this training in painting.