Hidden at the top of a winding staircase of the Grade I listed Bruce Castle is Wendy Charlton’s art studio. She occupies one of the only three studios at the museum. She’s a local mum, a single working mum and an artist. When I pop round to meet with her, she’s all talk of courses, the power of critique and change.
“I have been an artist all my life. At school, I took O and A-level Art then went on to do Art Foundation and a degree in Media and Design. Graduating in 1991 during a recession, I found it difficult to find work in the creative industry. It was also a time when computer design software skills were sought after and I was not proficient in that area. I did various jobs for a while such as a shoe dyer, bar worker, cleaner and the odd art commission to earn money.” Although her chances looked bleak, it didn’t stop Wendy, she just found another way to practice. “A job offer through a friend as a sessional artist at a day centre for adults with learning disabilities started me on the career path of community artist. I obtained a certificate in Person-Centred Art Therapy and a teaching diploma.”
Finding this route into art helped Wendy in more ways than one. Education has formed the backbone of her career – not only does she teach, she’s always trying to find new ways to learn and develop her own work. Even at this stage of her career, she’s a great believer in art courses; a space to work with peers, improve technique and take part in sessions like Engine Chat Chat at Bow Arts. She welcomes critique from a small group of artists and sees it as a way to progress and look to the future: “I’m just refining myself and thinking ahead, also thinking, what if one day all funding is pulled from my teaching work, what then? I need to continue working, I want to be able to sell my work and I think it’s important to keep going and if this area has taught me one thing, it’s to not give up.” In September, Wendy is taking a year-long advanced practice class at City Lit with a view to starting an MA in a couple of years: “I do think you need to be in touch with other people like tutors, people who are practicing, fellow students and practicing artists – you need to be in that environment. If you’re just here, you’re not exposing yourself to what else is going on. It’s good to get out there for tips and ideas!”
Wendy has been a community artist living in Tottenham for quite some time, 25 years of time but it was at a recent course interview that she suddenly got the idea to start working on a piece about Broadwater Farm. A critique from the course tutor of one piece inspired her to take it further. “As [Broadwater Farm] is quite a monolithic building and there are so many stories like the history of it (in terms of the reason why it went up in the first place). [Then] the 1985 riots, the underground car parks…I mean they had to change the layout of all that to make it less antisocial – all the changes that they’ve done over the years (including the schools and children’s centre) – now they are talking about [more] change. What do you do? Leave the school and children’s centre that’s new and knock it all down, what do you do? How do you do it and what do you do with the people who live there?”
Having seen many changes just off Lordship Lane over the past two decades, Wendy now wants to put some of what she’s witnessed and perhaps even some of her questions, down onto a blank canvas. During our chat, we talk a lot about the lack of art in particular areas of Tottenham. We also talk about awareness. Awareness of our actions, our community, our spaces and the need to stop, look around and start taking ownership. If we use projects like Wendy’s to look back, it may push us to do just that – start owning every part of the good, the bad and the ugly so we can start learning from it.
My art style is twofold; an adaptable teaching approach which allows me to demonstrate and create by copying from an image. This way of working has been useful for commissioned work such as book character murals and community mural projects. I also have an individual style for creating conceptual work using symbolic imagery, expressive colour and textural effects in mixed media; a fusion of painting, drawing and collage techniques. My work is inspired by ideologies of travel, social commentary, spirituality and nature. My first important piece was a watercolour of a Canada goose which I did at school aged 10 years. I won a prize for this piece and due to the encouragement and kindness of my then teacher, it sparked an interest in the arts.
I teach creative courses for Haringey Adult Learning Service, a local project called Art2View; my own drop-in drawing classes on Friday afternoons at Bruce Castle Museum and I’ve just completed a community art project with women for Living Under One Sun.
Proudest Moments 2015
A group show called ‘Synchronicity’ at Peggy Jay Gallery, Burgh House, Hampstead. This came about through knowing other practising artists all at the same stage in their art career.
Group show ‘Summer Exhibition’ at Ruskin Gallery at Camden Working Men’s College – all students are encouraged to enter work.
Group show ‘The Story So Far’ at W3 Gallery, Acton. I entered a call for artist submissions, which I found through Artists Quarter on the Bow Arts website.
Group show ‘Summer Salon’ at Candid Arts Trust, Islington. Another entry for artist submissions advertised on the Candid website.
Lordship Rec where I walk my dog every day and my studio in Bruce Castle Museum.
I am going to keep looking for and applying for opportunities to show work in exhibitions. You can find my work currently on show at Candid Arts Trust Summer Salon II from 7th – 16th August and I am planning another group show at Peggy Jay Gallery in September 2016.