Little Worlds: Charlotte Keates

Harriet Adkin, writer and founder of Burnt Orange City, Burnt Orange City, April 6 2020

Charlotte Keates invites us to step into her little worlds and make the space our own in her detailed, idyllic interiors and calming architectural scenes. Here, the viewer can choose to occupy the space themselves, from the inside looking out or from the outside looking in – like a scene in a movie. Charlotte’s work is inspired by travels around the world, and combines literal and cultural stories with fantasy and imagination; making you want to jump in, explore and relax. 


Your art invites the viewer to step into a scene or interior and make the space their own - what do these architectural spaces represent for you? 

They are like their own little worlds - I want them to feel like a window into another realm, or parallel universe. Where you can create your own narrative and stories for yourself or someone else. 


What draws you to capture spaces devoid from the figure? 

I like the idea that there is a sense of narrative within the works, almost like a film still - There’s something a little theatrical. Like the in between scenes or when the main character is waiting in a wing. I want for the viewer to feel like they can choose to occupy the space themselves, from the inside looking out or from the outside looking in. The ownership is decided by the person viewing the painting and not by me. 

I want for the spaces to feel almost dystopian / utopian - yet the presence of living plants, where sometimes identifiable objects give little hints to their inhabitants. Ergonomics of a space and how humans act and react to architectural spaces (particularly residential) really intrigues me. 


What feelings and thoughts do you seek to evoke in a viewer?

 I’m trying to convey and recreate an experience and feeling for the viewer. My approach is entirely personal based on my own experiences and memories and I think there’s something special when that can instil a similar feeling or relate to the viewers own internal landscapes. 


What does your creative process look like when you start a new piece? 

The spaces that I am painting are a combination of memory and imagination. My starting point of reference is often a section of a space that I remember, part of a photograph, or something that I have seen lately. This triggers the painting to evolve in a way that is unknown to me at first. I want for the viewer to first be convinced by the interior or architectural structure, but when looking more and more they may discover parts that are improbable, impossible - a sort of dreamscape / ‘idea’ or ‘feel’ of a space.


What are your favourite materials to work with? 

I use acrylics that have a really high percentage of pigment, these when used on the traditional chalk grounds (on panel) really create a vibrancy that I just can’t seem to achieve in any other way. I also really enjoy Senneliers oil bars for adding texture and details. They seem to add a layer of depth and help avoid sections feeling too flat, if that is not intended.


Travel appears to be a great inspiration for you. What have been the places that have inspired your work the most? Where else in the world do you seek to explore? 

It is so important for me that I am always experiencing and witnessing something new, specifically new cultures and ways of living, to feel inspired and keep questioning why I am painting what I paint and what I want to work on. My 3 month trip around the States informed my work for years after, and now for example, I am researching the Japanese cultural approach to designing a residential home. I want there to be subtle nods to each of these places but the last thing I want is for my work to become bodies of work inspired by different regions around the world - the concepts are much broader than that, with a lot of scope to push and delve deeper.


Does each piece have it’s own story based on the inspiration/ background of the scene? If so, please can you share a couple with us. 

Some of them have far more literal or stronger narratives but I quite enjoy this - a mix of quieter, more gentle and unknown stories alongside the loud, almost fantastical ones. Last year I was lucky enough to be invited and shown around some of the beautiful and historically fascinating colonial ‘black and whites’ in Singapore. There are many of these black and whites dotted around in clusters and one of the parks housing 19 of these big beautiful buildings became the battlefield for the fight between the British and Japanese in WW2 for 3 days. Each house was originally built on stilts to keep unwanted visitors away (snakes, lemurs, monkeys etc) and they are now incredibly sought after and desirable rented properties. Technically listed as national ‘historical museums’ ... they are fascinating and eerily beautiful all at the same time. 


Walk us through a typical day for you - how do you like to work? and do you have any art rituals? 

I think I have quite a bizarre way of working... I have very little structure to my day. Often I will wake up around 10.30am then I’ll make a cup of tea, have a shower and settle into the day pretty slowly. I am probably at my most ‘creative’ from around 11pm and I frequently paint in my home studio until about 4.30am. At night time, it's so quiet and peaceful, with no distractions and it's so much easier to lose yourself in a painting. 


Lately I have been creating daily drawings as a form of ritual. It is something that I have started since spending time in Japan and researching the ideas of routines, rituals and ceremonial acts. I wanted to implement this into my own life in a way that would help with my process for painting. But these drawings would never really lead to a painting - they feel as if they do not need to be an extended idea, as if they are resolved within a drawing and there is something quite wonderful about the immediacy and simplicity of a drawing. 


What are your hopes and dreams as an artist .... 

I hope to be able to push myself into the unexpected and constantly surprise myself with the evolution of my work. I want to continue to travel and experience new things and to feel fulfilled and inspired by what is around me. I hope that I continue to work on artworks that excite me and that give something to the viewer in return. Someone once described my work as ‘making their heart sing’ and I absolutely love that response, if I can continue to do that then I’ll be very happy. 


What are you currently working on? And what do you have coming up that we can look out for? 

I have a solo show in NYC with Arusha Gallery later this year which I am working towards - it is planned for September, but given the current situation we are crossing fingers and thinking positively... Details will be announced as soon as we are allowed. There are also a few potential things in the pipeline that I would love to come to fruition - so again just thinking positive and happily painting away in my studio.