Meet Charlie Isoe. He departed the land Down Under when he was in high school, foregoing formal education, in search of a world beyond books and graded papers. Clutching brushes, with a skateboard tucked under his arm, Isoe began navigating the path that has led him from delinquent to today.
His work speaks for itself; rich with color and character, rife with risk and daring. His subject matter as well as his selected medium run the gamut; an oil on canvas painting of a young woman just waking up, the droopy face of an older gentleman drawn across a concrete wall and countless more.
Hand in hand with this fascination of art at all levels, is an additional preoccupation with modern society and humanity in general. Isoe views the world with an open mind, ingesting his surroundings and regurgitating his interpretations of our planet and its inhabitants. Whether he depicts our species â€“ and others â€“ as gruesomely nightmarish or worthy of reverence depends on the day. Read on to hear it from the horseâ€™s mouth.
And, if youâ€™re in Berlin, run, donâ€™t walk, to take in his arresting artwork, housed at the Circle Culture Gallery. Mid-February marked the launch of his first solo-exhibition in Europe, a stepping-stone show that will grace gallery walls through mid-April.
Some things are never finished. I often stop working and leave a piece. Sometimes I go back to it, sometimes I donâ€™t
Format:. I know your most recent exhibition at the Circle Culture Gallery in Berlin began February 12th. How long had you been preparing for that show in particular? What kind of prep did it require?
Charlie Isoe: Itâ€™s just a manifestation of my observations, experiences and reactions from recent times. I guess I worked about four months or so. Often I paint for days at a time.
Format: What is the â€œcontemporary human conditionâ€ according to you?
Charlie Isoe: Itâ€™s the way things are. Itâ€™s the way people are.
Format: Can you expand on this statement you made: â€œWe are tourists in our own lives. We often miss the bits that are real.â€
Charlie Isoe: Well, I think people can be quite detached sometimes.
Format: How did you get started? Did you start doodling at a young age and it just stuck or was there a different artistic trajectory for you?
Charlie Isoe: I was always drawing and building things as a kid. One of the earliest drawings that I still have in a shed in Perth was on green paper, with cray-pas oil sticks, of a head being cut off with scissors, with all these little insects rushing towards it. [Laughs] I donâ€™t remember what it was about, but I remember Mum put it up on the fridge.
Format: What prompted you to leave Australia for Berlin? Both the leaving of Australia for one, and the going to Berlin in particular, for another.
Charlie Isoe: It just felt like time to move. I wasnâ€™t necessarily planning on ending up in Berlin.
Format: Have you spent much time in America or Canada?
Charlie Isoe: Yes, actually. I moved around a bit when I was pretty young. I lived in Vancouver for about six years and went to Seattle a few times from there. Both are places I would like to go back to at some point.
Format: The first thing I thought upon looking at your work was â€œFrancis Bacon.â€ He, among other artists, surely influenced your aesthetic.
Charlie Isoe: Francis Bacon is definitely someone whose work I respect. Lucien Freud, Brett Whiteley, Egon Schiele, Jean-Michel Basquiat for a startâ€¦and so many others.
Format: Definitely see them in your work, especially Mr. Freud. So, what inspires you? What drives you?
Charlie Isoe: I drive myself. I get quite agitated about working. Everything goes into it, all the time.
Format: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what music moves you?
Charlie Isoe: I do, actually. I think there is almost always music on in the studio. There is so much music I enjoy. I wouldnâ€™t know where to startâ€¦
Format: Have you made a conscious decision to stay away from commercializing your art?
Charlie Isoe: Thatâ€™s not really something I want to do with my work. Iâ€™m not that interested in making products. I want my work to just be what it is.
Format: Respectable. Your work is very animalistic, often explicitly so. Can you explain your fascination with this theme? Are you attempting to be political, on behalf of animals? Of note to me was the Polaroid on your website (in the section entitled â€œLifeâ€) of what appears to be a mutilated pig leg. Itâ€™s disturbing but attention-grabbing, thatâ€™s for sure.
Charlie Isoe: [Laughs] It certainly wasnâ€™t on behalf of animals. That was just something I found in the street and photographed.
Format: You straddle both the â€œhighâ€/â€œfineâ€ art realm as well as street art; how do you like balancing both mediums? What similarities and differences do you detect?
Charlie Isoe: I think painting walls and painting canvas are both just painting.
Format: Whatâ€™s the greatest compliment anyoneâ€™s ever paid you and your work?
Charlie Isoe: Itâ€™s the people who let me know them and draw them. Iâ€™m fascinated by humans; they are amazing creatures.
Format: Where else have you travelled for your artistic endeavors? Where else would you like to travel?
Charlie Isoe: There are so many places I would like to goâ€¦ Iâ€™d like actually to go home for a little while I think.
Format: Whatâ€™s your preferred medium? What best suits you? How does photography play a role?
Charlie Isoe: I would say painting. I also take photographs as a sort of documentation of things. Of life and of situations and of things I have seen.
Format: How did your work pre-degree and post-degree differ, seeing as you dropped out of high school and then went on to earn a degree in fine art?
Charlie Isoe: I donâ€™t really think having a degree has anything to do with painting. I think itâ€™s constantly changing.
Format: What advice would you give to other artists, especially those who are very gifted but considering abandoning formal education at a young age, as you did?
Charlie Isoe: I think that is something they have to decide for themselves.
Format: What would you be doing with your life if not creating artwork?
Charlie Isoe: Just living.
Format: Whatâ€™s the longest time youâ€™ve spent on a single piece? Have you ever begun something and had to walk away from it and come back again later? Have you ever abandoned something all together, never to return?
Charlie Isoe: Some things are never finished. I often stop working and leave a piece. Sometimes I go back to it, sometimes I donâ€™t. It can be difficult to know when things are finished. Other times, itâ€™s like, bang, thatâ€™s done.