Q&A With Charlene Mosley
As one of our represented artists at Sparks Gallery, Charlene Mosley creates work with a distinctive, bright expressionist style that is instantly recognizable. Her art practice, however, extends beyond just the paintings on our walls. As a working artist, Mosley illustrates children’s book, paints murals, completes commissions, and a myriad of other projects. Her solo exhibition “Pollinators” debuted last year, and the artist continues to be as busy as ever creating new work and exploring new avenues. Mosley shares her experiences thus far in her art journey, from developing her current style to nurturing her successful independent art business.
Sparks: How did you arrive at your current art style? How have you seen it progress over the years?
Mosley: I began painting expressively in college when exploring different techniques, artists’ work, and styles during assignments. I felt more and more comfortable in painting subject matter loose and colorful. Painting expressively gave me an opportunity to create multiple images within one and hide things in plain sight. Various artists, such as Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, Chuck Close, and Frida Kahlo inspired my style — fusing imagery in interesting ways, expressing an idea in subjective color and developing a defined stroke. I always wanted the viewer of my work to embark on a visual journey. First, they are pulled in by the obvious image in front of them, then they’d explore the texture and vivid colors and later might find an image hidden within the strokes. Painting expressively and collaging imagery allowed for that. It grew on me. I was and still am fascinated at the parts that make an image, at the strokes as individual color and forms but also coming together from a distance shaping into something recognizable, giving it movement and life. I enjoy painting with thick paint because it feels like sculpting on a two-dimensional surface.
Today, I find pleasure in going back and forth abstracting these strokes in some paintings and then making them smoother in other paintings. It is a push and pull that makes exploring the boundaries of expressive painting so exciting. It is a continuous flow of learning and analyzing but also a lot about letting your feelings and hand move freely. The progress lies in the confidence in laying strokes on to the canvas without overworking them and causing a chaotic look. Even though I work in thick brush strokes with a lot of texture the painting has to feel light. That is the challenge.
Sparks: Are there any new art techniques or mediums you are interested in trying?
Mosley: Since my Pollinators Show, I have a growing interest in gold in my work and so would love to explore gold leafing with my ink drawings and oil paintings.
Sparks: Your last solo exhibition centered around the idea of animals, plants and people as Pollinators. Are there any new subjects or concepts you are investigating?
Mosley: I think pollination is a vast field to be explored and I am not yet tired of it. I enjoy educating myself more about nature and our connection to it. I am excited to continue documenting my findings in vivid, lively paintings that reveal the importance and impact of resilient creatures surrounding us every day. For the future I do want to explore this theme across several media and see how they can influence each other.
Sparks: Have you noticed any cultural differences in the arts communities between the US and Germany (or more specifically San Diego and Berlin)? Are there differences in public attitudes or support towards the arts and working artists?
That is a good question. Unfortunately, I haven’t explored the Berlin art scene while I grew up there. I was head over heels busy with school and academics. However, from elementary school on to high school I had so many opportunities to explore what you can do with art. From creating posters, to yearbook art, to play props and scenery, to book art and all kinds of other amazing fun things.
Back then, art followed me throughout school as it did here in America in college. However, I had no clue I could pursue an independent artist career back then. I hadn’t had time to explore Berlin in that way or maybe I cannot remember. I do vividly remember the street art though and when I visited for a short couple days this January, I realized how much I missed the old city, the hundreds of years old buildings etched and painted with street art peeling off the walls. There is also a lot of new street art and so it is a scene that grows with you throughout the city. I love the rich culture of Berlin, the diversity, the history, the colors and museums. San Diego is also a colorful city! I graduated University here and in the 15 years I have lived here I have seen such diversity within the many art groups, some slowed down as people moved on into different areas and/or during the pandemic especially but new art scenes keep emerging in new locations bringing artists back together and new artists into the scene. I think it is very refreshing to see new edgy galleries opening and murals growing on the side of buildings.
As a working artist, I see a lot of opportunity in the US and people are generally very open minded towards trying new things. In the past, I have noticed that clients I work with or collectors hiring me for commissions are very confident in my skills spanning over a range I myself often feel insecure about. I have been hired multiple times to do such things as concept work, store front designing and other areas outside my general experience or comfort level. People here, seem to be confident and trusting when it comes to that, whereas I couldn’t imagine the same confidence in Berlin without evidence of prior work and a portfolio reflecting that area of art; understandably.
Sparks: What helps keep you focused or gets you into the creative mindset to work on your art?
Mosley: What helps keep me focused is the night. During the day, just getting to the point where I begin painting or drawing is a hurdle and can take three or four hours. I am so easily distracted it is best to work when everyone is asleep. And so, I live for painting in the evening through the night. However, when I am really inspired and cannot wait to get something out of my head, I am focused and can paint for hours any time of the day, without the need for food, drinks or bathroom breaks. To stay focused, I also put my headphones on with loud house music or techno and avoid social media.
Sparks: To young and/or emerging artists hoping to become full time working artists, what advice would you give them?
Mosley: I would say, being a full-time working artist encompasses various jobs. You are the artist, the social media and marketing person, the administrational assistant, the bookkeeper, the shipper, and so much more. Being a full-time artist means a lot of hours of work in addition to making art. So, be prepared to put in the time and be patient as things become easier the more time passes and the more you learn.
My advice to young/emerging artists is to continuously seek opportunities and if you cannot find any use your creativity to make your own opportunities happen. If you want to paint a mural and cannot find artist calls in your area or have not been selected, then find a wall and seek out the owner. Present them with a sketch or a concept and amaze them. Advocate for yourself and sell your work, convince people they need your work on their building, in their shop, on their car, on their fabric, on their merchandise. Collaborating with other artists also opens doors and offers new ways of making connections and finding your art community.