Artists seek to distinguish themselves. Otto Rank wrote that the difference between an artist and a neurotic is that the artist is productive—the artist leaves a story through objects or acts that become history. – Charles Clough
I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie last summer, when he had reached out to me via email after reading about the free painting workshops I was offering to youth in a park on the West Side. He even made a visit one Saturday to check things out, wearing all black under the summer sun. Charlie is a distinctive man, even though he is of average height, on the thin side, older, with slicked back grey hair and round eyeglasses – he is the one that everyone flocks to. With a pleasant smile, and a mild open disposition, what’s next is usually unaccounted for. Where you going Charlie? –Is usually what I am thinking. The rampant activity in his brain is not the norm, but then again Charlie Clough is not normal, but more like a genius, an underappreciated genius.
At a young and tender age, Charlie had his heart broken by his first real girlfriend (love). Instead of swearing off women completely and forever, he had a “eureka moment” and decided from then on, he would devote his life to art. Of course later in life, he would marry and have children, but that did not stop him from directing his energy towards his art practice.
Charlie knew that the biggest risk of being an artist is that you might be poverty-stricken. He called it “Flying without a net.” I like his view. There are no training wheels, you are just thrown out into the world, and need to learn how to fly as fast as possible, knowing that if you fall, you need to pick yourself up and try again.
Due to financial restrictions, Charlie had to leave school and enter into the real world as a young adult. Upon returning to Buffalo after a year in NYC, he got connected with Larry Griffis and exchanged time working as a sculpture assistant for studio space. Soon after that he met Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman and others through the UB and Buff State connections with 30 Essex St. With his passion to create a space that offered an artist exchange of exhibition and performance opportunities, together the founding members started Hallwalls in an actual hallway and later moved into an actual space at the Essex complex. Hallwalls is known for its extensive history of exhibiting groundbreaking artists before they were widely known, and after 40 years Hallwalls (and it pantheon of artists) is still around, and kicking. Thank you Charlie.
Over the years, Charlie has accumulated quite a CV, with 60 solo exhibitions – plus he has one coming up in Brooklyn that opens next week; he has participated in over 150 group exhibitions, including the one that put his name on the map, The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984. His work has been collected by over 70 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the National Gallery of Art in DC.
Even with this extensive track record, Charlie still needs to eat. People do not go into the arts to be rich, and very few become famous, but even with notoriety there may not always be a continuous cash flow. We don’t receive benefits like full time employees of corporations or institutions – no health benefits and definitely not a secured retirement fund. All that has to come directly out of our own pockets – things to consider when you wonder why that painting costs so much, besides its own worth, because it’s f***in’ beautiful.
In 2014, Charlie started to develop a community arts component with his work, and opened up his studio to the public. He has created several projects with local institutions and organizations, and now runs the Cluffalo Painting Workshop out of his current studio space at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. For more information on how to schedule your own personal painting experience with Charlie, visit his site: http://www.clufff.com/.
Two weeks ago, Charlie got the call that he has been waiting for, for 20 years. He was awarded 1 of 200 fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (they usually receive over 3,500 applications every year and recipients receive a grant that helps fund their practice and living costs). This is a monumental moment – to think that it takes time to achieve one’s goals. Charlie has plans to expand his network of tools and experiment with new forms, while also working on his next book, while, of course, continuing to paint.
What I’ve learned thus far from Charlie is that you can never give up, even when you are falling, or your surroundings appear to be.
If you haven’t visited East Aurora yet, don’t wait any longer. It’s a small town with a lot of charm, great coffee, cute shops and local artist studios, and quite a few eateries to choose from. You can make an afternoon of it, and visit Charlie while you’re at it. Every season he makes a new community painting, so he is always open to visitors. I’ve been twice and it’s always a treat.
1. Portrait at his studio at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. 2. A pic of his studio 3. Untitled, 1981, enamel with collage, 6 1/4 x 13 1/2 inches, University at Buffalo Art Galleries: Gift of June and Ralph Obler, 2011 4. Utopia 104, 1984, enamel on board, 36 x44 inches, Collection of Pat and Bill Kolkmann 5. Uccello, 1990, enamel on Masonite, 15 x 7 1/2 inches, Collection of Sally Marks 6. Clufffalo: Hamburg, 2014, latex on linen, 72 x 192 inches, in process at Hilbert College’s Swan Auditorium, Sponsored by the Albright-Knox/Erie County Public Art Initiative, Aaron Ott, curator, photo by Tom Loonan 7. Cluffalo Autumn 2015