Admiring Those Sick Wheels with Charley Gerardin May 28 2019

Charley Gerardin is a French-born tattooist and artist living and working in Brunswick. With a curiosity for the familiarity of everyday suburbia, Charley paints his local neighbourhood with a looseness and playfulness that he hopes shakes off any stereotypes of art being fancy. Charley’s work celebrates the simple joys of making a line on a surface, reminding us that art making is not just for those who call themselves artists.

We recently interviewed Charley about his creative routine, working as a tattooist and an artist, and his top 20 playlist ahead of his Small Wall Show with Outré Gallery, Sick Wheels M8.

Interview by Stephen Doan. Photography by Sass Cocker.

Charley, thank you for joining us.

I’ve been daydreaming about a solo show for a while now and I’m really honoured to be joining the lovely bunch at Outré for this and to show work along side so many incredible artists – so thank you for having me.

Let’s start with your creative routine. Please take us through a typical day for you.

I’ve been working as a full-time tattooist for the past 9 years. I work out of my own studio, Little Gold, and am so grateful to have a job that offers me heaps of flexibility. I work 4 days a week tattooing and save 3 days of the week for surfing, art and just having some time off.

The tattooing is creative in many ways but it’s also quite controlled. I am given ideas by my clients and draw them up in my own style, which allows room for creativity but ultimately I’m still doing work that is dictated by my clients. So making art in modalities other than tattoos is where I really start to have fun and find the freedom to just explore art techniques and mediums.

The experience I have when I paint is quite different to what I experience when tattooing. When I start a painting I have no idea where the process will take me. Sometimes it’s super satisfying and other times it drives me a bit crazy. It’s quite an emotional experience and I love that. That said, I can’t paint on all 3 days of my weekend because it sometimes feels like a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and it takes courage and energy to face that day to day.

How do you gather ideas for each painting?

This is less of a conscious decision and feels more like a kind of gravitational pull or something! I grew up in France where things look quite different. Living in Australia, I’m fascinated by how things here work in quite similar ways to France but still look so different. Things like shopping trolleys, cars, pavements, building materials – they all serve the same purpose but look quite different from country to country. When I walk my dog around Brunswick, certain things stand out to me to the point that I almost become obsessed and will start noticing these things all over the place. I can’t help but paint them – often over and over. Right now that thing is cars around Brunswick, like 90s Commodores, rundown hatchbacks and, for some reason, sporty-looking shitboxes. I really enjoy taking something I’ve seen on the street and translating it into a painting. I often don’t have to look too far to find things that interest me.

Uncompromising brush strokes, thick layers of paint… how did this bold style of image making come to light?

I’ve always been a fan of artworks with texture and layers of information. I love looking at pieces and breaking down the process, figuring out what the artist did to achieve certain textures, imagining the movements behind the lines and in what order the lines were created.

I love the stories behind artworks. All these little clues that I find in the artwork help me dream up a possible history to a picture or a meaning that often resonates for me. It may or may not fit the actual story behind the piece but it definitely helps me connect with art and appreciate it. I like imagining that people may do the same with my paintings when looking at them.

Another reason I paint the way I do is because I enjoy painting fast. I always complete a painting in one sitting to try and translate whatever it is I’m feeling in that exact moment. It might be a vague thread of resonance I felt when I saw a particular car 30 minutes earlier. I can’t usually describe that resonance in words and it can disappear as quickly as it arrived, so I paint fast to try and capture the something of it.

I find that I’m less focussed on the end product as I am on the process of creating it. The process seems to be the exciting part for me. I really love working with the materials in a way that feels good, playing around until I reach a point that seems complete.

Being a tattooist and having a background in graffiti, how have these facets moulded your artistic direction?

Being a tattooist has been such an incredible opportunity for me. It has taught me everything I know about art making. I never went to art school and we didn't have much art in my primary school or the one year of high school I attended so when I decided I liked the idea of being a tattooist, I researched it to no end and I dedicated all my waking hours to learning how to draw. I think in doing this, I trained my brain to have a continuous curiosity for art. The process I mentioned earlier – of working out how artworks are created – definitely started for me when I decided to become a tattooist. But it continues as I keep on developing and changing my focus in my art making.

Graffiti on the other hand is something that has been in my life since I was a teenager. I’ve never seen it as art but instead as a bit of a game where I have a deep awareness of the city around me and am constantly problem-solving and thinking of new ways to do things. I imagine that having this constant awareness of my surroundings over an extended period of my life has shaped the way I view the world and opened me up to noticing details of the city. I’m sure this influences my noticing of the cars around Brunswick.

How do you strike a balance between painting and tattooing?

They feel like two pretty separate things for me. I tattoo from the studio and paint from home. I tattoo in a way that focuses on hopefully pleasing others, but paint with a focus on doing what feels good for me regardless of how bizarre a painting may become. So the line between tattooing and my other art making is pretty distinct. Tattooing is my primary income so it’s easy to make room for tattoos and therefore can be challenging allocating the time for art making at home. Since I started my studio, I’ve reduced my work days tattooing from 5 days a week to 4 days a week. This gives me enough time over the weekend to make sure some painting or art making of some kind gets done. I like the balance. Maybe as I get older, I’ll allocate more days to art making at home but for now the balance suits me well.

Your subject matter often embodies a lot of Australian suburbia. What draws you these landscapes?

I’m actually not sure what it is about Australian suburbia that I find so mesmerising. All I can put it down to is the fact that I grew up outside of Australia, in French suburbia. Perhaps I’m always looking for aspects of my childhood neighbourhoods, even now, 11 years into my life in Australia. Everything is different here compared to what I’ve been used to growing up in France but maybe I find aspects of my previous life here in the everyday things like cars, the rubbish bins, the concrete, the roads. There’s something quite dream-like about seeing the same things yet finding them so unfamiliar at the same time.

Tell us about the concept for your Small Wall show, Sick Wheels M8?

My goal with this show is to share my experience of living in Brunswick in a loose, playful way that shakes off any stereotypes of art being fancy. I want to remind people of the joys of making a line on a surface and encourage people that we all can (and should) play around with art. I’m hoping that my odd style will encourage people to look closely at my pieces, question my process and have an opinion about what they see.

Tell us about one of your favourite pieces?

I actually don’t have favourites! I think the paintings work together as one collection. I like each piece individually but as a whole group, I love them. There is something about the story they create as a collection. I guess because as a group, they make a more accurate representation of my neighbourhood. 

What artists are you currently inspired by?

It’s a very hard question, I get inspired by so many different artists and not just painters but also filmmakers, musicians, poets etc. I’d have to say my number one painter is probably Vincent Van Gogh. I relate to the views he had on art. I always liked his quote, "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."

I also really admire Billy Childish. I like what he does as a musician but really love his painting style. He’s an art school dropout and he doesn’t try to fit into the art world or create people-pleasing art. He instead paints, makes prints, writes poetry – all in a way that is true to himself. That, to me, is far more valuable than creating something that will sell.

List 10 tracks that have been on high rotation while creating this body of work.

I couldn't limit myself to 10 so here is my Top 20 Playlist.

What subject matter would like to explore next?

I’m interested in revisiting some of the old classic paintings in my own style, creating new versions of them - something like a ‘cover album’ that you often see with musicians but in my case with paintings. I think it would be really interesting and fun to play with this idea. I might start with the Mona Lisa… hahaha!

Thanks so much for your time, Charley!

Sick Wheels M8 by Charley Gerardin
Small Wall Show
Outré Gallery Melbourne
14 – 23 June 2019
Facebook Event