Charlie came ready with a small panel, brushes, bottles of thinners and a plastic bag full of the rattiest tubes of oil paint I have ever seen.
Column Peter Schuyff
Charlie Roberts' first day in class (Charlie Roberts: Model in Studio, 2003)
I met charlie on the first day of a second year painting class I was teaching at the art school in Vancouver. My whole thing with teaching young painters was studio practice and work work work. I quoted Emerson and reminded them to sit up straight. One way I belabored my point was to hire a model to sit on the first day of class while knowing that nobody would show up ready to work. It was a good way to get to know my students. Twelve hours of model time was one of the rare resources of the class and four of them were being wasted because nobody was ready to work.
Nobody that is, except for Charlie Roberts. He came ready with a small panel, brushes, bottles of thinners and a plastic bag full of the rattiest tubes of oil paint I have ever seen. I don't know how he could tell one tube from the other, they were all completely covered with a film of what must have been every color of the rainbow but now was grey. In fact Charlie head to toe and all he touched was filmed with this grey. Charlie was like the pig-pen character in the Charlie Brown comics. But he was ready to work!
I didn't know if that was going to add up to anything, what with the grey cloud and the Kansas drawl (that I had initially mistook for a learning disability). I was ready to write Charlie off as one of those special students (sigh) that need things explained a second time. But he was ready to work and he was the only student ready to work, so on that first day he had the model all to himself. He ended up painting her from behind which I figure was from Charlie's shyness (first day of class and all).
So Charlie starts painting on this masonite panel. It's around eleven by fourteen inches. Charlie started painting this panel the same color grey as everything else within his bat swinging range. By this time everyone else had left. It was just him in the room and the model and me (in between coffees and for only a minute at a time).
The room looked just like it does in the painting: the model posing in a space filled with empty easels.
The first time I looked over his shoulder there was, like I said, just more grey, but applied with a nice touch. I wondered if this kid realized how interesting his marks were. The second time I looked, it was clear that he knew exactly what he was doing and by the afternoon he had an audience. The art school was abuzz, everybody was like: check out the guy from kansas!
Peter Schuyff is a painter and sculptor as well as a singer-songwriter.
He currently lives and works in Amsterdam.
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