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Social Impact: Working as an artist in a unique medium of tapestry and illustration to champion diversity, placing women of colour in unique fantasy scenes.
It’s difficult to find architecture that essentialises the British aesthetic more strongly than a white townhouse. Found everywhere in the capital, go to any borough and find little rows of these houses lined up like building blocks.
The order and uniformity of these houses often betray the chaos that’s often found inside. The high ceilings and narrow rooms attract artists, musicians and those who flourish in big spaces, which often means that the shell-like porcelain of a townhouse’s exterior can often give way to and an impossible inside.
This is certainly the case for local artist Charlotte Edey, whose narrow stairs open up to dyed silk, woven fantastical tapestries and lush gardens (ones that aren’t dissimilar to her dreamy landscapes). Over a cup of tea, we discuss her journey: from graphic design student to Flowers Gallery residency.
“I did an art foundation and a level and always loved drawing but didn’t think about it in terms of a career, you don’t know what it entails, none of my family are artistic I worked a load of odd jobs while making things and uploading to Tumblr.”
So you haven’t been an artist from the get-go?
“Not quite, I eventually got a graphic design internship part-time, which led to a 3-day-a-week job. The way I thought about it, I was paying rent from working creatively to a brief, and from that I got more confidence and I started taking my art more seriously because I felt like other people were taking it seriously too.”
So when did you start pursuing art full-time?
“I still don’t! I still work freelance two days a week, hopefully in the next few years I’ll only work one, but the days I don’t work I feel like I’d just spend panicking about invoices, so the emotional stress is about the same, I’ve have to wait for invoices for a year and a half before…”
It’s easy to see where the graphic design element comes into play when you see the imagined landscapes, but the format that Charlotte Edey has been garnering recent attention from is her intricate but beautifully imagined tapestries.
“What I like about graphic design is that it educates you about composition and an appreciation of wide space. You learn about the texture of a horizon and not just its depth. When you work digitally, though, there’s a flatness to your work. You can work with ceramics and copper but they’re also hard surfaces; you feel like you’re transferring your work from one flat surface to another.
That’s when I started getting interested in textiles, I’ve always been drawn to textile works because of this softness and realness to them. I work with a weaver who can work with artists to realise designs. It’s so amazing to discover how pencil, fine liner or gradients translate to tapestry?”
A recurring theme of Edey’s work is the unmistakable curls of her female subjects, curls that Charlotte wears up and down intermittently during our visit, we ask if the incorporation of different hair textures is a deliberate move on her part:
“Oh that’s really deliberate. Obviously there are so many phenomenal female artists of colour, there’s an amazing heritage that’s preceded me, but it’s something so integral to my identity and how I’m perceived.”
As a woman of colour, have you experienced any difficulty in an industry that’s infamously difficult to break as a woman?
“It’s been the complete opposite for me, thank god! I have been so lucky to work with some really phenomenal females, when I think of the things I’m proudest of it’s often been thanks to a female team, female curator or a female-owned gallery. TJ. Boulting’s Hannah Ross has a mostly female roster, obviously Katy Hessel of The Great Women Artists has put together some incredible work and my exhibition at Flowers Gallery came through Juno Calypso. I work pretty much mostly with women.”
She reaches forward frantically to knock the nearest wooden table.
“Touch wood, though! There’s so many horror stories, I’m aware how lucky I am to have a very rose tinted view of the industry so far!”
Her female-focused approach to her work and the art world is no doubt one of the things that’s gotten her collaborations with BBC News, Miu Miu and, most recently, fellow dreamer FKA Twigs; and we had to know how that collaboration came about. It’s one she’s clearly still over the moon about, a smile spreads across her face.
“I have this list of artists on my phone I’d die to make things for and she was, like, second on that list! It was a dream commission in collaboration with WeTransfer and the mini film they created about the year she took to learn pole-dancing for her Cellophane video. What WeTransfer do as a platform is really really cool, how they get inside the minds of artists and they were looking for artists to visualise the idea of Twigs’ mind.”
What was you process for tackling such a big job?
“For artists like Twigs, performance is a window into their world, into their soul, so I wanted an idea that reflected that. Have you seen those 18th century eye miniatures?”
“You should check them out, there’s a few in the V&A. They were a fleeting trend in the 18th century when people had eyes adorned with jewels as a brooch; it was either representative of your sweetheart or as an idea for a window to the soul. It’s amazing, but right now I’m doing silk.”
She motions to a curious set up in the corner of the room: fabric in her typical pink and purple hues stretched over a wooden structure. We ask what it is:
“This is one of the things that was so lucky and kind of a proof that everything is going in the right direction. I was spiralling a few weeks ago. I was freaking out, genuinely thinking: ‘We can’t do this exhibition.’ We needed a silk stretcher to dye the silk otherwise it would gather and look terrible.
But, the next day, I took a walk to clear my head and just a couple of doors down, they’d thrown out this wardrobe you can see there! It was the absolutely perfect size so we took the doors off and now it’s our silk-stretcher.”
She takes a second to gaze across the layers of communal garden of Finsbury Park and we hear the torrents of wind shake the trees. Just like the carefully composed landscapes of her work: everything is where it should be. Charlotte knows this too, now confident in the exhibition and where it will take her next.
“Things like that are so funny. It was the universe talking to me, saying: “Chill out, here’s some help, now get on with it.”