Self-discipline shows that talent is not just something you’re born with but its something you build, its developed over a long period of time. I’m a firm believer in the idea that yes, people are born with talent, but that talent is also the ability to pursue something.
Frolic Exchange: So, first things first, have you been creating things all your life?
Charles Sommer: Yeah, I have always made art and have always been into drawing but I would say that it didn’t become my passion until my junior year of high school, music was always my thing. I played the bassoon, the cello, the clarinet; I was classically trained and really focused on things like marching band and playing in orchestras.
FE: And how much does your musical background influence you now?
CS: I think that my classical training prepared me for making my art. It helps me to get really detailed and spend long amounts of time in solitude when working on a piece. But the background in classical music is definitely has one of the biggest influences on my work as far as building the discipline to actualize my ideas and continue working on them. I think it gives me an appreciation for technical ability and skill.
FE: I’m sure there was a time where you decided that you had to choose between fully pursuing art over music, how did you make that choice?<br>
CS: Well, for a while never thought of visual art as a real possibility for me. There is a weird stigma about being a visual artist which made me feel like it was not really a legitimate thing for me to do, so at first it was just a hobby. I always secretly wanted to do it and when I started looking at colleges I pretty much just had to make a decision. You know, for me it was like “art or music”? It had to be one of the two. I didn’t really give a shit about anything else but it was important for me to pick either one or the other. I didn’t want to be one of those people who kind of just dabbled in a bunch of different things.
FE: So would say you chose art partially because of the lifestyle it allows you to have?
CS: Oh yeah, most definitely. Music was my lifestyle too, don’t get me wrong but I think I have a little bit of stage fright and I have terrible tempo and I was kind of like “ok these are two things that I’m just not going to get over”, so I just need to make a decision. On top of it I was 17, being really cool, smoking cigarettes or whatever, haha. Art was gave me that edge that I needed.
FE: I think that art often takes people to a place beyond words, which pushes people to seek it out ran create it. Do you think that is something that drives you?
CS: Yeah, I think that’s part of it. Its like when you’re a kid and you open up a book to see things you’ve never seen before, or when you looking at a book with words that you don’t know how to read with captions to pictures that you don’t understand. That experience creates my meaning. By looking at words as simple symbols and letters, it kind of desensitizes you.
FE: Right, because that is all words really are on a fundamental level.
CS: Exactly, and I think the same thing about pictures. With my work, there’s abstraction but not so much so much that makes the work unrelatable. My professors would kill me for saying this, but I think that a lot of abstract art is so nonsensical that its like “okay there’s meaning here but what is the value of it being so far abstracted, how is it still relatable?” What I do is abstracted from nature but I want people to think: “I wonder if he was thinking about spaceships”, or whatever else pops into their mind. I want people to be confused in a logical way.
FE: You want your art to make people think.
CS: Right, but I don’t want people to be thinking about bullshit. I want them to think about the work and enjoy their time while they are looking at it, to see it across the room and say “what is that?” and then get closer and discover all of these different things.
FE: What would be your pinch me moment as an artist?
CS: I would like to not rely so much on a frame and not be pressured into feeling like I have to have these pieces that are structured to be commoditized. I love a drawing as a single thing in a gallery but to not have the limit of the frame…would be nice. I would like to do more with installations, maybe paper sculptures and stuff like that. Its hard to find a reason to do that, so I would like to have a reason. The idea of a white box is great to me, to just be given a white room and be told to just have it it. I would love that.
FE: Do you think you would be intimidated by it?
CS: Definitely not, I know exactly what I would do. It would sort of be like creating my own universe.
FE: This might be a strange question because your world is shaped by the world that you know, but how much of your work is based off of things you see in life?
CS: Well I would say that it is based off of the natural world. All of the work that I do now goes back to this one drawing that I did where I created a vine. I thought it was a cool shape in my sketch book and I decided to make it into a more legitimate piece. All of the tiny details that you can find in something like a piece of wood or a piece of bark really drew me in and I decided to go with it. It fucking worked and I realized that I could create this whole world…and I did.
FE: Does organization matter a lot to you? Your work comes off as very organized.
CS: Yeah, I think so. I’m fairly organized, but my room is a mess.
FE: Would you say that your art might come down to a control thing, then?
CS: Yeah, I think that making art is kind of a control thing. You know, a lot of times life is just so fucked up that you need to be able to have just one thing under control. It comes down to the fact that I can sit down and have control over every aspect of what I’m making, especially with these collages that I’m working on right now. Its like, if I don’t like where something is, I’m just going to fucking cut it out. So, yeah, control is a huge force that pushes me to work, which eventually can put me into a sort of trance. Sometimes when I’m really into it I feel like a psychopath haha.
FE: Yeah, its like you’re creating your world and you can be deep into your own head and not have to worry about anything else.
CS: Yeah, but theres a downside to that too. Being alone for so long and doing the same thing over and over again is almost like having someone tapping on the side of your head and refusing to stop. So sometimes I get into the state of mind and I’m just like sigh.
FE: So what do you do when you get there?
CS: Smoke a cigarette. Have a drink, haha. I usually just stop working because nothing good will come out of it. I don’t usually get the point of fucking it up but it depends on what life is doing at the moment. It really just depends. When I was working on those big drawings, if there was something going on that was bothering me I would listen to these…this is really lame…self motivational tapes that I found. Well I guess its not lame because it worked for me, but they really encouraged me. It might have just been bullshit but it helped. I would be on the verge of a panic attack and I would just lock myself in my studio, put my headphones on, and sit on the floor while listening to these relaxation speeches or whatever. I still have the tapes somewhere, it was like JC Hypno-Something.
FE: That just makes me think of N-Sync and the guy JC that was with them being really inspirational.
CS: Haha, not quite!
«Check out more of Charles’ work here.»
Interview by Meaghan McGovern