EK Interview: Charles Wish


How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go today? Charles Wish will take you deep, deep down. Americana meets South Asian Art to create art soaked in nuance, overflowing with color, and brimming with microcosmic universes. It’s overwhelming in the very, very best of ways. And his thoughts are just as interesting:

What initially attracted you to traditional Tibetan Art? What is your belief system? How have your studies, specifically of Tantric Buddhism, and exposure to Ramakrishna monks affected your beliefs? How has this exposure shaped your values and how you interact with the world?
My mother was the first person to introduce me to the visual art of South-Asia (circa 1977) and what attracted me most was the wide array of phenomenal symbolism and graphic stylings. From a cosmological/metaphysical perspective my belief system could best be described as Vajrayana Buddhism blended with healthy doses of Kashmiri Shaivism and Bengali Shakta. As far as models for maintaining a personal relationship with the conscious absolute go, I tend to look toward the lives and habits of people like Lalleshwari, Reb Nachman, Ramakrishna, etc. I went to the monastery (circa 1997) mainly to study the cultural material. However, briefly after my arrival, I soon noticed that I was in the presence of certain folks who definitely approached life with an unencumbered and advantageous je-ne sais-quoi. What I mean is, pretty much anyone can learn to convincingly reiterate the tenets of Advaita Vedanta or the poetic narratives of Puranic literature. But, how many of us are willing to take the time to discover how to openly and peaceably face the atrocities of this world as undauntedly as we would a sunset? Or knowingly understand (and subsequently give everything of ourselves to help rectify) the core sufferings of any and all? I can honestly admit that while staying at the monastery I was able to comingle with persons who had undeniably succeeded at developing and sustaining these types of noble character traits. To this day it’s mostly been these individuals who have affected and shaped how I aspire to interact with the world.


How did you decide you were ready to begin your formal artist career? Was that always the end goal? How did your experience meditating and working at the monasteries translate into artistic inspiration? What about those experiences inspired you?
For me, the decision to pursue a career as an artist pretty much came about circumstantially. I had just come to that place in my life where there wasn’t too much else left that I wanted to do for a living. I’m not sure if setting out on this specific career path was entirely a good decision, but I’m still here and still doing it so I guess that says something. For me, concrete goals are bit difficult to fathom, the same goes for concrete endings. I come to the studio looking to work and explore; depending on who you ask, what’s left over is either a benefit or a curse of this combined effort. If I’ve understood it right, traditionally, meditating is a technique which strives to focus your mind on a singular principal thought in order to elevate your mind beyond all other thoughts, including the primary. However, these techniques can also be used as a way to refine one’s ability to navigate the imagination. In this sense, my experiments with mindfulness techniques have definitely translated into artistic inspiration by widening and focusing my inner-vision.


You write about culture, and how it is impossible to not be affected by external factors, that we are no longer a nation where Americana can reflect an insular idea of the West alone. How would you describe the culture of your world? Of your circle of friends and family? What do you need from culture to make you whole? How is that reflected in your art? How would you describe the culture of your art?
Whatever cultural expressions we find ourselves surrounded by, via situations like birth, family and geography, now-a-days one would be hard pressed to suggest that any of these expressions could wholeheartedly function in a vacuum (i.e. the nearly universal technology of the 21st century has naturally forced us to be extremely interconnected). With this in mind, the cultural behavior of my world is most likely the same as everyone else’s: dominant innate cultural traits constantly confronted by subordinate accents. If we are indeed fragmented by this situation, then wholeness would best come about through a careful and honest management/melodizing of all the cultural components which speak most clearly to us; cross-cultural hybrids, custom tailored as it were, to the needs of individuals as well as society. According to Hume culture is anything that has the ability to outlive its maker. In this respect it would be premature to assume that what I paint could be described as such. But, if the stuff that comes out of my studio is one day worthy of this distinction, “balanced” is the word I would hope best describes it.


How do you pair your Americana content with your Asian content? How conscious of a decision is it when you choose which elements of each culture to combine? Does everything come together at once? Or do you focus on one cultural aspect of a piece at a time?
This part is always a bit tricky to explain, please bear with me. What I end up painting almost always starts out as a visualization; that is, I internally see it (pretty much in its entirety) before I set out to create it. However, most of what I experience in my mind’s eye tends to reflect quite a bit of already established/preexisting imagery. So, I begin sorting through what’s genuinely imagined and what’s not. By way of my own firsthand memories, photos and notes (or vicariously through those of others) I reference, re-reference and separate all that is recall from all that is made-up. This process of repeated visual crisscross comparisons in turn serve to further galvanize my original vision until I feel proficient enough with it to begin committing everything I’m “seeing” to canvas.


There is a lot going on in each piece, how much do you expect viewers to see? When working with content that is foreign, what can you do to convey the meaning that you are attempting to imbue the work with, the meaning that you as the progenitor access so easily? Do you want to explain your work to people so they can understand? How important is understanding to art?
I’m inclined to agree with those who caution about strapping stuff like dictionaries and nationalities to art. Still, as fickle and subjective as it may be who can say that works of art are absolutely incapable of passing through phases where they do indeed provide us with some sort of deep provincial and universal meaning? Anyhow, when I take a good look at the stuff in my studio, I think we just wanted to make paintings that paired really well with Gingham tablecloths and the whole psych-space rock thing… and have a total blast while doing it. Of course any additional import to this is quite alright with me, sort of like sprinkling a little sugar on Frosted-Flakes.


Your series The Goddesses of Kings Row revolve around Social Pressure and Insight. Why are these issues so important to you? The series focuses on marginalized persons standing up to society, what effect do you hope the series to have? What take away message do you want people to feel when they look at the work?
This particular series focuses on the story of the first manifestation of the Mahavidyas (Sanskrit: maha – great + vidya – wisdoms or realizations, the Mahavidyas are ten aspects of the divine-feminine quality – usually described as Devi – in Tantric mythology). Deific insight is a theme which has been thoroughly discussed when it comes to the story of these Goddesses. However, the fact that they are described as coming about via instances of social pressure is a detail which I feel is often overlooked. As elementary and corny as it may be, the idea for these paintings arose soon after I’d relocated to a place where the inhabitants and I didn’t have too much superficially in common. Interestingly, I noticed that the more I honestly and objectively confronted and celebrated my own tastes and idiosyncrasies, as opposed to clumsily trying to hide them and blend in, the better (not the worse) my new socially contrasted peers and I got along. Still, there are always those types who are too pigheaded to coexist with anyone outside their own tiny bubbles. But during this time, I also noticed that these closed-minded kinds exist everywhere and are just as challenging for me to get along with no matter which side of the cultural fence their external preferences may reside. If there is a take away message in these paintings it’s really up to you to find it, but those were the predominant ideas that I considered while producing them.


What are you working on at the moment? What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on two new series. The first deals with some childhood experiences revolving around nature and human intellect. The second is basically about continuing lines of demarcation in our interpretations of culture and objective correlatives in reverse.

Do you have a favorite place to sit and think?
Yes! Anywhere I’m in the company of good friends.