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Mildura, VIC, Australia
Craig Charles is a Melbourne-based painter with Yorta Yorta heritage on his father’s side, and Mhutti Mhutti heritage on his mother’s side. Born in 1975 in Mildura, in Latje Latje country, Charles was raised by his great grandparents, Betty Charles, a descendant of the Djara people, and Ron Murray, a descendant of the Wamba Wamba/Lake Boga people. Creativity was part of his life from an early age: the artist remembers listening to stories and drawing with Betty and his siblings at the kitchen table from the age of four. His formal training in art began in 1996, first at the Sunraysia TAFE in Mildura, and then at the Mildura Campus of La Trobe University, where Charles completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998. As Charles has written in his masters thesis exegesis, a turning point came when an art lecturer “told me about my ability to raise awareness of the 'Koori’ plight, through art” (Charles, 2006:12). Since then Charles’ art practice has been concerned with celebrating Aboriginal people’s resilience, paying tribute to family, ancestors and country, and sharing experiences and stories with wider society. Having lost a number of family members and friends from the Victorian Koori community over the years, creativity of all forms has become a means to draw strength and to heal: the artist describes it as “an amazing form of medicine” (Charles, 2006:8). In 2006 Charles completed a Masters of Fine Arts at RMIT University in Melbourne, during which he pursued these themes and developed technical approaches to articulating them in his work. He has come to draw on a range of artist and natural materials in his paintings for symbolic purposes. For example, gold leaf is frequently employed, as it signifies his respect for his elders and traditional owners. Gold leaf also allows Charles to glorify the country he depicts, such as the Murray River that runs through Latje Latje country, with which he identifies very strongly. The artist has also rubbed his canvases in the earth “to appreciate the physical connection between the image and the land” (Charles, 2006:17), and he uses shellac and oil to bind the dust and grains to the work. Other natural materials such as ochres and charcoal also add texture to his paintings. Charles’ works are recognisable for their dramatic figurative and animal forms and their layered, scraped and glossy surfaces. They are often characterised by a well-defined figure/ground relationship, in which negative space forms a bold, semi-abstract component. In a number of works, Bett’s kitchen tablecloth, symbolised by printed decorative patterning, provides a subtle background. Charles began exhibiting in significant group exhibitions from the mid-1990s, including the National Gallery of Victoria’s “Big Shots Exhibition – We-Iri-We-Homeborn” (1996), the “Art of Place” National Indigenous Heritage Awards exhibitions at Canberra’s Old Parliament House in 1996, 1998 (where he was highly commended in the Emerging Artist section) and 2000, and the touring exhibition “Native Title Business: Contemporary Aboriginal Art” (2002). In 2000 he held his first solo exhibition “Nana Bett and Me” at Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery and that same year Charles also established his own dance group, The Black Crow Dancers, which toured Singapore, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. As a young child he was a member of the Latje-Latje Dance Group in Mildura, and alongside painting, dance remains a crucial creative outlet for the artist. Since 2000, Charles has held several solo exhibitions, including “City style, Country Youth” at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton (2005), “Mungo Stories” at Australia Dreaming Art, Melbourne (2006), and most recently, “Elders Place”, at the Prahran Town Hall in Melbourne in 2007. The 'Elders Place’ series pays homage to his great-grandparents, Betty and Ron. The works exemplify the artist’s treatment of painting as an expression of, and extension of, family togetherness and sharing, honouring the spirit of his formative experiences drawing at the kitchen table. The work Nan and Pop’s Campfire Kitchen – Pumpkin Stew from this series is in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, having won the NGV Acquisitive Prize at the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards, 2007. In 2008 Charles was a finalist for the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Charles’ work is also in the collection of the La Trobe University (as a result of having won the 1997 Colin Barrie Acquisition Scholarship), the Koorie Heritage Trust, and Museum Victoria. Writers: Fisher, Laura Date written: 2008 Last updated: 2011 Status: peer-reviewed
b. 1975
Yorta Yorta and Mhutti Mhutti artist who integrates gold leaf, shellac and other found materials into his acrylic paintings, which pay tribute to his family, indigenous ancestry and country.
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