Magazine article Artforum International

Michelle Charles: Kettle's Yard

Magazine article Artforum International

Michelle Charles: Kettle's Yard

Article excerpt

Born in London in 1959, Michelle Charles developed her artistic career during the nineteen years she spent in the United States before returning to her home country in 2001. This is her first major exhibition in England since then and (except for three photograms from 1998) consists entirely of work produced in London. Charles's subject matter includes plastic shopping bags, bars of soap, water glasses (empty or filled with milk), bottles, kitchen scrubbers, tea towels, dust cloths, scrubbing brushes, knitting yarn (sometimes tangled), and flies (and their shadows). One wants to know what she means by these motifs she returns to so insistently: If I counted them correctly, for instance--but it was easy to lose track--there were fifty-four images of flies (or their shadows) in Charles's exhibition at Kettle's Yard, seventy-nine of glasses, thirty-six of soap. (The images are painted or drawn mostly on paper, but sometimes on the covers of old books or on canvas.) Surely Charles wouldn't concentrate on these subjects so incessantly if she didn't mean something special by them. But on the other hand, these things are so ordinary, so meaningless as particular things, that perhaps it is the act of repetition itself to which the artist wants to call our attention.

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Either of those notions might be right, and I'd even say both of them may be true. Even a Fly Has a Soul, which Charles has made the primary title of two suites of drawings here, one from 2003 and one from 2004, certainly makes a clear statement about why one might want to paint so many of them: Each is different, each is an individual, and so each image is a sort of portrait--but only the multiplicity of these differences would establish this individuality, this vital particularity one might call "a soul. …

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