Enkaustikos Instructor Charlie Ciali
Meet the Artist
Charlie Ciali is a local Palm Springs Artist who works in encaustic, painting and printmaking. He is the 2009 recipient of "Best of Show" at the Palm Springs Museums' Artist Council Exhibition (ACE) and the 2008 first place recipient. His work is in many private collections and he has shown throughout Southern and Central California. He has been active in the arts community serving on the Board for the Artist Council at the Palm Springs Art Museum as Executive Vice President of Fund Raising, Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner and Former President of the Art Institute at Palm Springs High School.
Charlie received his B.F.A. Degree in Ceramic Arts from Daemen College in 1978, followed by graduate studies at Edinboro University, Edinboro Pennsylvania, where he studied under renowned ceramicists, Robert Milnes, George Ferguson, Steve Kemenyffy, and Donna Nicholas. During that time his work was shown in many group shows including the Albright Knox Art Museum, Buffalo New York and won entry into the Super Mud exhibit at Pennsylvania State University. Following Graduate School he became a flight attendant for a major airline of which he recently retired to work full time on his art and teaching.
Living in Minneapolis for over two decades he worked as the Assistant Director for MC Fine Arts Gallery considered one of the leading galleries in the Midwest. After five years with MC Gallery he opened his own gallery, “Perspectives” which specialized in glass and ceramic arts.
Perspectives Gallery earned national recognition in several trade magazines and was named “Best of the Twin Cities” for art galleries in its first year. The Gallery was invited to participate in a visiting Gallery Exhibit at the Tokyo Exhibition center in 1995.
In 2002 Charlie moved to Palm Springs with his partner and began doing commissioned abstract portrait work. Considering himself a mixed media artist, he has explored the possibilities of different mediums and how they work with each other.
Today Charlie works in monotype prints, encaustic, painting, sculpture and mixed media. Monotype prints are prints pulled form a painting that has been painted on a plexi-glass plate, only one impression is made. The difficulty in this method of work is that the artists is always working in reverse of the final piece, several “drops” of the inked plate may run through the press on one piece until the finished art work is achieved.
Scroll down for Charlie's interview!
"XD is the best, I always like my work to have a high luster and smooth surface. Working with XD as a final coat produces amazing results!"
Q: So, I always begin by asking how you first came to know about encaustic and what was the draw for you that made you want to explore this medium?
About five years ago I saw an encaustic piece in a gallery, I really wasn’t sure what the technique was but was fascinated by it. I had been doing monotypes and various other printmaking techniques as well as painting and my work always had a great amount of layering in it. The encaustic process was a natural for the way I worked. I began doing research on it and found that Nick Capaci was teaching a workshop at Idyllwild Arts in California and I immediately signed up, I was hooked on the first day!
Q: Why do you feel using encaustic is important in your work?
My work has always been about message on top of message, layer on top of layer. I want the viewer to see something underneath, behind, on top of other images. I love how encaustic allows you to create transparent layers all while being able to control the transparency at multiple levels.
Q: Tell us how working with encaustic has enhanced your artistic creativity and sensibility?
Painting with encaustic allows the painter limitless possibilities, more then any other medium I’ve worked with the encaustic process is truly alive while you paint, its more fluid, there is more movement, more change. Once you have learned how to “tame” it and work with it you are able to let the creative process evolve. The mark you make can have endless directions in which it may go. In many ways it is like a work in motion instead of a work in progress, I love that!
Q: Who do you look to for inspiration? Are there any historical or contemporary artists that you specifically admire or that may have influenced you in some way as an artist?
Definitely, I am very influenced by Robert Rauschenberg on one end and Mark Rothko on the other. I am drawn to the juxtaposition that Rauschenberg shows in his work and the pureness of color in Rothko’s work.
My inspiration comes from what I see around me everyday. Not objects as much as what I call unintentional paintings, sides of trucks rusted and weathered bill boards, patterns and stains in sidewalks. I try to capture that in my work. The things we see and don’t necessarily look at twice I see as amazing paintings. The patina that is left by weather, or the unintentional marks made by people is some how always compositionally perfect. I often photograph what I see and blow up or scan it digitally for a good composition and then use as these images as inspiration to paint.
Q: How do you begin? Do you work from items you collect? Do you draw to work out your ideas? Do you have a vision before you start painting or does it develop as you work?
I usually begin working on several pieces at once. Several years ago I was in Portugal and was inspired by the neglected old billboards throughout the countryside. Parts had been weathered away showing the previous ad next to a part that had not been torn or worn away. I loved the juxtaposition between the images and enjoyed how they told a unintentional story, a story that I could make up. When I began working I had a format that the pieces would be long “Bill Boards” in shape, and I liked the blocking that occurred by the way the paper had been applied to the board and kept with that division of space as a compositional element.
Q: Your work seems to incorporate a lot of mixed media techniques, can you talk about that?
By no way a purest in any sense, I put wax over prints that I have done, I incorporate papers, I often cut up old prints that I was not satisfied with and use them in new works because of the strength of a certain part or color. I like to break the rules! My area of study in graduate school was ceramics. I spent an entire semester working on these massive bowls that where hand built. In the interior they where like grand canyons with cliffs and valleys. They were really exciting pieces and I discovered that water color on the bisque clay gave me the color range that I wanted to make them look more like rock. My instructors loved them until they found out that I was not using glazes but paint on the surfaces! In those days that was like blasphemy in a ceramics studio! I couldn’t get an answer why it mattered and to this day don’t have an answer to it. What I love about encaustic and encaustic artists is that we all seem to break the rules one way or another. Really good art can be made of anything if the artists know what to do with it.
I often use stencils both in my encaustic pieces and in printmaking, the kind you buy in office supplies shops that are different letter fonts. Letters and numbers as pattern fascinate me. After repeatedly using some of my stencils with wax I looked at one and realized that it naturally turned into a painting on its own, so I stared embedding the entire stencil into the piece as its life as a stencil had ended but in an encaustic piece it had been reborn.
Q: What are some of the concepts and ideas in your work?
Time, story telling, allowing the viewer to create their own story with the pieces that I give them. Only recently have I begun to work on some new things that are very politically motivated. I’ve always liked giving the parts of a narrative instead of creating one, letting the viewer create their own narrative.
Q: I see a lot of repeat of pattern in your work, do you tend to work in series or do you explore different genres concurrently?
I tend to work in series for the most part. But when a new series starts much of the format is carried over from the series before . For example, I worked on the Bill Board series for a long time, but when I ended that the elements remained in the newer work in terms of the size and composition. That being said, I could be working on a series of encaustic pieces concurrently while working on a series of monoprints and they will have little relation to each other. I like that because I think it keeps it fresh, it gives me a breather by allowing me to be take a break from one thing to work on another. (its totally the Gemini in me). I compare making art to cooking, you add a little of this and a little of that to create a new taste but the same ingredients slightly changed in quantity create something totally different. We usually have more then one thing on our plate when eating; a piece of fish, then you move to the rice, and then to the vegetable, none of those things are the same organically but the compliment each other and help to make a satisfying meal. Art to me should do the same thing, allow my senses to explore a combination of things to create something unique.
Q: I also notice that you have at least one bold color element in your work, can you respond to that?
I really don’t think about it to much. I grab what feels right, and it usually is. I love how painters like Rothko use color, the simplicity of it. I use color more to create depth and texture then mood.
Q: How about a favorite encaustic technique that you find yourself doing often in your pieces?
Nick Capaci was the first person I learned how to do encaustic from, he creates these absolutely mirror finishes on his pieces. I am so impressed with that and have been working at achieving it in my work. I also like to dig into the surface and rub pigment, layer and repeat. I have hundreds of tools from cookie cutters, combs, chains, stamps that I like to press into the wax, rub or paint in pigment and layer. I also love photo transfer and use that a great deal in my work, either photos I have taken or ones that I find.
Q: What are some of the hurdles you have encountered working with encaustic or as an artist in general, and how do you deal with them?
I like to work large, so that presents several challenges in the studio. I realized one day by accident while I had a large piece on a table with wheels that instead of moving around the piece as I worked I could sit or stand in one place and move the work instead, much like a potter using a wheel. So I was able to move the table with my legs while working on a piece. Also I live in the desert (Palm Springs) so during the summer months I do less encaustic work because of the heat and use that time building up surfaces and gathering elements for when the weather cools down.
Q: Do you work in other mediums and how does working in encaustic influence other mediums?
Yes, printmaking and painting (acrylic). Because of the transparency of encaustic I see layers appear more quickly then when painting or printmaking. So when I go back to those mediums I have a better idea how to layer things. It all goes hand and in hand really.
Q: What do you want people to walk away with when they see your pieces? What is it like for you to see people’s reaction to your art? Where can we see your art?
Their own story. I love when people look at my work and say, “oh I see this or that” and the person next to them sees something completely different. I like to give the ingredients of a narrative without creating the narrative or being “in your face” with a message. Usually my work has human/figurative elements in it. But at the end the essence for the viewer is the same it’s just the road the viewer takes to get there that I find fascinating. I want them to walk away “full” like they just had a satisfying meal.
As stated above I use stencils a great deal, letters and numbers always appear in my work but not as words or hidden statements. I am intrigued how the letter A or D or F can be written in many different languages but its still the same letter. I like that we can recognize Japanese, Russian, French, even if we do not speak a certain language we know what language that is by the “organization” of the letters. That human connection of communication fascinates me. The number 1 is the number 1 universally even though we do not speak or read each other’s language. We are able to communicate with each other. Art does the same thing, it is the universal language, and it’s the artists’ job to be the interpreter to some degree.
My work is shown at Stephen Archdeacon Gallery in Palm Springs on an on going basis. I also have been in many juried expositions and my work can be seen on my website, Charliecilai.com
Q: How do you share your talents? Do you personally teach any encaustic workshops or lectures? Is there any community outreach that you are involved in?
I have taught in my studio for about five years and teach workshops frequently at the Palm Springs Museum of Art. This fall I will be opening a studio space for Printmakers and Encaustic artists to use in Palm Springs as an open studio.
One of the most rewarding things that I do is mentor at the Palm Springs High School Arts Institute Program. Each year a senior high school student works with me in my studio a few times a month for the entire year. I always say I learn more from them then they do from me. It’s a great experience. I’ve done demonstrations at the high school and the instructors where so impressed with the encaustic process that they now teach that as part of the curriculum.
Q: Please talk about the acquisition of your friend Michelle's studio and your goals if you would like.
Recently, a very dear friend of mine passed away. When I first moved to Palm Springs I came here with background on the selling side of art, having worked as an assistant director for a major gallery in Minneapolis and then having owned and operated my own gallery. After arriving in Palm Springs ten years ago I found Michele Jamison who had an open printmaking studio. I had never done printmaking before and quickly fell in love with the process. Within three years I was teaching printmaking at the museum in Palm Springs, which later led to teaching encaustic. Sadly, my friend Michele recently passed away and I have decided to continue her legacy in the area of having an open studio space much the same way that she did for printmakers, but I’ve added encaustic to that environment as well. The space will be open for printmakers and encaustic artists on different days of the week.
View more of Charlie's work here.