It's a typical Friday at Robert Lange Studios, but it might as well be Christmas morning for Charles Williams. He's just been handed the latest issue of American Art Collector magazine with a piece of paper marking a colorful two-page spread featuring his recent work. It's his second time being featured in the magazine, but the thrill hasn't worn off for the 27-year-old painter.
"I used to go into Barnes and Noble when I was little and wonder, 'How can I get into this magazine?'" Williams laughs. "And now, years later ..."
The Georgetown native moved to Charleston a few years after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006. His unique marshscapes featuring raw, dripping edges drew our attention (we featured him as One to Watch in our 2010 Fall Arts Guide). The abstract drips — an accident that became his trademark — are still there, but Williams has progressed significantly in the past year.
"I think the biggest thing for me is that my confidence has grown as a painter and my drips have gotten a little bit more elaborate," he says. "In the beginning, I was still trying to feel it out. I wasn't really sure, but I'm more of a confident painter now and I'm finding ways to use the drip, to make it cohesive with the painting instead of making it stand out. Before it was immature a little bit because it was a beautiful painting and then the drips, so it kind of defined the painting, and I feel like these pieces are more cohesive and they blend more."
Williams' new show at Robert Lange Studios, Capture, is a collection of landscapes depicting places the artist has been or wants to go. One of the exhibit's largest pieces, "Standing Still," is a snowy Colorado forest scene filled with highly realistic, practically 3-D aspen trees, the largest of which took two to three weeks each to complete. Williams relied on photos online and stories from friends to help him paint a mental picture before even beginning. "I wanted to branch away from Lowcountry marsh scenes," he says. "I grew up here, and so I wanted to push myself as an artist and painter to paint snow.
"I love the South and that's a part of me, the Lowcountry is a part of me," he adds, "but if I'm not able to travel, I like to create that feeling as if I was there."
Other works stick closer to home, like the painting of an old fishing boat in Georgetown or a piece of driftwood in the surf off of Folly Beach. Many of his new pieces have a focus on specific objects in nature, particularly weathered things. "Maybe that stands for the old soul in me, I guess," he says. Whether it's a painting of a boat, driftwood, or trees, Williams makes an effort to give life to his subjects. "I like to characterize trees, to humanize them in a way that they seem like they have their own personality," he says.
Williams recently moved his workspace into the expanded Redux Contemporary Art Center, and he says his work has already benefited. Whereas he used to work from home and get distracted by domestic tasks, he can now focus fully on his art. He paints eight to 12 hours a day, relying on energy drinks and music — from old-school jazz to bluegrass to Linkin Park — to keep him focused.
As for his newest works, Williams finds himself moving in a wetter direction. "I've been falling in love with water, so you'll be seeing more water for 2012," he says. "Water is always changing. It's always moving, and that's one aspect of nature you can't alter and it's also that renewal aspect that I like."
And although he's considered doing away with them, the drips aren't going anywhere. "I think it's going to stay," he says of his signature style. "That's more of an interaction with the viewer to kind of finish the piece in the viewer's mind. It's also another way of showing the process of how I start because I have a traditional method, but I use it in a more contemporary, expressive style."