Tony Charles’ background involves the experience of working in the steel construction industry which has always underpinned his practice through the use of industrial process, material and concept. His investigation into painting centres around its deconstruction, with the relationship between brushstrokes and grind marks on aluminium exploring the idea of object-hood. These painted objects that have been industrially ground back to metal, seem to question whether they are in fact paintings, or whether they are simply a presentation of an industrial process. The excavation of a painting and the erasure of an image with a grinding tool involve a very deliberate action that discovers tensions and divisions between practical purpose and aesthetic decisions. Aesthetic decisions inevitably occur in the making of the painting upon the aluminium. However, it is in the removal of the paint where the struggle begins. Some works give in to a painterly aesthetic whilst others attempt to respect the purpose of the grinding tool and have everything removed. At times a strategy of setting a time limit for the removal of all of the paint is devised. In these cases, when time runs out the work is finished and any remaining paint is left for the viewer. The glassy finish on these works contradict the roughness of the worked surface. This is achieved by re-painting, except this time the medium is resin. light plays an important role here and reflection results in a constantly changing image, an image where grind marks and the remnants of a painting converge and the opposition of practicality and aesthetics can often harmonise.
Earlier work by Tony Charles involves the investigation into the relationship between sculpture and the two dimensional representation of objects. His steel-related process of grinding is employed to remove the identity of objects, and to provide a painterly patina directly associated with the theme of Still Life painting.
Charles explores the traditional notion that Still Life inhabits a place at the bottom of a painting hierarchy due to its depiction of non heroic objects, objects that we live with everyday, things that become so familiar that we often overlook them as being mundane. These objects are brought into view and reinvigorated just as they so often are in traditional Still Life painting. The two dimensional Still Life however, has been historically understood to render the object visually unnecessary, as the object is transcribed to become the subject of a painting with all its visual information transformed into two dimensions. This suggests yet another hierarchy where painting conveys superiority over the object, a notion that is seen to underpin the attitude of art’s superiority over craft. Charles’ installations, Still Life Unpainted and Still Life on Shelf Unpainted seek to embrace the painterly in reference to this most enduring genre whilst retaining the visual necessity of the object tself, enabling the notions surrounding object and subject to merge. This is not without irony. The removal of identity to bring objects into focus and the removal of paint in allusion to painting is a compelling conceptual tension that reinforces the investigation. The labour intensive process, choice of materials and repetition evoke routine and ideas of industry; a recurring characteristic of Charles’ work. Although, it recalls, with its economy of means and tonal qualities, the work of Giorgio Morandi; with its painterly texture reminiscent of brushstrokes, the work of Cezanne; and with its gestured marks, Impressionist paint application.
In the Platform A exhibition 'Painting by Object', Charles is paired with Edmund de Waal as part of a dialogue with works from the mima collection where the work can also recall Zurburan's 'Still Life With Pottery and Metalware'.
The main irony is that the work speaks of painting without a painting, in the traditional sense, being present. It could of course be argued that this is painting and Charles is attempting to negotiate a shift away from its traditional parameters. Nevertheless, the work can simply be appreciated due to the visual beauty of each object, the simplicity of their forms and the dynamic play of light upon their faceted surfaces.