Cotswold artist - Sam Charles
PUBLISHED: 12:22 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013
There's no mistaking Sam Charles's artwork. His stylistic paintings capture the energy and personality of his subjects like no other. Candia McKormack visits this talented artist - and his pair of friendly greyhounds - at his Cotswold home
The light fantastic
There are big cats high up on Rodborough Common. Lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, panthers But mainly there are greyhounds. Lots of them. Beautiful creatures with glossy, sleek fur and alert eyes.
I am in the home of Sam Charles, a Cotswold artist whose distinctive contemporary style has captured the imagination of art lovers and collectors. One of his biggest fans is Perez Hilton, the American blogger and TV personality for whom he painted a portrait of his beloved Goldendoodle Teddy (see Perezs website where he gushes enthusiastically Its so lifelike! The eyes are ALIVE! Its perfect! Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. A big hit then). But its Sams love of greyhounds that is a recurring theme in his astonishing work.
I do a lot of work with my sister Kay over in Florida with the Greyhound Ranch adoption people. They get a lot of dogs that have just come off the track, and the amount of muscle that they have in their back legs is so much that it pushes the veins out, so that you can see all the veins and muscle. They have this ridge of muscle that goes along their back that you dont get with normal domestic dogs because theyre trained so much. Racing greyhounds are incredible, and then they hit civvy street
And its clear that his two greyhounds, Greyson and Bamba, have certainly hit civvy street and quite frankly wouldnt want to be anywhere else. As were talking the pair often wander over for some affection, and its obvious just how much Sam adores them.
We give them plenty of food, but it never seems to be enough. Theyve got lineage going back to the 17th century and beyond, and theyre definitely designed for running very fast, in a straight line. If they see a [whispers] squirrel or [whispers even more quietly] cat, theyre off like a shot. At this point Greysons ears prick up and he quickly scans the room looking for the intruder, only to be disappointed, sinking back down on the floor beside Sam.
You can see how much the dogs enjoy running. Some of the photos that Ive taken of them on a sunny day, using a fast shutter speed, it looks like theyre smiling. I think they really enjoy it.
In a previous life he worked in the film industry as a clapper-loader and second-assistant cameraman, loading the camera on-set with film and making sure everything ran smoothly he worked on three of the Harry Potter movies but found it to be a very intense experience, working 14/15-hour days for a few months at a time. And then a sporting injury forced him to reassess his career direction.
I had a back injury from rowing that put me out for eight months or so, which meant that I couldnt lift or carry anything heavy. I couldnt do the camera work any more and thought, right, Ive got to earn money somehow and keep myself sane, and so I started painting.
And you can see how much his very distinctive style has developed over time.
It started off with quite dashy lines and there was no real process to it, but now theres more energy as the style has become more connected. An animal has this energy that I try to capture with as many colours as possible. Part of my university degree was in anatomy albeit human anatomy and Ive always been intrigued by muscles.
There can be no doubt that the study of anatomy has helped with the understanding of what is going on underneath the sleek fur of Sams subjects, but it was his desire to be a personal trainer that first led him on this path.
I got a qualification through a new type of exercise that takes you back to the whole process of how cavemen were, and so its very postural. This had a knock-on effect with the whole back injury that I went through: I actually grew an inch through stretching and strengthening. Through the repetitive motion of rowing, my back had become an accentuated S, and through the lengthening exercises I actually grew from six-foot-four to six-five.
And Sam certainly does cut an imposing figure. In his early 30s, impossibly tall and athletic with leading man good looks, and a sharp, enquiring mind, you can imagine that Sam could have chosen pretty much any career path and succeeded. But it was art that turned out to be his real calling. So, how on earth did the Perez Hilton commission come about?
I actually first sent him a painting free of charge. My sister-in-law looks at his website every day and told me that he had a little Goldendoodle called Teddy whom he absolutely adored. I wrote off and asked if he had any photographs that I could work from, so I painted Teddy against a bubblegum pink background and sent it out to Perez and he absolutely loved it. Then six months later I got a phone call asking if I would fly out to meet Teddy and produce a large-scale painting. They commissioned me to do a seven foot by seven foot painting but, putting it up in his house, it actually looked like a normal-sized painting!
An important part of the process is Sam getting to know his subjects. So when he first flew out to Los Angeles where Perez lives, he spent time playing with Teddy in the back yard, and produced sketches to take away with him back to Florida.
I like to spend time with the dogs so they become relaxed and I get to see the real character. With some of the paintings Ive done over in America, Ive spent about an hour getting to know the owners and their pets. The most important part of painting is capturing the personality.
And the big cats?
I try to get out to safari parks whenever possible Marwell, down in Southampton, is good, and Longleat, when the lions feel like playing! Getting the fierce cat expression is interesting During one of the tigers feeding times at the zoo, Id turned my back to sort out a lens for my camera when I heard this deep rumbling noise, with the tiger growling for meat that the keeper was putting through the bars. Very scary!
And now Sam is working with a whole new breed of big cat. As part of this years Lions of Bath exhibition, his beautifully painted life-size lion sculpture will join 99 others as part of a cultural event to raise funds for local charities. Visitors will have a chance to see the pride of Bath lions until September when they will be spruced up ready for the Lions Roar Goodbye on October 9-10, when they will gather in front of the Royal Crescent, before going up for auction on Friday, October 15 and Sunday, October 17.
This could be your chance to secure an original Sam Charles piece, and have your very own resident Cotswold big cat.
Sams painting on a life-size lion sculpture will be part of a pride of 100 lions on display in and around Bath until mid-September. www.lionsofbath.com
A one-man exhibition of Sam Charless work is being held at The Wheatsheaf, Northleach, from June 18-24(with private views in the early evening on Friday, June 18 and Saturday, June 19).The exhibition is organised byRiley Contemporary Art(www.rileycontemporaryart.co.uk).Call The Wheatsheaf on 01451 860244or visit www.cotswoldswheatsheaf.com