Night Call


Night Call” - Oil on Canvas - 54" x 66" - 1979

Charles’s first exhibition in New York was in November-December 1979 at The David Findlay Gallery on Madison and East 77th. It consisted of approximately six large oil paintings, depicting twilight and night time landscapes in both city and rural situations, plus preparatory drawings. The entire series emerged from his unhappy experience in graduate school at Queens College, during which he spent sleepless nights wandering through warehouse districts and suburban neighborhoods, recording the otherworldly environments created by artificial light. They were the streets of Flushing, NY illuminated by the glow of a night game at Shea Stadium and, as Charles puts it, “prefiguring Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or spotlights illuminating creepy, deserted factory buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Curiously, I never felt I was seeking danger and I never had an unpleasant encounter during these wanderings, whether in Connecticut, Queens, Brooklyn, or Chicago.” But it was in the northern mid-west where he experienced the combination of wide-open landscape punctuated by just a few landscape elements, as well as the extended hours of twilight, where he discovered some first usage of a symbolic vocabulary in such paintings.
This first group of exhibition paintings were sort of a trial run. The gallery personnel seemed not to know what to make of the dark paintings, says Charles, and “it didn't help that I insisted they turn the general lighting down low so visitors from the street would have to let their eyes adjust to darkness before entering the main gallery area inside, where each individual painting was spotlighted.” The show was a success, selling out in less than four hours. This allowed Charles to buy paint, travel, and pursue his vision for another two years. “Night Call” was in some ways a response to one of Charles’s favorite paintings, Edward Hopper’s “Gas” at NY’s Museum of Modern Art. Other paintings in the show related to De Chirico’s unsettling spaces, and J.F. Millet's “Starry Night.” In the months that followed, Charles noticed other artists utilizing similar imagery and at first I thought he was being copied. Then he realized that, as a wide range of representational painting reemerged in the late 70s, these were ideas just “in the air,” which helped lead to the explosion of figurative art in the next decade.