“Railroad Yard, New London, CT" - Oil on Canvas - 56" x 86" - 1977
This painting began a straightforward photo realist project. The subject is the boneyard at the southern terminus of the Central Vermont Railway, in New London, in the shadow of the I-95 bridge over the Thames River. New London in the 70s was an open-air museum of America's nautical and rail industries. Charles says, “I spoke frequently with my beloved professor and mentor, David Smalley, about the direct and metaphorical uses of this material for artists.” As he worked on this painting, Charles discovered he needed more information than he could get from initial photographs. So he received permission from the yardmaster to wander the railroad property with camera and sketchbooks.
In Summer 1977 the painting, still in process, was seen by the curator of a traveling exhibition being planned to showcase the variety of contemporary art in Connecticut. His painting was chosen to be included. As Charles puts it, “The only question was, could I possibly finish it by the end of December?” The exhibition, “Connecticut Painting Drawing and Sculpture 78,” was shown January through April 1978 at The Carlson Art Gallery (University of Bridgeport), The New Britain Museum of American Art, and Cummings Art Center (Connecticut College). It attracted attention from New York critics and galleries. “For me, it presented levels of praise, conflict, and opportunity I could not have anticipated,” says Charles. But within the year he had agreed to his first solo exhibition with a respected New York gallery in November 1979.