My occasional series on the Fosse Gallery in Stow on the Wold brings me to a very exciting young artist whose work centres on the Middle East. Charlie Calder-Potts had a solo show here two years ago and I was amazed by her beautiful, yet seemingly timeless mixed media works on Persia.
I aimed to interview her and finally caught up with her this week. I was fascinated by her love and affinity for this region, which we in the West find so difficult to understand. She tells how her opportunity arose when “my sister moved to Lebanon, when I was fourteen, and I spent the next ten years regularly visiting her and exploring that country, as well as Jordan and Syria.” The Middle East became an obsession; “a region bursting with a fascinating history, incredible arts, friendly welcoming people and the best food!”
After leaving St Andrews University, she set out to work in the region as a war artist and after several attempts had a tour with the 9th/12th Royal Lancers staying at Camp Bastian at Helmand in Afghanistan, which she described as a prison and a haven. Having been told by the Army that she would not leave the camp, she did manage occasionally to head out to Kabul with heavily armoured troops as protection. “The photography element of my work is a form of reportage – these individuals were all there. The painterly aspect allows me to give them a context.”
This was followed by trips to Iraq and Iran. In Tehran “I worked with Persian poet Rosa Jamali for two weeks visiting as much of the country as humanly possible. Our project was to rework the Persian epic the Shahnameh from a contemporary perspective.” Charlie elaborates on this; “to see this timeless narrative with its themes so applicable today, I have taken people from the streets of Iran going about their everyday and placed them within the context of this Persian epic.” I think it is this timelessness that is so appealing. The poem is fabulous as are her paintings inspired by it.
The Fosse Gallery is again the setting for her latest exhibition. This is inspired by her recent expedition to the tiny village of Palekh (400km from Moscow), where no English is spoken (her e-mail had to be taken to a family in Moscow for a translation). Charlie explains; “Palekh has been a centre for the icon painting since the 1600’s; a place exclusively dedicated to teaching a new generation this historic art form.” She worked with Vladimir Bushkov who, after 40 years, is considered a master of Russian icon painting. With her understanding of eternal nature of time she adds “Icon painting is as relevant in today’s Russia as it was nearly 1000 years ago.”
There is so much more to say about Charlie Calder-Potts and her philosophy bringing the Middle East to the Cotswolds, but let her art speak for itself. The exhibition entitled ‘Singing some endless Song’ opens at The Fosse Gallery in Stow on the 8th of March. Enjoy.