Charles Ladson is a painter who rediscovered his home in Macon
Like so many other artists, Charles Ladson had an interest in art and painting at an early age but didn’t think it was something he could pursue as a career.
Ladson’s granddad and mom were both interested in the arts: he was a hobby painter, and she was an art history major. Through that she encouraged me, and dad as well,” Ladson says. “From a young age there were art books around, and the smell of oil paint and turpentine from granddad’s paintings. The smell oil paints hooked me from a young age! I didn’t really start painting until later in high school, maybe a little bit at Wesleyan College.” He would sign up for art classes taught by Wesleyan faculty and artists around town, but “traditional” college wasn’t really for him.
“I failed miserably at college and it dawned on me that I needed to do something more with the arts than I could [where I was],” Ladson says. At the time the School of Visual Arts had a satellite school in Savannah, so he enrolled there. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – for him, a lawsuit between the School of Visual Arts and the Savannah College of Art and Design shut the satellite school down after a few short years and all of the remaining students, roughly 30 total, were sent to New York to finish their BFA degrees.
Ladson stayed in New York after graduating in 1999 and then went to Indianapolis for a while, “working odd jobs and keeping up with painting.” Then he was accepted into the University of Georgia with a graduate assistantship that he couldn’t pass up. During his time there, he was also able to participate in a study abroad arts program that took him to Cortona, Italy, where he taught painting for a semester.
After graduating with an MFA in painting and drawing, Ladson stayed in Athens, living, working, and maintaining his creative studies. But by 2005 he needed to get out of Athens and decided to return home to Macon to be with his friends and family after nearly 10 years away.
He purchased a “fixer-upper” in Macon and dedicated much of his time to the process of refurbishing the old home, which is now his studio. “I told myself I was going to get back into art and painting when I finished the house, and then this gallery in Asheville picked me up.”
The gallery was Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, and his first showing at the gallery was in 2009 – his first real showing outside of academia. “I had shows through the University but I didn’t really count those. You didn’t have to work for them; as a student you’re required [to participate],” says Ladson. “I was always confident in [my work] and people admired it, but it wasn’t really mature at that point. Not that it’s mature now!” he laughs, “but it’s starting to look like my work. I had approached galleries in Atlanta without much success and I figured, ‘Maybe I need to go paint more.’ It’s hard to go visit somebody when they know all you want to do is be in their gallery; it can be unnerving. I don’t like to grovel.”
It turns out, he didn’t have to. “This gallery in Asheville called me out of the blue,” he remembers. “They were interested in [my] work, which took a lot of the frustration out of [trying to show it]. I’ve been showing there since 2009.” He has also shown his work at Wesleyan College in Macon, Lee Hansley Gallery in Raleigh, and at Winthrop University in South Carolina, where he did his first solo show in the beginning of this year. He also continues to show at Blue Spiral Gallery once a year.
Blue Spiral Gallery describes the content of Ladson’s work as coming “intuitively from a more stream of consciousness pattern and is more ambiguous than any deliberate attempt at commentary.” Ladson himself says that his work is “a recognizable space. It’s not abstract. It’s non-objective. I’m very sensitive to surfaces and abstract shapes and forms, just formally speaking, and it can be abstract in that way but there’s always something recognizable. It can be narrative but there’s no narrative or storyline I’m consciously trying to portray. I like to recognize what I’m painting – there’s people in places doing things; it’s a formal image at the end of the day.”
He jokes that the painting process lasts for weeks and “it’s awful, it’s just awful!” The paintings are always changing, and he’s not done until he’s done. “If it looks right, I’m done with it,” he says. “It’s a gut feeling. They’re always changing and it takes forever, but it’s just finding the few things that are working and teasing them out.”
His process is pretty simple, the way he explains it: “I just work. I move a lot. I put paint on the canvas and try out different ideas; it’s like writing drills when you just write and then come back and edit. I just move and stay active. There’s a lot of movement going on, getting the blood circulating, then coming back and editing.”
He also isn’t one to start out with a specific idea and stick rigidly to it. “I cannot do that! Over time you see it in a different way. It takes a long time to make a painting. You can have an idea on Monday and by Wednesday it has changed.”
One thing that isn’t going to change is where Ladson calls home: he and his wife just had their first child and both have deep family ties in Macon. “We love it in Macon,” Ladson says. “I enjoy [being in a] smaller town.” After 10 years exploring the world beyond Macon, Ladson is a Macon artist who is home to stay.