Emerging Artists | Charis Congail

Painting from the inside out

Charis Congail, Hatchet Man, oil, 32 x 36.

Charis Congail, Hatchet Man, oil, 32 x 36.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

In Charis Congail’s family, there’s a saying about life that goes something like this: It’s all clouds. “It’s the idea that a cloud ends up becoming your chi or trees or flowers, so it’s never actually gone,” explains Congail, “but it becomes a part of everything else.” The artist’s father, who lost several family members to lightning strikes in his youth, recites the figurative expression a lot these days with a Zen-like grace. “As he arrives near the end of his life, he says it’s all temporary, it’s all clouds, but he has a heck of a sense of humor,” says Congail, who recently portrayed her father in a portrait that features, naturally, a lightning-charged cloud overhead. Beneath it, her unworried father simply smiles.

The figurative painter always looks to her models for clues about their inner “questions” and emotions—qualities she can then capture in her classical realist paintings to communicate something about the human condition. Telling details might lie in their wrinkles, in their eyes, or even in the colors of their clothing. If painting strictly from photographs, Congail first spends considerable time getting to know her subjects, taking “mental snapshots” as she studies how they move and hold their head. She’ll “snag” many of her models at a taproom near her home in Santa Fe, NM, where people tend to be open, expressive, and relaxed. In the artist’s eyes, that’s key. “It’s not me putting a model into a story,” as she puts it. “It’s me seeing a story coming from them.”

In college, Congail studied sculpture, and though her work was “nontraditional,” she found inspiration in the classic works of French sculptors Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin and the Italian and Dutch masters. Today, those traditional influences surface in contemporary-themed paintings like BUTTERFLY WAITING, a portrait starring Congail’s mother that garnered an honorable mention in Oil Painters of America’s online showcase last fall. In the painting, the artist’s mother is bathed in Caravaggesque lighting, steering viewers’ attention to her forward-looking gaze and opalescent butterfly pendant—a symbol of change and becoming something new, explains Congail, as her mother approaches a later stage in life. In portraiture, she says, “there should be details that relate to the person. I want it to represent them. I want to paint from the inside out, with elements of symbolism.” —Kim Agricola

representation
www.portraitartist.com; www.chariscongail.com.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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