. text by Art historian Mette Dybwad Torstensen

Charlotte Engelhaart
In an eternal relationship with her paintings

– I’m in an eternal struggle with my works. On rough days I can argue with them, shout, stomp the ground and curse to the point that my walls should be isolated. On the worst of days, I dont even know how to paint. It feels like the paintings are almost laughing arrogantly at me, and that I am facing a spitting goliath. On good days however, the flow comes naturally. I am in the right “hight” as I like to describe it. I turn on the auto-pilot, an artistic presence. It’s strange that one can keep on going, after so many punches in the face, year after year. I seem to never learn; everyday motivation carries me to my atelier. I can’t tell how the day will turn out until I start painting, and by then, the colors are mixed and put on the palette and will be destroyed if I don’t use them. On the worst of days, I always loose this battle.

I take a turn down a bumpy road not far from the main road at Nesoddtangen right before Fjellstrand, and is greeted by a yellow house with an ocean view. In the steep and hilly gardens, an atelier is in the process of being built. The artist, Charlotte, holds her somewhat eager dog back and greets us with long red hair, jeans, a black jacket, a huge smile and a warm hug.

– My boyfriend is building me an atelier. At first, I worked in the living room, and the room was crowded by my figures. He would carefully knock on the door and ask if it was appropriate to enter. It didn’t work out over time.

He’s so proud of the atelier he’s built, and regularly checks that I keep it tidy. Sometimes he even paints a wall white because I have made a mess, Charlotte chuckles. She directs us into the atelier. In the corner stands a brand new, elegant kitchen.

– Yes, well, the story about this kitchen is a bit embarrassing, charlotte smiles. To begin with I was looking for a cheap sink, something you need as a painter, but then I found this kitchen to near giveaway-price. The salesman also convinced me that an integrated fridge and a touch-plate stove would fit nicely, so in the end I came home with a kitchen but no sink! There is a reason behind this though; with a kitchen, pupils can stay in the house, or I can swap atelier with other foreign artists.

I have a dream to one day live and work in Mexico over a longer period of time. I simply and straight out hate the Norwegian winter. Its poor lightning for a painter, and personally I think its insanely cold..

Charlotte chuckles at herself, something she seems to do now and then. She pours coffee and puts out lunch on a round table with lacework. During the interview, she speaks with a warm enthusiasm and sincerity about her art and herself. She is full of thought and emotions. Her facial expression change constantly as she changes subjects.

She is an artist with a deep awareness around the process of painting, anchored in four years of theoretical and conceptualized focus at the National Academy of Arts in Bergen.

Who are they?

Fifteen smaller acrylic paintings covers the wall, where people and expressions fights their way through, with strong, colored tones, and dampened red and purple hues. Some of them can be perceived like their wearing masks, while others nearly disintegrate and fade away by rough brush-work. It even looks like some of them are pushing outward, like they are desperate to be noticed. There’s energy and calmness at the same time, chaos and harmony in one and the same picture.

– I wouldn’t define my paintings as portraits. I would rather just call them faces. I often wonder who these people are, as the faces emerge while I paint. In contemporary society, too many give too much thought to who they are. It’s very fixated on personality. I would rather find the unknown in us, and be more curious at what’s inside us. Sometimes I can walk by a face that gets my attention, whether it’s in the store or in a magazine, but they take shape by themselves in the paintings. To me, painting is about digesting reality slowly.

She tends to pause in her explanations and ask herself critical and philosophical questions, and associate it with something new, before she continues;

Lately, the paintings have changed. I always look for a communication between the abstract and a motive, even though motives are subordinate to the process of painting itself. I do my best to be objective to my paintings. It’s easy to fall in love and sugarcoat the art. I don’t want a type of diabetes in my paintings, which will make them to appealing. There’s a fine line between being in control and being seduced.

If I think too much during painting, it gets a lot harder. When I don’t, it’s no longer about art concepts, terms and rules, but what’s in front of me in that very moment. Intuition tends to tell me when a picture is finished. All though I often stop and ask myself; why is finished just now?

From design to art

Charlotte grew up in a home with a Christian mother and an atheist father.

– There was a lot of insecurity growing up with two different directions in the spiritual life. They both did their best to raise me, all though my mother did most of the job. The positive result of this was that I started to think for myself in my earlier years. My sister became a psychologist and myself an artist, I think that it self says enough. I spent a lot of time figuring out who I was. You spend your whole life becoming wiser, and when you finally have some experience and understand more, you have to die at some point. I spend a lot of time thinking about death. Life is too short, and often I often feel like its running from me

When Charlotte was 21, she became a mother. She remembers the insecurity of being a young mom, and some of the strange feedback she would get. Some teachers would tell her that her son colored trees pink instead of green like everyone else at school.

– When I told them I was an artist, it sort of served as an explanation to them. There is so many strange things in this world, Charlotte comments.

“There are so many strange things” is a sentence she uses often, especially after a series of questions, like a model of explanation for everything unknown and strange.

Grown up and as a single mom, and began an design degree in Sørumsand, Norway. Little did she know she would become an artist, but quickly realized she had no place with design. – Among other things we had construction drawing. Just a fingerprint could take you from grade A to C. My teacher gave me a C and told me it was well deserved, because I worked hard for it. Straight lines, color- circles and math has never been my strong side.
I started going to Einar Granum’s School of Art in 1989, which was the year before Granum himself died. I remember him at one point entering the classroom and telling us to forget everything we had learned about colors.
After taking his round and observing all the works, and we stood there like eager, lit candles, he would shout for all to hear: “This is all crap! This simply will not do!”
Naturally, a lot of younger artists flourished after his death.

Closet-painter at the Academy

Charlotte had many different jobs, but rented a cheap atelier. Some winters she even had to paint with mittens. In 1997 she applied to the art Academy in Bergen.

– The entrance exam floored me completely. It seemed like everyone there knew each other from earlier entrance exams. We were assigned to our own workspace for a week, where we would make our art. Some of the applicants brought already completed works which they installed in their work place. I brought a huge roll of paper, pastel chalk and a box of old photos from my mother.

Charlotte became a closet painter at the academy. Here one would make conceptualized art. She remembers it as a tiresome but educational time. During the first year of the Academy, she and her son lived in a basement apartment where the shower had to be flushed to get rid of cockroaches. When asked if she would do it again, the answer is “definitely”

– After four years at the academy, my first thought was that I had not really learned anything, and was mostly glad that it was all over. After a while I came to understand how much I’d really taken with me. I must have had such an information overload that I couldn’t process it all at that time. Especially since during our work, we asked ourselves “why did we do what we did”. As a painter I had to answer for why I painted, what my painting ment for me, and what effect my painting would have on society to this day. I consistently criticized and verified my own work. I think it’s necessary to ask some critical questions about what one is doing, but it may be hard to find yourself in an ocean of theory floating in your thoughts. Today this theory lies in the sub-conscious, but I don’t want to set myself on a theoretic discourse.

During her time at the academy Charlotte began working with video-art. She describes it as “painting on glass”. In the year 2000, she among a few other selected people, was chosen to participate in a video-project in Santiago de Compostela, which was also shown on a monitor in the museum CGAC. At the academy’s graduation exhibit, her video titled “Dåpen” (The baptism) was chosen, among to others, to participate at Benniale Syd Nordic Multimedia at Sørlandets Art-museum. Two years later she received an invitation from the exhibit “My god, my god, why have you left me?” in the cultural church Jakob in Oslo.

– I don’t have a good relationship to religion in general. To me it’s greedy to belong to a certain religion. If one puts religion into perspective we choose our religions based in our own affiliations and faiths, and ultimately geography. It was however a great project to get involved in. In the crypt within the church, I showed a film where I had sampled pictures from the internet of lost children. These children were abducted, sometimes by their own parents, and reported missing.

It was tough to work with this kind of material, but I assume it’s like war-reporters, distancing themselves from it all eventually. I like artists like Marlene Dumas, who both moves us with her works and focuses on artistic issues, all while she has a political message. I think it’s a good place to work from artistically.

While the exhibition in the cultural church was showed, she delivered her first painting to the scholarship exhibition.

– I was so embarrassed with my painting that I carried it with the backside front up so that no one could see it. After the exhibition however, I received my very first request from a gallery. And it’s from here on I spent most my time on painting. This was me.

However, Charlotte has not completely left the video-expression. In 2008 she was invited by Akershus Theatre. In collaboration with director Anne Mali Sæther, she made scene-installations and videos to the show, in addition to the project “Kvinnestemmer” (Women’s voices).

The idea for the concept originated from the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen, where people from different cultures and minorities were given a stage each to tell their stories.

– I am intrigued by the stories of unknown people. A lot of people have amazing stories that are never seen nor heard. Instead, we get innumerable silly and unimportant stories served by the media every day. My wish is to give these unheard voices an arena, so that we may hear voices that have more to tell. The women in “Woman’s voices” came directly from the street. They had no acting experience, but were helped by the director to be able to tell their stories. In a close dialogue with them, I made a frame around it all with videos and photos. It was collages of the women’s own photos. Dancing veil’s serving as a background for the Indian women, women in Iranian wedding shoes and a fragile butterfly behind a Vietnamese woman singing about her home country with an infant voice.

K.U.K

Charlotte sits in an old chair in front of her pictures for a photograph, and claims getting a good pictures of her is impossible. Is she supposed to smile? No serious artist ever smiles?

– How would a man sit? When I started painting, the thought of how I would act in media, look like in pictures and answer interviews because of my art, never crossed my mind. That part never interested me. Men are profiled in a higher degree than women. Almost every cover you have published in “Aktuell Kunst” has been fronted by men. The art environment is, regrettably, dominated by men. I have a friend that reminds me that whenever I get to soft; “Put a cock on!” We used to say that to each other when we felt it was necessary. At the academy we formed a group named “K.U.K” which directly translates to young, creative female artists, where we practiced talking about our art and discuss theory.

Before we head out to greet the sun, Charlotte shows us a box with old paper articles and photographs from the war, among other things.

I lost both my parents and the father to my son in a few years. It was a tough time. I find it strange that all I had from my dad is a letter, while my mother had left me a bunch of pictures and articles from the paper. She grew up in an orphanage, maybe she tried to create a family and a history that way?

We sit down outside in the first of the spring sun. It’s quiet out here at Nesodden. Here, Charlotte gets up early every morning, takes the dog for a walk, and reads Spanish for half an hour before she works in her atelier from around nine to six in the afternoon. She mentions the word “Silence” Painting is a kind of silence for her, in a world dominated by chaos, stress and disturbance.

– In Oslo’s artist environment, it’s important to be seen, to be young, cool and conceptualistic, while everyday business is completely different. We moved here in 2005, and I remember waking up the first night wondering where tram number 17 went. When we got here, there was no lights along the roads, and I brought a flashlight whenever I went to the bus. We still don’t have a sewage system, and I have been used to calling the caretaker for help. We used to live between the Emergency room and a big hospital, so we heard ambulances go back and forth consistently. There was always noise from traffic.

Charlotte moves her finger around and makes a svoosh-svoosh sound.

I can only think of one time there was complete silence. There was no noise at all. Someone got run over by a car and was killed right outside our window, and all traffic was halted for an hour and a half. Then washing cars showed up and flushed the streets clean for blood, and traffic resumed. Life continued like nothing had happened.  We live in a strange society, Charlotte finishes

Written by Mette Dypwad Torstensen, Kunst,

Translated by Mikael Andre Larsen