INTERVIEW: Pi, mythology and the black male form
A church is not the sort of place one would expect to find a celebration of male sexuality.
But next month, St Pancras Church Crypt will play host to the ‘Reverie’ exhibition by London artist Charlie Pi, showcasing his interpretation of masculinity and sex.
Known for his paintings of the black male form, the Deptford-based artist will premiere a selection of 50 new oil paintings of black male iconography displayed on unconventional canvases, such as old table tops and bread boards.
A qualified psychoanalytic therapist, Charlie believes his training has enabled him to be more artistically intuitive.
His work draws upon dream interpretation as well as Greek, Pagan and Christian mythology, giving the traditional pin-up images a spiritual edge.
Charlie told PinkNews.co.uk:
“I had started working with live models and saw it as an opportunity to break away from the mythologies I had used to theme earlier shows.
“I have used images from the Promethean myth, the myth of Narcissus and Oedipus as well as pagan myths such as the green-man of the woods.
“Like the Renaissance and Victorian artists, mythology provides a good excuse for nudity.”
St Pancras Church, which is still a thriving parish community, was consecrated in 1822 and was the most expensive church to be built in London since St Paul’s Cathedral.
The church crypt, which served as an air-raid shelter during the two world wars, is an apt location considering the religious undertones of Charlie’s work:
“I have used candles and flowers in previous exhibitions and the baroque nature of my work automatically lends itself to a religious interior.
“The crypt has no ambient lighting and is a maze of corridors and alcoves meaning the individual works are discovered by spotlight.
“In some ways, the works hark back to the ‘saints day’ cards that were handed out to Catholic children and featured male figured in semi-nude draped in loin cloths.
“I suppose that I am bringing an adult sexuality to these remembered childhood images.”
Formally a cult performance artist in the 1970s and 80s, Charlie’s first love is figurative painting, particularly of the black man.
His previous work has featured paintings of athlete Linford Christie and rap artists Tupac Shakur and Ja Rule and he hopes to eventually produce images of actors Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson.
“Painting the black male is a personal preference,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.
“Generally speaking, the black male has less surface fat and therefore muscle is better defined.
“This definition is further enhanced by the reflection of light from dark skin and the lack of body hair.
“In displaying iconic portrayals of black male sexuality, I hope to create a new mythology of the black man as a powerful creative force.
“I am striving to portray my models as ‘creative individuals’ and hope visitors to the exhibition will be intrigued and amused by the work enough to want to take them home.”
Charlie also hopes that the unconventional canvases he has used to display his painting will create make the images more accessible and create unusual connotations among viewers of his.
“My use of found objects as both content and also in the construction of the works provides a link with contemporary culture.
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“Painting a portrait on a breadboard surrounded by one of those ornate brass plates that used to be on every granny’s wall makes them instantly accessible and in recognising the objects we can approach and be intrigued whereas baroque art was about distance and awe.
“I painted a shipwrecked sailor on a section of ship’s decking pulled from the Thames.
“I hope by using such objects to bring their history into the work.
“I hope that these objects will have some totemic meaning to the viewer.”
Reverie opens at St Pancras Church Crypt, Euston Road, London from the 9th-27th April Wednesday-Saturday 12:30-6:30pm, Sunday 12-4pm.
All the works in the exhibition will be on sale at studio prices.