Whitehot Magazine

Noah Becker on the Paintings of Charlie Stein

 Charlie Stein, Nybble and Sweetheart, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 40 x 30 cm

By NOAH BECKER August, 2020

I've never been to Berlin Germany but I hear it's a great scene - no money one day, then the art captial of Europe the next? My friend the famous jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel lives there. The painter Charlie Stein lives in Berlin too... Music stars, art stars - what's it all about? 

The term “art star” is a bit odd these days, so I will not go on and on with it. But what I will say is that it was a nice thing to meet Berlin based painter  Charlie Stein and think about her art at length. Her art really spoke to me - as weird as that seems. In a very strange way, it spoke to me through the seen and the felt – the mood. The seen and the felt in art, or the "mood" of art - I mean the weight of art. For those who know what this means... It is a place for those who know what art is, to ponder the mood of a work of art - conceptually maybe, or not.

When Charlie Stein came to New York, she was not bland in terms of her mood - I met with her for a drink and some chow. Stein is warm and thinks on art and paint with drive and care, real care. She is a real one, a real “art star” in a sense. I feel like Charlie Stein is in tune with what mood is and what the use of "mood" means to art - and the way art is really thought of...

Charlie Stein also sent me her bio - I'm always excited by a good bio, this one is no exception: 

In her work Charlie Stein deals with dominant cultural aesthetics questioning existing modes of perception within the context of a highly digitized, visually overstimulated world. Her material is gathered through extensive research and translated into drawings, installations, sculptures, paintings and text. Her focus lies on social structures, digital media and contemporary forms of communication. She holds a postgraduate degree in fine arts from the State Academy of Fine Art where she studied at the classes of Christian Jankowski and Rainer Ganahl in Stuttgart, as well as the class of Gerhard Merz in Munich. She was a recipient of a DAAD scholarship in 2010 to reside in Beijing, China.

Recent exhibitions include Manifesta11, Villa Merkel, the Songjiang Art Museum in Shanghai, Museum Villa Rot and the 2017 edition of the Istanbul Biennial. 

Pretty good bio, right? I thought so...

I did an interview with Stein about her paintings. Keep reading below and you can hear what we said...

Noah Becker: What is the reason for you to be regularly producing paintings? 

Charlie Stein: I made my first oil painting when I was six years old. I was encouraged by my mother, who let me use her old easel and paints. I didn't hear very well as a child, so visual stimuli was like ecstasy to my kid brain. When I was painting, I would be left in peace by everybody around me. People wouldn't interrupt me and would give me space. It felt like it was the only time I could be with myself from an early age on. That is how my habit formed quite naturally. 

Painting usually happens when I discover a question or an unresolved emotion within a drawing, or an idea I feel I need to further investigate. A painting, unlike a drawing often ripens over time; not every drawing will be translated into a painting. In painting, I am trying to hunt down fleeting ideas and give them a face. By looking back at what I have decided to create - and often it looks back at me - I create a kind of psychological feedback, that reveals something to me that I hadn't known before. In that sense, every painting feels like a stepping stone onto the next. 

Charlie Stein, Interacting as Yourself, 2020, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 cm

Becker: What makes a good painting a piece of art and not just another image? 

Stein: I think it is strictly forbidden for a painting to be a boring reproduction of what we have seen before. If it is boring - for the love of God - please stop. It has to be authentic and interesting. I am often bored when I come across artists that claim not to look at other people's work - and still they manage to be the most derivative in the end. 

There is a lot of 'playing it safe' in the contemporary art world, which is common for crises - however, I think people in 50 years won't look back on this point in time for artwork that is decorative and non-descriptive. 

Becker: You are good at fictionalizing yourself. What role does the artist’s self image play in their work?

Stein: I have never seen this as a particular strategy of mine. But I do feel that within my assigned role as an artist, that certain easy paths, I just have never been able to go down. It's almost like a whisper, whenever I wish to take the normal or the easy route it hisses in my ear "not for you, not for you." 

Becker: How do you think about color when making a painting?

Stein: Color is the grammar. I have a palette of colors that I go back to again and again. You can communicate so much by juxtaposing specific colors with each other. You can force a painting to look sweet, aggressive, enigmatic or superficial, just by how you use color. If a robot on a tennis court is turquoise or blue it means something very different to me.

Charlie Stein, photo by Duncan Smith

Becker: Are you influenced by any artists in particular? 

Stein: I do like artists that are not derivative and can handle humor. In terms of story telling, I am fascinated by the work of Henry Darger. Francis Bacon did play a role when I was younger, his mysterious scenarios were fascinating to me. When I have to think of someone who gets the balance between humor and the uncanny right - Kurt Vonnegut. As for contemporaries in my field, I find that Avery Singer, Robin F Williams, Jana Euler and Emily Mae Smith are taking interesting positions.

Becker: What do you hate or who do you hate in the art world? 

Stein: In German art school you are not prepared for there being an art world at all. It is still strange to me to get used to the speed at which things move. It took a while for me to understand that my personal reflection, and time with my work, ends up being something that I have to be protective of. 

Becker: What or who do you love in the art world? 

Stein: Let's face it, no matter what role you have within the art world - you're a weirdo. I like that. I feel at home with all those misfits. 

Becker: What’s your next show or project? 

Stein: There are currently two shows on, Something True in Berlin and the Sculpture Triennial in Bingen.

I am currently working on a time machine that will allow for present time to connect with the reality of social life in Ancient Greece. If that doesn't work, I could probably do it through a series of paintings, renegotiating traditional rituals and festivals of Athenian women. But ideally an actual time machine. WM



Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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