A Generative Experience: Alumna Artist Zoë Charlton

By Elizabeth Delaney for McColl Center for Art + Innovation

Like her art, Zoë Charlton’s ideas are larger than life.

Beginning as mere inklings in her mind, they blossom into fully fledged two- and three-dimensional pieces exploring her creative interest in gender roles, cultural identity, and concepts of domesticity. It is this growth process that Charlton cherishes, and likewise made the central pillar of her time as a McColl Center artist-in-residence.

During the fall of 2017, before ever producing material work, Charlton filled her McColl Center studio with what might be. Within the broad scope of her residency, she found subjects, professional collaborators, and perhaps most importantly, the space and time to think, research, and map out her imminent creative path.

She describes her residency as “generative,” in terms of both internal and external processes and tangible and intangible outcomes.

“I think that it’s really great to have a residency that impacts you so deeply,” Charlton says. “I’m really happy about my time at McColl Center.”

Ultimately, Charlton’s three months at McColl Center generated three unique bodies of work. Since her residency, she has shown these large-scale drawings, collages, and African-inspired masks in a number of exhibitions—among them her first solo shows in Philadelphia and Baltimore, where she currently resides.

Zoë Charlton at work in her McColl Center studio, fall 2017.

Charlton credits Claudia Gonzalez Griffin, director of residencies and programs, and Nicole J. Caruth, McColl Center’s former artistic director, for their collective vision, trust, and flexibility in letting her residency take the shape it needed to take. “Those two transformed my entire experience,” says Charlton. “I admire them both and appreciate the subsequent opportunities that have come out of McColl Center. The McColl Center residency was really important to me.”

Charlton’s work is back at McColl Center as part of the New Works / Alumni Four exhibition, which runs through November 16. Organized by visiting curator Laura Ritchie, the exhibition features Charlton as well as fellow McColl Center alumni artists Lori Larusso and Izel Vargas.

Reflecting on Charlton’s work, Ritchie says, “Zoë is a force, as are her pieces. The narratives about race, class, and colonization that inform her practice resonate with my own ongoing reckoning with Southern identity.”

Zoë Charlton, meant for the home-bred (Compromise Series) (installation view), 2019. Graphite, acrylic paint, and collage on paper; approximately 112 x 55 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Elizabeth Delaney for McColl Center.

Charlton’s contributions to New Works / Alumni Four include two suites of small collages and a new wall collage created for the show. Titled meant for the home-bred, the piece features her signature larger-than-life figures that fade in and out of their domestic surroundings as they burst forth from traditional pictorial parameters and move through space.

See meant for the home-bred and many other works by Charlton, Larusso, and Vargas in New Works / Alumni Four, on view until November 16, 2019, at McColl Center. Our gallery is open Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.