By Gina Malone
When it comes to creating her large, bold, expressive paintings, Nadine Charlsen’s travels—both afar and in her own neighborhood—provide her with all of the stories, characters and settings she needs for inspiration. She has taught watercolor classes in Santa Fe, NM for two years and was slated to be part of a 2020 Art Expo there when the pandemic postponed the expo until 2022. “I decided to drive to Santa Fe anyway,” Nadine says. “I spent 10 days in and around Santa Fe painting and photographing in the desert. This trip really cleared my artistic brain and gave me new material to consider for future paintings.”
She grew up in a small town in Kansas with artistic parents who encouraged her creativity, and spent many years living in New York City before retiring and relocating to Asheville in 2014. Her background includes teaching positions at high school and university levels and, overlapping the classroom time, freelance work as a theatre professional. “I have always been involved in art in some way,” she says. “My last years in NYC, I was teaching set and lighting design and scenic painting. I took classes at The Art Students League of New York in NYC. It was at the League that my theatre and art career merged.”
She was taking a class at the time from Paul Ching-Bor. “It was more like an atelier of working professionals,” she says. “We respected each other, learned from each other and helped each other grow into better artists. I knew after three weeks in the class that I would become a working watercolor artist when I decided to leave my theatre career.”
Though known for her striking paintings of trains like the one that graces this month’s cover, Nadine says she does not have one subject. “My work is inspired by architecture, cityscapes and serene countryside settings,” she says. “I’ve always liked different types of transportation: trains, boats, planes, gondolas, subways and trams.” Industrial scenes, including areas of the RAD where her studio is located, interest her as well. “I love traveling and photographing the scenes that excite me to recreate them as watercolor paintings,” she says. “The energy of cities, the serenity of open spaces gives me a different drama that I create with the light and shadows of the moment.”
In the RAD, where she has served as board member and president of the River Arts District Artists, she discovered an art community where she could pursue what she calls “non-traditional watercolor work.” Her methods do not follow certain rules or procedures, she says. “I work in watercolor using much more color and less water than most watercolor artists.” In addition, she begins laying in the dark areas of her paintings first. “After that, how I proceed depends on the subject and focus of the composition,” she says. “I enjoy the techniques I am developing in each painting to make it unique.” She paints on Khadi, a paper from India handmade from cotton rag. Her first painting using Khadi was titled At the Opera and is one that has won her awards. “It is one of my more complicated paintings,” she says, “and yet it almost painted itself in five days.”
She attributes unusual viewpoints in her paintings to her background in set and lighting design. “I feel something about the time, location and story in my imagination, and I want to convey that in my work,” she says. “While I am working on a painting, I remember where I was, what I was feeling and what story I can tell that did, or could, take place in that setting. I love feeling that the painting conveys a time and place to the viewer.”
She also wants to leave room in her paintings for the viewer’s imagination. “My tendency is to create an impression of a complicated subject through stylized realism,” she says.
Her life now revolves around her art and teaching her non-traditional experimental techniques to watercolor artists. She teaches watercolor classes through 310 Art at the RAD’s Riverview Station. “These have been very limited since the pandemic, but will resume as soon as possible,” she says.
She was able to paint in her home studio when the shutdown happened in the spring. “In some ways, the time in my studio was helpful,” she says. “I completed many of those paintings that I had started, but never finished.” She has created a gallery of large works in her home and hopes, by early 2021, to be showing those paintings by appointment.
Nadine Charlsen’s studio is located at NorthLight Studios, 357 Depot Street, Asheville. Current hours are Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., some Sundays 12–4 p.m. and every day by appointment. Learn more at NadinePaints.com, on Facebook at Nadine Charlsen and Instagram @nadinepaints.