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  • Decorative non-functional object, part of the 'Bristle' Series, made from altered readymade strainer, with bristle detail threaded individually

One to Watch: Charlie Birtles

We speak to Hothouse17 maker Charlie Birtles 

Charlie creates contemporary craft pieces from elements of ready made objects, using the making process to play with materials and compositions to create visually intriguing objects.

Her work responds to a personal narrative influenced by interactions with found objects, which are deconstructed and repurposed, allowing the viewer to see past the ‘ordinariness’ of everyday materials.

Charlie has been selected for Hothouse, the Crafts Council's Talent Development Programme for emerging makers. Find out more about Hothouse

What first got you interested in making?

I’ve tried to pinpoint when I first became interested in making, but the truth is I was always making things since I was young; knitting, stitching, drawing, modelling.

I first formally became interested in working in 3D forms during my Foundation Studies, but it wasn’t until my final year at Manchester School of Art that I began working with found and ready made objects as I do now.

I graduated in 2015 after studying Three-Dimensional Design at Manchester School of Art, beginning my making career shortly after, embarking upon the ‘Cultivated’ graduate support programme at Unit Twelve Gallery in Stafford. This programme was a bridge between University and independent practice offering six months’ studio space and professional support to graduates through the early days of setting themselves up in business as makers. The experience gave me a real drive to succeed as a maker.

Charlie Birtles, Portrait, 2017

What in particular drew you to working with  found objects?

I like to work with existing objects as I believe it allows for a freer creative expression; working with readymades encourages play and reduces the worry of ‘getting it wrong’.

I have always learnt by doing, something which I suppose rings true in my practice today. I’ve never found drawing in the traditional way beneficial to my making; instead, I draw with objects and compositions.

Where have you shown or sold your work so far?

My time on the Cultivated Programme, as mentioned above, concluded with the exhibition Cultivated: Part II at Unit Twelve Gallery in September 2016. It was great to take stock and celebrate the progress from my journey on the programme.

I have also re-visited Manchester School of Art since graduating, showcasing in their exhibition ‘Legacy: a celebration of alumni achievements’ in early 2017.

I have shown at various contemporary craft shows since beginning my business, including Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair at Old Granada Studios, Manchester, Made By Hand at Cardiff City Hall and Lustre at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, both as a Young Meteor and a year later as an exhibiting artist.

I hope in the future to move towards producing site specific commissions and residency based work.  

Which project are you most proud of so far and why?

I am very proud of my time on the Cultivated Programme. It was invaluable; space, time and support, giving me confidence to drive my practice forward.

Where do you typically find the objects in your work and are you always on the look-out for new objects?

I am constantly on the look-out for new objects. I collect things anywhere and everywhere: car boots, charity shops, urban environments, rural landscapes. Working in a shared studio space at Unit Twelve, I often come in to find treasures left on my workbench from my studio neighbours.

More recently, I have also been looking to archives for inspiration. I’ve visited several times Staffordshire County Council’s collections held at Shugborough Hall. They have a fantastic collection of tools and templates used during the shoe-making process at the Lotus factory that once existed in Stafford.

Decorative non-functional object, part of the 'Bristle' Series, made from altered readymade strainer, with bristle detail threaded individually

Which techniques do you use most in your practice?

My practice is a repetitive process of collecting/arranging/playing/making/ reflecting. I use my knowledge gained from my training to ‘construct’, particularly making use of metalsmithing techniques, such as riveting, piercing and soldering.

You’ve said that you want people to look beyond the ‘ordinariness of everyday materials’. Why do you feel it’s important that people see beyond ‘ordinariness?’ 

To answer this question, I would like to refer to a Henri Lefebvre quote that has stuck with me since reading it.

“‘Banality? Why should the study of the banal itself be banal? Are not the surreal, the extraordinary, the surprising, even the magical, also part of the real? Why wouldn’t the concept of everydayness reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary?’*

‘Why not, indeed?’”

(Glenn Adamson ‘The Spectacle of the Everyday’ in the V&A and Crafts Council’s ‘Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft’ Exhibition Catalogue, quoting Henri Lefebvre from ‘The Everyday of Everydayness’ translation.)

What do you hope to get from Hothouse?

I am chuffed to have been selected for this year’s Hothouse Programme; it is a big step for me in my early making career. The Crafts Council’s development programme has a brilliant reputation for supporting and promoting emerging makers at the start of their career, giving them the tools to develop a practice that is sustainable.

I am entering Hothouse with a complete open mind. During my time of the programme, I hope to learn about different models of practice and apply this to shape my future ambitions. I am very much looking forward to expanding my network, learning with the other 34 selected makers and meeting my mentor and Hothouse’s industry partners.

*Glenn Adamson ‘The Spectacle of the Everyday’ in the V&A and Crafts Council’s ‘Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft’ Exhibition Catalogue, quoting Henri Lefebvre from ‘The Everyday of Everydayness’ translation.

You can see more work from Charlie and follow her at the Crafts Council Directory

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