Recently I visited artist Charles Sommer, a second-year MFA student at Brooklyn College, at his studio on campus. Sommer’s studio is a partitioned space, where the walls are high enough to provide privacy, but not so high that one feels isolated from his fellow students. The space is adorned with his finished pieces, and one work-in-progress – a large-scale graphite drawing – that’s draped across his drawing table.
All of Sommer’s work is vaguely abstract, but he pulls from reality – either by inserting recognizable objects, or by constructing his composition around the suggestion of a landscape. Each piece is like a “mirror” unto itself, where the reflection is inverted: Is it a digital portrayal of the physical world, or a realistic depiction of the intangible? Either way, reality is something that only exists in context, within the “universe” of the piece.
This is Sommer’s world -- a place where things that can’t quite be explained by logic, or proven by science, are brought into the realm of the possible. His pieces have an ambiguous, “otherworldly” appeal that invokes viewers’ sense of wonder and invites them to engage with the work.
Sommer begins each piece with a graphite drawing. In a very selective manner he pulls in other materials, often cutting up the drawings and constructing a collage. He introduces paint in fluorescent hues for an illusion of depth against layers of two-dimensional planes laid by symmetrical/asymmetrical grids and patterns. The effect conjures the notion of the “radioactive”, and, in viewing his pieces, we feel transported into a kind of virtual reality, as if we have stepped into a sci-fi world where our understanding of what’s real is challenged and even turned on its head.
Sommer’s educated eye is trained toward composition. But he challenges our sensibilities and expectations, tilting horizons, turning things upside-down. He doesn’t plan things out beforehand, or work from sketches; rather, he begins a piece by drawing a form and letting it “grow” from a single focal point, then cutting things up and collaging them, often combining hand-drawn forms. This process allows him a way of “work[ing] out problems that [come] up during the drawing stage” and controlling what the final image will look like – without having to overthink it. Collage permits him the “freedom to manipulate” the forms until he is satisfied with it, versus “having a stagnant or flat image where everything is fixed”.
Art has always played a central role in Sommer’s life. As early as first grade, he recalls wanting to be an artist. In fact, he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawing. This sensibility persisted throughout his schooling, and will culminate, in May 2016, in his thesis show at Brooklyn College.
Where will he go from there? Sommer intends to get a foothold as a professional artist, supporting himself through whatever means at first – ideally, by teaching art. Ultimately, though, only one thing matters: that he continues making art.