Charlie Mackesy lives in Brixton, south London. He was born during a very cold snowy winter in Northumberland. He went to Radley College for a little while and then Hexham Queen Elizabeth High School, among others but seemed to prefer ferreting, drawing cartoons and swimming in the River Tyne. He attempted university twice but left both within a week . He also made a vague attempt to study the relationship between fine art and theology at Cambridge and on discovering there wasn’t a course helped put one together. Sadly once the course was constructed he didn’t study it. He never went to art school but spent three months in America with a portrait painter where he learned about anatomy and how to deal with bed bugs. He began as a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press before being taken on by galleries. He first exhibited drawings in London in The Park Walk Gallery, Chelsea, and has since exhibited in galleries in New York, London and Edinburgh. He has lived and painted in South Africa, Southern Africa, and was obsessed with New Orleans. He made endless studies of jazz clubs and gospel bands and brought the work back to London to exhibit.
His obsession with music and especially the Royal Albert Hall continues.
“Its a great shape , a loving shape – like a jelly.” he says. “A cosy pudding housing genius”
The story of the prodigal son is central to him.
“It is subversive and flies in the face of religion, religious sensibility and moral high ground. It suggests we are loved not for what we do but because we exist. It cannot be earned; it is a gift. This is the most liberating truth in existence, that we are loved, known, forgiven and free.”
His work now features in private collections including Highgate Cemetary, St Pauls Church Hammersmith altar wall triptych, Ashfield Prison Chapel ,Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, St Melitus college London, Ridley College Cambridge and various Safe houses for women around the world who have used his Prodigal Daughter images to give them a sense of peace and safety.
One of his happiest times was making drawings for Richard Curtis on the set of Love Actually and also more recently Red Nose Day Actually and the 35 drawings were auctioned for Comic Relief.
Collectors of interest include ; Whoopi Goldberg, Roger Waters, Richard Curtis, The Murdoch Freuds, Tim Bevan, M.Night Shyamalan, Bear Grylls,Howard Goodall, Harry Enfield and Sting.
He is in discussion with a curator from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about a bronze cast of the Prodigal Son, but this is still in the early stages.
He recently illustrated Bear Grylls book With love Papa.
He is slowly compiling a book of cartoons.
He co-runs Mama Buci which is a social enterprise in the Zambian copperbelt. Families with little or no income are given beehives and training to be beekeepers. The honey is then bought from them and sold in the UK. They are harvesting 400 tons of ethical organic raw honey a year.This provides an income for 8500 families who now have 85000 beehives between them.
He has recently produced “The Unity Series”. A collaborative set of lithographs with Nelson Mandela which began in 2006. The work is now finally published after a set back lasting a decade.
They are available to view in the lithograph section of this website and are for sale.
Charlie writes of himself ;
“Its difficult to write about yourself, but I’d like to try to say a few things if I can.
The work on view is a little eclectic and is spread over the years. Sadly I have no record of a lot of the early work but you can get the idea or gist of it here.
If you look at the paintings on this site, a fair proportion seem to have some kind of angel or spiritual thing going on. I’m aware that this may seem a little odd . I’m not sure how that all happened really, how it all began, but it has not come from a love of religion. In many ways I find religion pretty toxic and disturbing. A moral high ground; a tribal gathering against the world.
I guess for me it all came from a quiet feeling when I was in a London park that there must be more to this than meets the eye. It wasnt a criticism of the park, yellowing as it was, but just a sense that I was missing something, somehow. Or as Eugene Ionesco put it, ” the human comedy does not attract me enough. I am not entirely of this world. I am from elsewhere; and it is worth finding this elsewhere beyond the walls . . . but where is it? “
So bizarrely my response to this question was to start drawing. Most people go to church or India or something. I just sat down and drew, and havent really stopped. It seemed like a good way of thinking , of working things out. That was twenty five years ago . . . so help me someone.
The work began as ink drawings of London, analytical and thorough, analysing everything. Over time things loosened and the work became more open and developed from there. It seems I go through phases or issues such as the prodigal son story and work them through until somehow it’s over, and I can move on. There are clear and obvious themes; the jazz, the angels, musicians and the prodigals. Interspersed between all of these though are random studies of life; narratives if you like, such as drawings of friends, and cafes, and cartoons which are unspecific in their message but to me are as valid.
In retrospect and at the risk of sounding like a pseud – I think the process of making art can be a journey of discovery and self-discovery somehow- a spiritual journey I suppose.
I guess for me its all about wonder, and everyone has their own way of feeling it or expressing it. G. K. Chesterton said ” At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder .” I guess when you dig eventually you find something,and however awkward it may sound (with all the difficult sub-cultural religious stuff that comes with it) I discovered that for me the doorway to this sunrise of wonder was Christ.
When I was sixteen, working on a harvest in Northumberland, I overheard a conversation between two Geordie farm workers . . . “Im going to an art gallery on Saturday.” “A gallery? what the hell for?” “Because I get moved. It takes me somewhere.” “Ah you big girls blouse” They laughed, but I never forgot it. I’m always surprised when I hear people have been moved or taken somewhere by my work. It’s not really on the cusp of things or shocking remotely. I’m not interested in that. It’s just the wonder thing I’m interested in. I think Joseph Conrad sums it up pretty well. “The artist ..speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives, to our sense of pity and beauty and pain.” Anyway, thanks and I hope you like the pictures. Feel free to contact me about anything, firstname.lastname@example.org