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On The Rise: Charles Munka & why Painting is Personal


On The Rise: Charles Munka & why Painting is Personal

Despite dropping out of art school, French artist Charles Munka seems more spiritually aligned with his practice than most. He speaks of art highly, as a process of understanding and becoming oneself, and accepts it as a process that involves long periods of time. While he has not always been able to work as an artist full-time, his passion and drive speak through how he never gave up on it, even as he was forced to work odd designer jobs to make ends meet. 

Munka finds inspiration for his work by observing the every day. It’s fascinating that this ‘every day’ comprises of not only Japan but cities all over Asia, including Hong Kong and Shanghai, and has been where he’s drawn his inspiration from for the last 20 years. With the awareness that he was a stranger to these cities for all these years, he took to these experiences, extracted the nuances of these spaces, and allowed them to organically transpire through his works. Now, Munka finds himself based on the Island of Sado off the coast of Japan’s Niigata, deploying these same techniques in creating his pieces. 

As part of On The Rise, a new segment showcasing emerging creatives on The Artling Artzine, we get to know Munka and his practice a little more, why he’s chosen painting, and the series he’s most connected to: 

Charles Munka's studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

For those who aren’t familiar with your background, could you tell us a little more about your journey as an artist?

I dropped out of art school early and decided to travel to Japan for a year. I wanted to explore a country and culture that always deeply inspired me and I ended up staying there. I worked various creative jobs such as a background designer for a local Japanese video game company and as a designer for a shoe brand to pay the rent. I always kept a personal output going until I was able to take the leap of faith and work on my personal projects full time. 

Since then I have had the privilege of developing my practice in Asia for the past 20 years, opening studios in places like Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and more recently rural Japan. 


Why have you chosen painting as your mode of practice?

I was always drawn by images and like many people from my generation I grew up on comics and cartoons. Even though painting is my weapon of choice, my approach to creativity involves many different directions and I like to experiment with different disciplines as there are things to be learned everywhere. I had the chance to build a very eclectic network of friends and collaborators from early on in my career and that allowed me to try many different things like working with music labels, trying my hands on music production, directing short movies, designing apparel, and so on. 

What draws me to painting is its sacred and historical character and the possibility of building personal mythology through it along the years. As I started my professional creative career as a designer I was often frustrated to have to match my output with a product or another artists music for example. Painting is very personal and can be made with no compromise, following no trend, that is if you can afford the stress that might comes with producing this type of work!


The Shape of Places by Charles Munka


The Sacrifice Scene by Charles Munka

What are some themes you find yourself drawn to when creating your works? 

Painting for me is about learning to know yourself and the reality you live in, and these things can take a very long time. I find that the themes that I'm drawn to - even though they seem to be changing along the years - are in fact always very similar and all linked in a way or another. 

My condition as a stranger in the places where I lived for the past 20 years plays a very important part in the way I approach, observe and understand the daily. Each place offers a new set of possibilities to play with, so the unique identity of these locations and the way that they influence my output in a natural way have always been a main source of inspiration for my work.


What's your favorite museum to visit for inspiration?

Because I have been moving around so much I never really got the chance to find one place where I would get to return to and find inspiration. Instead, I keep fond memories of some places I had the chance to visit around the world, especially in Europe during my formative years. The one place that deeply inspired me and that I keep remembering along the years is the Fundacio Antoni Tapies in Barcelona. His work is among my very favorite and it felt great to be able to see so many of it in one place that was built specifically to host it. 


Retournement by Charles Munka


After the Fire by Charles Munka

Is there a work or series that you find yourself more attached to? What is it and why?

I am deeply attached to most of my work as each piece is part of a different chapter of my artistic journey and life in general. I always have multiple ongoing series of work that I like to come back to every once in a while but my carbon paper pieces hold a very special place for me as it felt like a major breakout at the time the first one was made; I still can't see an end to the possibilities that this unusual material can offer. I like to work with the unexpected and with the accidents that a process offers. 

Many of the techniques I used seemed to have lost their rawness as time went on and the process was being mastered unwillingly. The act of transferring the carbon paper's ink on the other end seems to always keep the unexpected of the very first pieces I produced when accidentally stumbling upon the technique.

Charles Munka's studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

What’s next for you as an artist? Do you have any upcoming shows, or are you perhaps exploring other mediums, materials or themes?

I moved my studio to Sado island about a year ago after developing as an artist and drawing inspiration almost exclusively from the urban aesthetics of major Asian cities for the past 20 years. Now, I am looking forward to exploring and getting to know this new environment and the possibilities it has to offer.


Click here to take a look at more works by Charles Munka. 

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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