Would you give up an established career to paint outside in all weathers? That is what artist Charles Minty did a year ago – and it has paid off with his first solo exhibition at the Guildhall. Here Charles tells us about his plein air painting life.
I gave up my job in an engineering company a year ago to pursue a new career as a plein air painter. This meant no warm studio, no roof and four walls, and working on an easel, hour after hour, in rain, wind, or sunshine.
I don’t have any artistic training, but ever since painting a barn owl in flight on black paper – when I was about 6 – I have always loved art, and I would draw and paint in watercolours at home constantly. During A Levels, I was desperate to learn oil painting, but the school didn’t have the resources, so I grew frustrated and decided to quit A Level Art to focus instead upon my other subjects, which would lead me to study French at University and… History of Art! Nevertheless, I vowed to become a professional painter one day when the time was right – and continue with art in my free time.
The months of lockdown and a horrible winter in 2020 took their toll and I knew I needed to make changes. I packed my paints and brushes when I went on holiday to Cornwall and that’s when I knew it was time to make painting my career. It is important to say that this decision, while in many ways a risky one, has also been successful, as my paintings are selling – and I’m grateful to all of those people who have bought my work or commissioned me to do a painting for them.
One of the obvious challenges of being a plein air painter is the weather: I love to paint in the rain, pitting myself against the elements, but it’s not always plain sailing. I painted a large canvas of George Street earlier this year and I was checking the forecast every day, hoping for news of low pressure and black rain clouds, looking for atmosphere. I set up my equipment but the weather was so extreme with high winds that the signs outside the restaurants were falling from their fixings and the police ordered them to be removed, so I finally decided to admit defeat before my canvas went airborne. It was more fun in the summer, painting the rum bar on Trim Street into the long warm evenings – and being served a drink or two!
I love all times of year: the different colours, the long summer nights, as well as the cold, atmospheric winter evenings. Immediately following the news of our late Queen’s passing, I began painting a very large black-and-white portrait of her in front of Bath Abbey, from one of the 1953 Coronation photos. Upon seeing the emotional reactions from people passing by, but without knowing whether I would be allowed (by the dozen or so armed police on the entrance), I decided to take it to Windsor and painted through the night before the funeral, without any sleep, until morning came. Exhausted, I then moved on to start a new painting of the scene of the gathering crowd in front of Windsor. It was a very solemn and moving day and a wonderful send-off. As a painter, literally ‘in the thick of it’, this was the ultimate challenge – thousands of people stood elbow to elbow with me, watching my every brushstroke, as I was the only artist there on that historic day.
I was kindly invited by the Mayor of Bath, Rob Appleyard, to exhibit at the Guildhall. I often went to the city with my mother as a child and its beauty, history and architecture have always fascinated me. Now that I am a professional painter, I want to capture the beauty and feel of the city on canvas, which is the reason for the name of my first ever solo exhibition: City of my Childhood. Art in my view is about capturing a moment in time, and a feeling – it’s about our own humanity and interactions with others in the spaces we occupy together.
At my exhibition, people will see twenty of my oil paintings, all for sale, which were completed during the past year. Charles Minty’s exhibition City of my Childhood is at the Guildhall in Bath until 18 November (free entry); cmintyart.com
Featured image: The Royal Crescent, ‘Bridgerton End’, 2022