Charles Wildbank, a Long Island-based artist, has been deaf since birth. Yet, he makes his disability seem like a mere bump in the road, one that steered him to one of his greatest talents. Wildbank has been inclined to art since a young age, and now creates large paintings that feature seascapes, florals, still life and portraits. His creativity has also seeped into other art forms including photography and poetry. Read our interview with the multi-faceted artist below.

Please tell me a little bit about yourself.

Art has been part of my life ever since pre-school perhaps as a quick solution to my deafness from birth in matters of communication. I learned I could be understood best through my drawings when pointing things out did not always come handy. I was born in Long Island as eldest of 8 siblings and grew up in both Roslyn Heights and Sands Point on the North Shore. I have always been near a beach and it explains a lot on my preferred lifestyle and choice of a persistent theme: the sea.

Can you please tell me about your art journey? 

I flunked piano lessons after not so long at age 7 and was signed up instead for art lessons on weekends at the recommendation of the music teacher. During my teens, my dad would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at one time featuring the Rafael collection, and I got to doing portraits ever since. I studied art at Pratt Institute and Yale University.

charles wildbank art painting portraits oil realistic long island ocean
Portrait “The Nap” by Charles Wildbank 2014

 

Did you have any struggles as an artist and if so how did you overcome it?

Like many artists, it has been a seek and find approach. I learned that exposure of my art to the public in every way I could was a tremendous help. I’ve sold through galleries and in between exhibits, my collectors would purchase my art directly from my studio. There was one formidable hurdle: my inability to carry a phone conversation over the years. This lack, however, was saved by the advent of the fax machine, followed by lifesaving email and texting technologies. In recent times, I can enable captioning on my mobile device which is a godsend in assisting any phone conversation!

Your paintings are incredibly realistic, how long did it take you to master your craft? 

Realism starts very early through practice, that not even tracing can replace. Tracing however during early training is like a good set of training wheels and so is color matching using paint swatches. The eye needs to be trained upon the subtleties and shifts of shading and hues for even more realism. I would say it took most of my adolescence to master this skill to my satisfaction. Drawing is always a good foundation for later painting forms. If paint doesn’t behave as one likes, it is largely due to lack of practice and familiarity with the medium. I’d advise: practice, study other’s art, their surfaces, their strokes, everything. Art need not be instructed except it could help regularity, focus, and inspiration to be among artist masters and peers. Artists come to me for instruction and I offer confidence and shortcuts in overcoming blocks.
charles wildbank art painting portraits oil realistic long island ocean
“Sisters: Carribean Happy Hour” painting by Charles Wildbank 2009

Is there something in your studio that you can’t live without?

It is a good window and bright walls! A good view can calm me and convince me I need not leave the studio. Surrounding me are complete set of paints, my laptop containing my edited photos to paint from, flat brushes, a good seat cushion, and for nighttime some real good illumination using cool and warm spotlights.

What is your dream goal for your art and the art classes that you teach? 

My dream has always been to paint more panoramic murals, something I know I will continue to fulfill. I sketch using my computer and mouse stylus with stylus pad attached to [the] laptop. Though I enjoy painting the illusion of realism, I enjoy carrying such skill across imaginary states. It is natural for me to share painting tips with other aspiring artists when they come [to] visit.

What inspires you the most to do what you do?

I think art is contagious. I get a real kick out of exploring the art world outside my studio. It is like a conversation or symphony going on, and I would naturally toss in my input like any artist would into the vast picture which we recognize as “the collective dream.” Everything rubs off, as artists are impressionable and passionate about their life. Their lives would carry over into the art, no explanation given. I dare to say even copycats don’t know what they are missing: that joy of knowing self! It is ever unfolding and neverending, that quest for mastery of self, without competition with anyone except yourself as a motive.

What is the biggest achievement in your career so far?

Back during 2000 and on, I was commissioned by an agent for Cunard Lines to do a pair of 5-meter tall murals for the new Queen Mary 2 oceanliner (19 feet high) depicting coastal scenes of England and USA. I flew to the respective locations taking photographic sketch studies for this big project. Murals were painted inside my Jamesport studio, then shipped in rolls to Europe for their engineers to stretch and hang. Canvas had to be flameproof for insurance purposes and I tracked for special canvas of this sort online in Germany. Its brand is Trevira which is like a stiff synthetic canvas. Only acrylics were allowed in their creation for the same reason. The murals were delivered and christened in 2004 at the docks in Nantes, France. I was absolutely thrilled to have seen them hung as permanent collections when the Queen Mary 2 arrived at New York harbor.

Can you share with our readers something about yourself that most people don’t know?

I guess most people don’t know that I have a passion for driving international travel. I’ve driven alone all over most states of America including Hawaii, Ireland, England, Scandinavia, the European commonwealth, Eastern Europe, Korea, and Japan. I would drive across all of Asia one day given this opportunity. I started off with Eurailpass in my youth and realized later that having your own vehicle takes you further and with much more spontaneous volition! I would often upon whim pull over to the side of road and savor what beauty I find and capture with my camera.  I also love scuba diving and take to the water every time I can. I am hardly living inland, as it has to be near any coast.

charles wildbank art painting portraits oil realistic long island ocean
Portrait of “The Ride” by Wildbank 2012

What advice would give to somebody who is interested in becoming an artist?

I would say, “Be proud to be an artist for no one can live without art even if one would refuse to admit it. Your art at your utmost expression reaches everyone’s soul universally, even if it is not readily understood. The more passion you inject into your creation, all the better, and its momentum depends upon this very driving force of your emotion! Live it for you are ART ETERNAL!”

Check out more of Wildbank’s work on his website. He also offers studio tours and painting classes.

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