Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011

Cheap & Plastique correspondent Heather Morgan interviews Chicago-based filmmaker/video artist Charles E. Roberts III for Issue 9. Charles will be showing at the Cheap & Plastique booth at the Fountain Art Fair during Armory Arts Week in NYC, starting this Friday, March 9th and running through the 11th.

Heather/C & P: Your films often come across as paintings come alive. Given your background in painting, do you find yourself composing “like a painter” when you construct your sets or your shots?
Charles: There is something of a tableau quality to much of the video I’ve done so far. I’m actually trying to move away from that and let things fall where they may. Also, my lighting situations tend to be very unnatural. I use light to throw color more than to illuminate a realistic sense of space. Maybe they are more like stained glass than paintings. I was never a very good painter.


Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011

Heather/C & P: Some of your recent work revolves around varying incarnations of witches. What do these creatures mean to you, what is their power?
Charles: I’m not interested in witchcraft or any of its spiritual aspects necessarily. I do relate to witches in the folkloric or storybook sense of the word, the reclusive character in the strange little house deep in the forest who spends her days gathering ingredients for the spells she will cast that night. That pretty much describes my studio practice, albeit in a forest of thrift shops and dollar stores.

Heather/C & P: What are some themes to which you find yourself frequently returning?
Charles: Right now I can’t seem to escape flora and gore. The blood will not cease flowing and the flowers continue to grow up through the snow.


Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011

Heather/C & P: What films have you found most influential over time?
Charles: All of the works of Sergei Paradjanov have been a significant influence on my video work over the last few years. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Carmelo Bene is an artist who’s films I’ve just recently discovered, I’m especially fond of his Salome. I also love the black magic themed horror films that came out of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1970’s and early 80’s. The gore in those films is out of this world, so plastic and rainbow colored…and some of the spell casting in those movies is very much like some contemporary performance art.


Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012

Heather/C & P: Given that your latest work has involved performers, is this work in any sense collaborative for you? How much of your ideas or images are already worked out before the actors arrive?
Charles: I usually have the costumes and sets planned before shooting. The action is usually choreographed on the spot. Recently I have been trying not to dictate every little movement and control every little fold of fabric. I’ve worked with some great performers and I’ve played the puppeteer much too often.

Heather/C & P: You instill macabre imagery with a lush sense of beauty. Describe the experience you are attempting to create for the viewer.
Charles: I’m still trying to work this out. I would like to be less macabre and more repulsive, but always lush. I would prefer physical reactions to my work as apposed to intellectual or even emotional…at least that’s how I feel today.


Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012

Heather/C & P: Do you envision incorporating music into your pieces?
Charles: I am about to embark on my first adventures in sound recording. I have no idea how this is going to work out but I’m very excited about it! There may be some pieces that will call for something more musical in the near future. I will enlist the help of others more experienced for those particular projects.

Heather/C & P: Who are some of your favorite artists, living or dead?
Charles: Michelangelo de Caravaggio, El Greco, William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Gustav Moreau, Maurice Sendak, Peter Greenaway, Andrzej Zulawski…this is no way a complete list, just the first eight that come to mind.


Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012

Heather/C & P: Tell us about future projects you have planned.
Charles: I should have a website by the new year called The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, there are eleven acts scheduled to be performed there. I still dream of making a psychotropic porno.


Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012

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