C. Douglas Charlton: The Many Moods of an Artist

Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator

Downstairs in Jostens Gallery, Museum visitors will find an evocative art exhibition. C. Douglas Charlton’s Out of Darkness: Purgatory, Mayhem, Color, Love, Hate, Light and Tomorrow dazzles the walls with acrylic emotional expressions.   

Part of the charm of experiencing a new art exhibit is searching for reasons an artist titles their collection the way they do. I like to look for clues as to what emotions an artist is feeling when they produce their work, and what they are trying to convey to their audience. Sometimes the intention behind the art is obvious. Sometimes, not so much. All of Charlton’s works are vivid and fun to look at, but the ominous words in his title immediately strike a chord, and maybe even a rush of anxiety. Words like “mayhem” and “hate” are dark; how will he express those on the canvas? How can love and light live in the same space as purgatory? 

Gallatin native and Nashville-based artist C. Douglas Charlton is practiced in expressive art using bright colors and thick layers of paint. His latest collection draws on his personal experiences and feelings over the last 18 months. A bevy of emotions manifest as thick swathes of hues and strong lines. Charlton’s work is also sentimental, using wood as his canvas – a callback to his childhood spent in his grandfather’s workshop. The artist describes his latest exhibit as “mood rings with frames.” Like a mood ring, each piece reflects the feelings of the artist with an amalgamation of color. 

Spinal Wraps by C. Douglas Charlton

The Sleeping Backbone by C. Douglas Charlton

Spinal Wraps is a fascinating piece. A lot of dark colors – especially reds – arrest the viewer, placed aggressively among many other colors, fierce straight lines and jet angles. Visible among the colorful lines is a column of white shapes stacked on top of one another to resemble a spine. The fierceness of the surrounding colors and the paint strokes make it easy to imagine pain or anxiety. Another similarly themed piece titled The Sleeping Backbone seems much calmer at first. Strong rectangles are stacked and sturdy on a backdrop of a soothing black, blue and green palette. However, small smudges of orange and yellow seem to flare up in discord to the cooler hues. Perhaps one painting is meant to precede the other.   

Traveling East by C. Douglas Charlton

Traveling East is a beautiful contrast. The colors are more pastel and the lines are curvier. Gentle feelings pervade the work and send the viewer toward the hope of a peaceful future, a new day shining just ahead. Here is the light, perhaps even some love for the present moment. Gratitude for beauty in the natural world.   

Come see and experience all the works for yourself. Don’t be concerned if your impressions are different. As C. Douglas Charlton explains in his online bio, “Any emotion the viewer feels is the right one.”   

Out of Darkness: Purgatory, Mayhem, Color, Love, Hate, Light and Tomorrow is on view in the Jostens Gallery through September 26. 

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