You can learn a lot about a person by the sticky notes they have on the fridge. In Charles’ case they were on his door so he could read them on his way out of his apartment. He had Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quotes on success: “The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men around to his opinion twenty years later”, and on art “every artist was at first an amateur.” On a lighter note there was a “Warning: Be on the Look Out for Symptoms in Inner Peace...this could pose a serious threat to the fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.” The people who knew Charles would understand the inherent struggle – the ongoing contradiction between being a serious artist and a charming and sometimes annoying comedian; the conflict of being the victim of a terminal illness and a natural and determined healer
Charles grew up in the City of Toronto in an average middle-class Jewish family steeped in education and arts. He was one of six siblings and not the youngest. Although mathematically impossible, Charles managed to cultivate the personality of the middle child - the creative mediator and the over-compensating and expressive joker. In the early 70’s he went to Forest Hill Junior High and Northern Secondary School where he struggled with dyslexia. This was the first but not the last time Charles turned an adversity on it’s head – in 1976 he went straight to the Ontario College of Art (OCA) to study painting and find his community. From 1978 to 1980 Charles studied at OCA’s New York City Campus and lived in the Lower East Side in a 5th floor loft he shared with 8 or 9 other artists and nine fridges. While in New York he ran the Public Image Gallery and gave many Canadian artists, among them Bob McNealy and Mary Alton, their first exhibition in New York. In 1985, Charles mounted a group exhibition and curated Private Image/Public Myth and invited more than 30 young Canadian artists to exhibit in NYC, among them Evan Penny, Lorne Wagman, Alan Glicksman and Mary Harman.

In the 1980’s he moved back to Toronto and continued to paint, motivated in part by what he called his “emotional conflict to create” and his affinity for texture, colour and tone. He worked sometimes with oil, at other times acrylic and introduced unusual, organic materials such as marble dust, broken glass and sand. When writing about his introduction of these non-traditional materials, Charles would use the phrase “break the context for the viewer.” In April 1984, Charles established himself as the director and curator of Studio 620, an independent, artist-run centre. In addition to the collaborative exhibitions at Studio 620, Charles participated in several group shows across Ontario. In 1984 he exhibited works on paper at the Pauline McGibbom Cultural Centre, and in 1985 he was part of the Celtic Festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. That year he also returned to New York City for a solo show of his paintings at the De Merry Inc. Gallery and participated in the group exhibition “Group Material – Mass Exhibition.” In 1986 his paintings were shipped to Tokyo to be part of The Air Gallery’s international group show, titled “Young Canadian Artists.” In addition to being the director of Studio 620 and painting and drawing, Charles worked as a builder and contractor helping commercial and non-commercial galleries create their spaces throughout the 1980’s.

In 1992 Charles was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia and his prognosis was not good. After two rounds of agonizing chemotherapy Charles decided to “break the context”, abandon traditional medicine and seek alternative Chinese, and Vedic therapies, and in some cases eccentric and strange brews. Much to the amazement of his physicians, the cancer went into remission. Charles turned this experience around, became part of the vanguard and spent years studying alternative medicines including Cranial Sacral Therapy. As well as being a healing practitioner, Charles spent countless hours working with cancer and AIDS patients at Toronto’s Wellness Centre.

He continued to paint while working as a healer – but less ambitiously, or so we thought. Charles showed his work at the Local Colour Gallery in Flesherton in 1992 and 93, had a solo exhibition at Scollard Street’s Gallery 104 in 1996, and participated in several group shows including the Gallery Bohin & ZOU in Berlin in 2002. On January 5, 2008 Charles died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Shortly after his death, friends and family went through his body of work and found two series of paintings that he had been working on which he had kept hidden in an elaborate lock box. These paintings, featured in the retrospective at the Gladstone, revealed a dramatic shift in his intention and maturity in his use and understanding of materials. The work expresses a simultaneous weightiness and the joyful theme of “colour and light”.