Artist Charlotte creates abstract paintings inspired by nature

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Artist Charlotte Malu Tan is an abstract expressionist. Here she poses with a work in progress from her Color Collage series (left). To her right are small pieces that she paints to help her determine which color combinations to use.

Shortly after Malu Tan’s family bought a home in Wilton, Connecticut in 2002, they had to cut down a giant oak tree. Their mostly wooded yard had no room for their children to play.

“It was basically hollow,” said Tan, an artist from Charlotte. “One type of tree said it had been eaten from the inside by carpenter ants. We cut it down, and in maybe three weeks, little saplings started growing all over the lawn.

You can see his version of what happened in his 50 x 40 inch painting, “When You Cut Down an Oak Tree”.

This painting and others by Tan, an Abstract Expressionist, are on view at Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine campus through December 18. The solo exhibition, titled “When nature takes back its rights” was previously at the Cato Campus.

In the painting of Tan’s yard in Connecticut, the hollow trunk and young trees are brilliant blue, and the grass is in shades of magenta, burgundy, and blood red.

When the family moved to the Charlotte’s Ballantyne area four years ago for work for Tan’s husband, they again had to fell trees and search for saplings. When humans fight nature, we’re often fighting ourselves, Tan said.

Humans are an invasive species, she said. “Look at kudzu,” she said. “It’s invasive but, really, who brought it to the United States? Man brought it from Asia and somehow it became invasive here. We create our own problems.

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Artist Malu Tan is working on a painting titled “There’s So Much Growth Here!” in his studio in Charlotte. Tan is known for her vibrant color palettes. Jon Strayhorn

A quarantine revelation

Tan is originally from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

“I’m Asian,” she says. “I come from a family of businessmen. Business is our priority. The idea of ​​a career in her art – something she loved and excelled at – never occurred to her until they temporarily moved to London in 2009.

It was there that she attended the Art Academy in London. She was 45 years old. His classmates were half his age.

“While I was in school, I realized that all of these kids – college-aged kids – were going to school to become professional artists,” Tan said.

It was a revelation. “These children were all going to be artists – sculptors, painters, potters,” she said. “I thought: this is really cool. By the time we moved back to Connecticut in 2012, I started taking art seriously. It’s the biggest decision I’ve ever made. »

Tan treats painting as work; it is his job. She does not wait for the muse to appear. She paints almost daily, either in her home studio above the garage or in her studio at the Hart Witzen Gallery on North Tryon Street.

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This painting by artist Charlotte Malu Tan is called “A Fairy Tale in a Forest”. Jon Strayhorn

Make your mark

No matter where Tan lives, she is part of the artistic community. In Connecticut, his work is part of the permanent collection at Yale New Haven Medical Center.

Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Philippine Consulate in New York, the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in California, and the 311 Gallery in Raleigh. Her solo exhibition, “The Space Between: Color Collage Moments”, was on view there until June 26.

She is also making her mark in Charlotte.

Her work was featured in Sozo Gallery’s “In Bloom” exhibition in 2019, and she is one of six emerging artists to receive a $5,000 Emerging Creators Grant from the Arts and Sciences Council this year. year.

Tan doesn’t think viewers can see any trace of his Asian heritage in his art. It’s not a conscious decision, however. “Even as children, we traveled a lot,” she said. “I have always lived in the city. I guess that’s how I assimilated.

“I grew up in the Philippines, where there’s this big colonial mentality,” she said. “We were under the US government for a long time.” She suspects that Filipinos have an easier time adapting to American culture than some other immigrants because American culture was forced upon them during colonial rule.

“Initially, when I came to the United States, I don’t think I really recognized (the anti-Asian sentiment),” she said. “So this whole last year has been an eye opener.”

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Artist Charlotte Malu Tan studied at the Art Academy in London. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Philippine Consulate in New York. It is also part of the permanent collection at Yale New Haven Medical Center. Jon Strayhorn

“I paint things that are part of me”

Tan is methodical in his artistic approach.

It usually starts with taking pictures or making a miniature sketch in a notebook of something that catches his eye. “I painted the window of our flat in London,” she said. “All my paintings are close to me. I paint things that are part of me.

It usually starts with a theme. “There’s usually something I want to express,” she said, “and that’s expressed by every element of the whole.”

When she is ready to move to canvas, she sketches an outline, usually in charcoal, before dipping her brush in oil and putting it on the canvas. She paints layer after layer, sometimes scraping off part of the paint to reveal an earlier layer.

“Sometimes I post a picture of a work in progress on Instagram,” Tan said, “and ask people if they think it’s done or if they need something else.

Lifelong learner

Tan’s Instagram bio reads, in part: “A life in color. Ballet student. Runner. Nature lovers. Spouse. Mum.”

Ballet student? Why not? She started in art at the age of 45.

“One day in Connecticut, I saw an adult ballet class,” she said. “I literally walked in and said, ‘Can I do this?’ They were very welcoming, I even started dancing in pointe shoes.

“I love ballet as an art form, as an exercise form, as a form of expression,” she said.

“All art is an expression of things. It’s part of me,” Tan said. “Even when I paint something serious, I tend to put bright colors in it. I think that’s my sensibility. I try to be positive; it’s just my personality. Anyone who sees it, I “Hope he sees some of what I’m trying to say. I’m not just painting a pretty picture. I’m saying something.”

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