Some photography assignments are a lot of fun and this profile piece for the NoDa News was certainly one of them, as well as a break from the usual business headshots and executives portraits I normally create.
I know a lot of artists that draw, paint, sculpt human figures in the nude and I've been wanting to reference the "framed through a set of sexy legs" trope that was most famously done on the poster for the James Bond film, "For Your Eyes Only." I knew I wanted to gender-flip the idea--it's been done enough the other way. So when I had the opportunity to do a story on Charlotte artist C. M. Wells, I was ready.
I made the portrait at the Charlotte Art League, where Wells leads weekly figure drawing sessions. I also wanted to shoot it without flash, something I rarely do and knew I could use the large bay windows at the league to capture a super soft and directional light.
My article about the artist follows below.
Drawn From Life
C. M. Wells (@cmwells_art) is one of the many artists calling the new NoDa location of the Charlotte Art League home and is a co-founder of the National Association of Collaborative Artists.
The young artist works in several traditional art media —charcoal, sanguine (reddish-brown chalk), oil-paint, and clay. She calls her style Representational Realism, which she explains as “sort of the opposite of abstract, trying to represent something from real life as realistically as possible. I like classical art—Michelangelo, Botticelli—and I enjoy taking that and putting a modern twist on it.”
Although she has lived in Charlotte since her family brought her here as a thirteen-year-old, Wells’ artistic journey began at an even younger age. Some of her earliest memories of her native Glendale, California are of first-grade classmates asking for drawings. “I’ve drawn my whole life, for as long as I can remember—but, I’ve only been taking it seriously for about the last seven years.” She went on to study art formally, at least for a while, completing four semesters in the online program of the Academy of Art University, a school based in San Francisco. Eventually, she and the institution parted ways. “I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do—spending all that time and money. I feel like anyone can learn to draw, but at a certain point, I could grow myself without getting further and further in debt.”
With such strong roots in Renaissance classical art, Wells naturally works with the nude human body. While in school, she felt confined within the classical “Western Ideal” form—whose proportions were set literally in stone by the Greeks. These days, sheendeavors to show a broader range of race and body types through her figure drawing. “Representation matters to a lot of people. To see a reflection of yourself is important for self-worth.” She brings these values to the weekly life drawing sessions that she facilitates at the Art League.
Wells believes women ofcolor face more barriers to success in the art world generally and because she works in a European tradition, Wells’ audience sometimes experiences disconnection between her race and gender. “At one show I had my drawings up and an excited attendee came up to me asking, ‘Who is this artist?’ ‘Where’s is HE? Where is C. M. Wells’ and when I replied, ‘It’s me,’ …the shock on his face.” “The expectation is lowered for women artists and black women artists. I’ve had people say, my art doesn’t match my personality, but no one group owns light, shadow, line, and realistic representation.”
When experiencing difficulties, Wells has her talent. “Art can be a refuge. It can be an escape from the world, or your life, depending on what you need to escape. I’m driven by my need to escape, so I don’t go crazy and also to express myself because I’m not really good at expressing myself outside of art.”
That life as an artist is difficult is no secret. To steel herself up for that, Wells thinks about her priorities and placing personal happiness and fulfilment ahead of money. “It’s a sacrifice to pursueart fully and not go the easy way. The sacrifices are mostly financial. You spend all your time pursuing something that isn’t guaranteed, but you do it because you love it, to say something with your art and hopefully enact some change in the world.”
Ryan Sumner is the creative director of Fenix Fotography and specializes in artful portraiture of business and cultural leaders, corporate headshots and other advertising images. He can photograph you and your coworkers at his portrait studio at the Colony in NoDa and is available for location work too. His fine artwork is available through his gallery at the Charlotte Art League.