By Javen Calhoun
Edited by Lynda Sleeter
Artist. Student. Resident assistant. Tik Tok star. These are just some of the positions that Charlie Utley holds while he is enrolled at the University of Tennessee. He is a man of many talents, and a man of many more facets. As a sophomore at UT he is studying neuroscience, a major that is equally challenging and interesting to him. Walking around downtown Knoxville is one of his favorite pastimes, especially at night when the strip is all lit up and the city is alive. He is also an avid music listener, enjoying artists across practically every genre such as Tyler, the Creator, Playboi Carti, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Lil Uzi Vert just to name a few. Anime is yet another one of his hobbies, Hunter x Hunter, Tokyo Ghoul, and Pyscho-Pass being some of his favorites.
He’s got a diverse collection of inspirations in the back of his mind too. People like Tyler, the Creator, Damon Alborán, Jamey Hewellet, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rei Kawakubo are some of the modern day artists that inspire him and the aesthetic he has worked to build. These artists each operate in their own frame of beauty; some specializing in music, some in physical art like drawings and such, others in fashion. But they each have their own unique style of presenting their ideas in a way that is not only appealing but also fascinating.
I first met Charlie when we were both taking a leadership class the semester that everything went wrong because of COVID. We were both on track to become RAs on campus, and the class allowed us to get to know each other. Even in class he spent time either working on or talking about the various art pieces he had done over the course of his art career. He is a very genuine person, and as a result, I had the pleasure of talking with him recently about his art.
He’s been in the art game for some time now, and he let me know that even in art, music is one of his greatest inspirations.
“I think I began really getting into art early during middle school. The Gorillaz music group. I really enjoyed the art style of their album covers and stuff, and that was what pushed me to start like making art and drawing.”
I told him I envied him for his artistic talent, and he told me that anyone can do it. This led to an energetic and non-sponsored promotion about Procreate, which is the app he uses when he draws on his iPad. We talked about what makes a good artist, and he had this to say:
“People who tell white lies are good to keep around, like for inspiration purposes. Sometimes I make art, and I feel like it’s crap you know, and I’ll have a friend or someone say ‘Wow, that’s so good, you’re so talented.’ And I’ll be like ‘Huh, maybe it's not so bad.’ The thing about art is knowing that your first or even your 101st draft isn’t going to be good. But you just have to keep at it.”
Perseverance and patience. That’s what really makes a good artist, and they are a part of the reason why Charlie is on his way to becoming an icon now.
Music is more than what jump-started his art career initially, it’s what helps to steer him even now. Music is one of the largest parts of his creative process. It almost seems to guide his mind as he guides his pen to bring his ideas to life.
“Whenever I want to sit down and draw, I usually sit down, put on some good music, like some nice chill music, some vibes, and I try to focus on the composition and the idea I have and how I want to present it. I start with the colors and think ‘How can I make this look visually appealing?’”
He let me know that he’s not much of a sketcher. He doesn’t do much planning when it comes to art, once he gets his thoughts together he just dives in and takes it piece by piece. This process is one that is pretty much uniform for all his pieces. He doesn’t spend much time stressing during the creative process, in fact he does the opposite.
“Art is peaceful. I do it for mental health, to give myself that break. I think it’s important that I do, that all we do, to sort of decompress you know?”
Since most of his pieces originate from a place of emotional release, that is what inspires them. The first piece he picked for me to show off is titled “Madrugada,” which translates to “early morning” from Spanish. The other two pieces were untitled. He showed each piece to me on his art page: cstudio_online. For the second piece the caption is simply “Oil on canvas 2021.” And the third piece is captioned “Some lines on yupo paper.” The natural and almost dismissive titling that he uses on some of his art only alludes to the raw emotion that he used to make his pieces. When we talked about the significance of his art, he just reiterated that he does it for mental health. It helps him to clear his mind. We talked about the similarity of writing and journaling to what he does, and he made the comment:
"Just like with writing, it’s hard to sort of be super open and intimate with art styles sometimes.”
A brilliant artist, and an even more brilliant person, Charlie proves that above all, your own self is the greatest muse you can have when it comes to making art. It just takes patience and perseverance. With yourself and with your art. And it is this mindset that makes him iconic.