Charlie Warde: The man archiving Britain's Brutalist history in paint
Charlie Warde has – on more than one occasion – been accused of stealing from listed buildings.
“I called one of my shows Disappearing Landscapes, and somebody on Instagram said: ‘Well it is if you keep nicking bits of it!’”
Rest assured, he’s entirely innocent. But confusion sometimes arises when people are faced with one of Charlie’s paintings. He creates hyper-realistic, three-dimensional representations of Brutalist structures that are so life-like, they've fooled builders, architects and engineers. Each is made from thick layers of paint (which Charlie makes himself, in his studio), moulded and sculpted to create “an assimilation of concrete”.
“The idea is to faithfully represent pieces of the building to scale, in 3D – be it a walkway, a floor slab or part of a stairwell,” he explained. “I imitate concrete, but everything I do is solid paint.”
Once you move past the initial surprise, you realise the thread connecting each of Charlie’s subjects: Trellick Tower, Robin Hood Gardens, Balfron Tower. Iconic structures from London's post-war era, representing the golden age of social housing.
“As a period of architecture it was a very benevolent time, when the state provided. Of course, now we live in very different times,” Charlie explained.
Britain has a troubled relationship with its Brutalist past. For some, the imposing concrete structures are an eyesore; an architectural fad that should be consigned to the past. For others, they speak to a time when the state provided for those in need; when society was held above all.
As a style, Brutalism exploded after the Second World War, when concrete was cheap and social housing was in short supply. Projects like Robin Hood Gardens were designed around communities, with utopian ‘streets in the sky’ a defining feature of the time. But this type of stark, imposing design drew criticism from some, and soon many of these projects developed troublesome reputations. Trellick Tower, which looms large over Golborne Road, was dubbed the ‘Tower of Terror’ in the 1970s, by which time Brutalism had fallen sharply out of favour.
In recent years many of these structures have been razed to the ground, with more scheduled for demolition. It’s these buildings (or parts of) that Charlie is interested in.
“I’m using concrete as a metaphor,” he said. “Particularly in the way in which I depict it. It’s crumbling, it’s been neglected.”
One of Charlie’s biggest projects was a 15-month long residency at Trellick Tower, designed by the illustrious Erno Goldfiner. It’s a building he’s known since his childhood, and one that piqued his interest when he returned to London after graduating.
“My first job after uni was at an electrics shop on Golborne Road, breaking down televisions. At the time Trellick had a bit of a reputation, it was a no-go area. It sort of physically enacted that reputation – it’s a beast of a building – and again I was drawn to it. Fascinated by it.”
In 2015, a few years after gaining his master's in fine art, Charlie moved into a workspace at Goldfinger Factory. Located in the basement of Trellick Tower and named for its architect, the Factory is a social enterprise which offers studios to local artists, among other things.
"Being there allowed me to conduct serious research into the building’s material: the concrete,” he explained. “Goldfinger used nine different recipes of concrete, depending on the function. I focused on the walkways and other parts of the curtilage, as they are under threat of demolition to make way for more housing.”
Charlie created a series of 11 paintings, or slabs, during his residency.
“All were parts of these areas that were in some way damaged. Some bits were cracked by shoddy building practise while others were compromised by graffiti; other areas were simply worn and torn and neglected by the old building management [the since disbanded Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation]. All of this decay, entropy and neglect serve to highlight the history of the building, the more dystopian times."
Breach (left, above) and Incline (right) are both fragments of the cross section of Trellick Tower’s walkway balcony.
"Like all my paintings," Charlie said, "everything is to scale. They are a cold, presentation of the facts - artefacts. Like the architecture, they are concerned with the formal aspects of proportion, colour and interplay of textures. The background colours are perfect and utopian, idealistic in their vibrancy. I use postcards from the 60s and 70s for inspiration."
During his time at Trellick, Charlie became embedded in the community. He created a series of prints, one of each of which was gifted to residents, and organised a local art competition.
"That time in Trellick was an amazing opportunity to make friends and build relationships; to hear people’s stories and gain a better understanding of what it’s like to actually live there. For the most part, their experiences of the architecture are very positive, although there’s a lot of worry about the rapid gentrification of the area. The proposed housing scheme in Trellick Tower’s grounds fits into that narrative.”
For now, the works at Trellick appear to be paused. Charlie, however, continues his investigations into concrete, its history and its future.
“The paintings will continue. I’m interested in social housing, the idealism behind the buildings, buildings that were designed for the people. Lot of these places are being demolished so I’ve got my work cut out!”
Five of Charlie’s works can be seen in the Maddox Arts summer show, which runs until 15th September. Click here for more.