Charlene Denief is the Design and Communications Coordinator for the Craft Council of Newfoundland & Labrador, where she creates content and promotional material for the overall organization. A self-taught emerging visual artist, Charlene has taken part in numerous group shows within the province and hopes to one day build up the courage to have a solo show of her own in the future
1. Start off by telling us a bit about yourself, and your current art practice:
- My name is Molly Graham, but I go by Molly Margaret in my art practice. I was born and bred downtown St. John’s in the vibrant art community, which ultimately led me to become an artist! I got my Bachelor of Design in Illustration at OCAD University in Toronto, and decided I had enough of the mainland after I graduated and headed back home! Now I run a lovely little art shop with a studio in the back for my freelance work in the downtown core. My work explores a lot of flora, architecture and people!
2. You also run the Top Floor Art Store located in the Posie Row building. How did that all begin, and how do you find the balance between running the store and your personal practice?
- The art store opened up in December 2018, right when I moved back home. My amazing mom, who owns Posie Row & Co., came up with the idea for an art store because once Posie Row expanded, there were many rooms that had so much potential for small businesses. Part of me also thinks it was her way of enticing me to come back home too! We had a room in the back of the shop where my good friend Lily Taylor and I started teaching workshops and classes, which became quite popular! It was hard to keep up with everything. It’s been over a year and I find myself still trying to find a balance between the shop and my freelance work, but I have an amazing support system. It really is a dream job(s) come true.
3. A lot of your projects are very inspired by Newfoundland, specifically downtown St. John’s culture. One of which is your Mini House Portraits project – what was the process in starting this? Do you happen to have a favourite painting in the series so far?
- I always loved Newfoundland for its inspirational imagery; the colours, the wonky houses, nature, etc. What really inspired my illustrations based around Newfoundland imagery is seeing a lot of “hokey” images of row houses for tourists. It was a bit of a personal mission to make imagery and illustrations that represent St. John’s in my own style, and to show people a little more than the classic red, yellow and blue houses. The mini house portraits started last year when I needed gifts for family and friends for Christmas. I found the looks on their faces when they saw them was so much joy. I started getting requests and emails for them. I’ve painted many houses across Canada and some in Europe too! I have probably painted over 100 just in requests and commissions. Then I had the crazy idea to challenge myself with a bigger project; to paint 100 mini house portraits of houses and business in the downtown area that I feel represent St. John’s in its true form. Once I started the project I also applied for a solo show at Eastern Edge Gallery, along with some funding to make it happen and I got approved for both! I’m very excited to dedicate the summer (and probably longer) to painting these portraits, developing my skills, and making a great show for the community. My current favourite is a mini house portrait I did of my brother’s first house, in which he only painted 2/3rds of it and it stayed that way for almost a year. It was a bit of a joke, but it turned out to be one of my favourites so far!
4. With everything going on in the world right now, particularly with work and businesses changing so much due to COVID-19, how has that changed or influenced your work?
- At the beginning of COVID-19, I thought this was a great opportunity to explore my practice, work hard and get stuff done… then I would burn out. Feelings of helplessness, boredom, not wanting to look at paint or do anything creative. It was hard to find a balance, knowing when to stop and relax before that art block happened. I’m just like my mom in the sense that we find it very hard to relax or “do nothing” because there’s always SOMETHING that you could be doing. I started creating illustrations that we’re relatable to what was happening in the world, and more specifically in my community. It was my way of reaching out and connecting with people while we were all stuck inside self-isolating. One of my favourite aspects of illustration is the ability to communicate and connect without any words. It’s accessible to all!
5. Tell us what you have in the works! Future goals, upcoming projects, anything you’d like to share with the world.
- Currently, I’ve been working on the Mini House Project, trying not to get intimated by how many I have to do! I also have been working with clients such as NL Quarterly, CBC, Food First NL, Social Justice Cooperative NL, St. John’s International Woman’s Film Festival, and a few others in St. John’s. It’s been an amazing experience working with so many amazing organizations and collectives. I hope to continue creating illustrations for businesses and clients locally and internationally in the future.