“This is about being a small fish in a big pond,” Charlotte Orr tells me, pointing at a beautiful aqua green and blue circular acrylic and ink painting in new exhibition Vibrant Living.
“It’s my most conceptual piece of work in this exhibition and is about being a creative person in a big city and fighting against so many other people doing the same thing. It’s about how hard it is to make a living, about feeling small,” she tells me.
That one statement says so much about Charlotte Orr, as a woman, as an artist, as an ex-pat, as an observer of human kind and urban spaces, which is why her art really pops out, the stories within as meaningful and nuanced as they are cheerful and particular.
This will be Charlotte’s first solo exhibition, having been concentrating on her art since returning home from Berlin where she’s been living for the past 3.5 years.
And while that’s great for Oxford, she misses the avant-garde German city, where she made a living painting, teaching and enjoying one of the world’s most famous artistic centres.
Vibrant Lives is a reflection of that, a collection of her travels, a summation perhaps of her artistic life so far.
Because although only 29, Charlotte has been more adventurous than most of us put together, while never giving up on the dream.
“I want to make the world nicer through my work, which is always local to where I was living at the time, my meeting points and my perspective on a place,” she says.
“It’s a view of the world through my eyes – colourful, vibrant, intricate.I love details and colour, trees and leaves.”
The 15 framed pieces, plus unframed work, prints and cards, on display in her new exhibition, provide a contrast of a city’s architecture against a more botanic, intimate landscape.
As an award winning illustrator Charlotte is also fascinated with detail and pattern as evidenced by her colourful, intricate canvases.
So when asked to paint a permanent mural at The Jam Factory she jumped at the chance, inspired by Oxford Botanic Gardens and Kew Gardens in conjunction with the exhibition.
The last time she painted a large communal mural, a 40m painting running outside Oxford Castle in the courtyard, she won a World Illustration Award for it.
So where does this hybrid of art and illustration stem from?
“I really got into art in secondary school, and began drawing still lives in pencil. After that I went to Oxford Brookes to do my art foundation course and then to Falmouth where I studied illustration.Things just went from there. I illustrated books for a publisher in London and did some freelance work here before heading off to Berlin.
Why illustration? “It’s more commercial and practical. It has a purpose. It was the right choice.
“Now I teach art and design at City of Oxford College.”
Only expecting to stay in Germany for a few months, she lived there for three years.
“It was a really good experience but really, really challenging to get set up in a new city without friends or language or a job,” she smiles.
“It’s very arty in Berlin which has its pros and cons. Everyone is an artist, so it’s hard to find work because there are always people willing to do it for free or cheaper, and it’s a very transient environment there, with people coming and going all the time.
“So I had a great time, but now I’m home I want to earn a living here as an artist.”
The Jam Factory presents ‘Vibrant Living’, a collection of work by award-winning artist and illustrator Charlotte Orr until Jan 13 at The Jam Factory in Oxford.