How I came to photograph artist Charles Dwyer’s home was really quite simple. Milwaukee artist and friend Faythe Levine, and a few others suggested I take a look at his place. But before reaching out, I had the pleasure of meeting him by chance one afternoon (as so happens in this small city sometimes). And that was that. Coincidence it might have been, but the truth is, I was extremely lucky, realizing after the fact that Charles doesn’t exactly open up his home to strangers. And for good reason, his home is a tangible amalgamation of his hard work from the last 30 years of his life. If one’s home can reflect who they are, then Charles’ home reflects a youthful man with a lust for life, a deep respect and understanding of art, an incredible eye for beauty and design, a sense of humor and above all, an appreciation for nature and humanity. In other words, there truly is something special going on here.
Located on a nondescript street in quiet Bay View is a large brick building Charles has resided in for over ten years. Entering the former factory, one acknowledges a dream realized. When Charles and friend Tim Dixon, owner of the Iron Horse Hotel (which prominently features Charles’ work) first spotted the place, it wasn’t exactly an ideal place to build a home. Enlisting the help of Tim and an architect, Charles began building the interior of his home. Stunning cream city brick remained intact from years past and building on that as a foundation, they used reclaimed lumber to build out walls, a kitchen, bathroom, a second story loft, where the bedroom lives, and most important to Charles, an artist studio. “I kept fighting for more studio space but they [architects] wanted to cut it in half. I pushed for a little more and they gave it to me. But it all works together too because I’ll do artwork prep in the living room…but I could always use more studio space.”
Charles’ work, which largely consists of figurative drawings and paintings of female figures colored in gorgeous hues and subtle patinas, has been displayed in galleries internationally. He’s also collaborated with unlikely individuals (like the homeless and schizophrenic) producing the Lucky Strike series with Gary Pollack and Sundae Girls with Jerry Pfeil. And over the years he’s done quite a bit more. Though many may not know as he hasn’t shown his photography publicly in the past, Charles is an incredibly skilled self-taught photographer, who painstakingly creates large, elaborate sets for his photo shoots. He once built a complete 1950s set in his studio from scratch, which included wallpapering and designing as well as sewing costumes. When asked why he has yet to show his photographs, he expounds “I wanted some nostalgia to happen to them, where they patina, and there’s time from when the girl or women were photographed until now.”
As a multi media artist with incredible talent in several mediums, like photography, set building and set design, printmaking and painting, Charles takes full advantage of every inch of studio space allotted to him. Though having studied fine art at the Milwaukee School of Art (now MIAD), it wasn’t until he landed a 12 year job with a Wisconsin restoration company that he truly delved into art and art history. The job gave him the opportunity to travel in his early adult years and sink his teeth into what would be a career as a successful artist. “I learned so much about decorative painting, gold leafing, stenciling and faux finishing. I learned how to paint and the history behind it,” he explains.
It’s inspiring to come across a person like Charles who can never seem to satiate his desire to learn and do, whether it be creating art, learning a new skill (like wood burning), reading the thousands of books he covets, or walking his beloved Napoleon along the shores of Lake Michigan. “It may be a curse to want to do everything. It might be better to focus yourself on one body of work, but I have more in me to share and more to challenge myself with.”