Monday, December 25, 2006

Art Space Talk: Fred Carpenter

I recently interviewed artist Fred Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter is interested in figurative realism. Fred's paintings are narrative in that they tell the story of modern urban life as seen through his eyes.

Mr. Carpenter strives to communicate about hope, self-identity, and community with his paintings. He has stated that his work translates his existence- a Polaroid of his soul. Through self-exploration he has created a body of work that is personal and unique.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I think the term "important" has two parts here – spiritual and economic. I always knew that I would need to make art my whole life — the question was more how to survive from day to day doing so. The discovery was more of an evolution – gradually realizing that I’d have to forego the dreams of being cash rich for a life filled with the rewards of doing what I was born to do."

Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

A. "Making art is a constant affirmation of being truly alive. I mean "alive" as opposed to "zombie" which is what most people get accustomed to working in a cubicle for a big company. Being alive and working alive is a powerful thing – it’s about being connected to things and interacting with people through a creative presence that can only be enabled by BEING creative. Making art gives me the strength to dive into situations that might otherwise be intimidating."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "Living in Brooklyn, New York, it’s hard to filter out the influence. It’s always there, in your face, like it or not. My work it about the world around me. The imagery in my paintings is drawn from internet, street photography, subway sketching and a long time of city dwelling. I prefer to not approach the imagery with a specific message — I hope to leave that up to the viewer."

Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "As for painters I’m into Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Eric Fischl, Jenny Seville and Neo Rauch. I love the insanity of Paul McCarthy and the social commentary of William Pope.L. I’d love to own a Rauschenberg or anything Basquiat ever did. It’s all so wonderful. I think the trick is not so much to know when to take it all in, but when to shut some of it out so you can hear your own voice coming out."

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "The biggest aspect of my background is being a graphic designer for so long. The discipline of design is very much a business function, so I got pretty good at finding ways to be creative within the confines of business imagery and typography. I think typography and calligraphy are distinct aspects of my background that are reflected in my work. It comes out in interesting ways."

Q. How long have you been a working artist?

A. "Since 1979 or so I guess. That’s when I started doing work for a magazine and got serious about art school."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "People that like my work are not what you would call professional "collectors" – it’s more the average man on the street that is fascinated by seeing something out of the ordinary. My recent work is also very accessible and not terribly elitist. I think that’s important."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. ""King of Bedford Avenue" (image above) was painted shortly after I started living in the Bed Sty section of Brooklyn. The street scene is from a photo I took around the block and various other shots of weekend partiers at Coney Island. As always, internet images of cars burning in the middle east seems to make its way into the compositions. There is always a palpable edge of desperation on the streets here, so I thought the super bright colors turned that into a bit of irony – I love irony in all its forms."

Q. What is your artistic process?

A. "I’ve come to realize that most of the artists that I admire worked with photography, except Lucien Freud, but then, he’s Lucien Freud. I love working with photos because I can instantly collage a strange combination of junk on my photo wall and let my brain do the mixing. I’m into painting directly on the canvas without preparation or carefully worked out sketches. I think this keeps things loose enough to feel alive – and invariably produces some unpredictable results. Fortunately, I’m comfortable with this style of work because I did so much figure and life drawing."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "Oil painting is about as traditional old school as it gets. I love it because I’m connected to all my favorite painters and because it never fails to surprise me. It’s also relentlessly challenging. I don’t want my work to be about materials. I want it to be about connecting with other people."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "I have a B.F.A from Parsons here in NY. I’m thinking of applying for the MFA program at Hunter College for next year. It seems like it would be an exciting thing to do — I’m just 20 years older than most of the students that would be there. We’ll see what happens."

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "My website had most of the new work and show announcements: "

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "I’m at the L’asso Gallery / Restaurant in the Lower East Side (NY C) December 7th. They’re located at 192 Mott Street – from 6 to 11 pm or so. I’ll have three or four new paintings showing."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in?

A. "The best show was called "Excavation 507" at the now defunct Anthem Gallery in SOHO. I also had a solo show at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn."
Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "I see a very confused, market-driven ecosystem of artists and gallerists and collectors all basically cluster-stumping each other to get at the cash. Only a small percentage of artists that truly deserve recognition and cash really get it, so you have to decide where your priorities are. My goal is not to be an "art-star" — I’m trying to figure out how to keep painting for another thirty-five years."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Don’t get caught up in trying to be a "star" and get discovered before you’ve found something solid inside yourself that will keep you making art for another 50 years. I’ve seen too many young painters hit the wall after they’ve done thirty paintings with their special style-technique. Hitting that wall is just the first phase of getting on to the REAL stuff. Make as much art as possible. Hit the wall as hard as you can. Get drunk, think about it and keep going."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "I guess certain galleries must have decided I wasn’t "right" for their taste. It’s not for everyone. Neither am I. I don’t care about the censors – they’re just silly roadblocks that are easily overturned."
Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?
A. "I’ve been turned down for quite a few residencies that I’ve applied for. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a "who you know" sort of thing, so I’ve stopped applying. It’s been disappointing. Other than that, my art has always been what saved me from the insane crap that was happening for other reasons. I’ve seen quite a bit of the rocks on the bottom. I know if I’m making art, I’m alive and doing ok."
Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "It makes me feel like the best human I’ve ever been."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "Brooklyn, NY is probably the most concentrated group of painters and artists in the US. There might be more in Berlin by now, I’m not sure. Although there are tons or painters, sculptors, photographers, performance artists and so on, it’s kind of classist, in that the hot, name artists only associate with others of their same caliber. On the other hand, I emailed a very famous artist here one time and got a wonderful, page long response. The point is, it’s still important to be here for me. I’m getting more show opportunities and getting the work out there."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "I’d like to thank the great spirit for letting me get this far and hope that I will be allowed another twenty or thirty years of making art. The art world will take care of itself, so I’m not worried about it."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Fred Carpenter. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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