Carter points to diverse and highly personal influences. As a child, he watched his grandfather, Ridley Carter, the noted wildlife watercolorist at work, and admired his painstaking care with the finest details. He also admires the American trompe l'oeil still life painters William Harnett and William Bailey. He enjoys the painterly perfection and attention to line, form and situation in Harnett's work and the still, pure quality of Bailey's arrangements.
Carter was exposed to European art. architecture and history as a young man when his father's business took the family to Berlin for five years. He became interested in Dadaism and Surrealism there, and felt a particularly strong affinity for the work of Max Ernst. whose art was a protest against the chaos of World War I and against the mechanization of humanity. He was also attracted to the paintings of Magritte, who incorporated unrelated objects in uncanny relationships. Carter paid tribute to these Surrealist masters in his paintings, "Homage to Max Ernst" and "Homage to Magritte."
Carter likes to employ the underlying humor of the surreal. Like Magritte, Carter delights in juxtaposing unexpected objects, such as a teacup, a whale and a section of the sky in his painting, "Tea by the Sea." He gives evocative titles to all of his works, for example, "A Little Sea, A Little Air," "After the Eclipse," "November's Return" and "After the Reign." The animate and inanimate appear together; he portrays a mutable scene. By placing real objects in abstract environments, Carter can make them dissolve, fade, float or move in any way he wishes. Eggs are suspended from wires; pottery fragments sit upright on shelves; camels float in the air.
Carter emphasizes his subject matter by depicting it in a super-real style. The objects become icons or symbols. For example, the old-fashioned bellows camera is a reminder of the passage of time. Carter often depicts the camera photographing a delicate flower or a fragile bird fluttering before its lens.
From childhood, Carter has been fascinated by collections of natural objects. He assembles small collections in his works and dramatizes them by placing them on a mantel or in a box. "I use the mantel as the stage," Carter says. "It's almost like a backdrop to a play. Then the objects become the figures or characters."
In addition to studying at the Silvermine College of Art in New Canaan, Connecticut and the Maryland Institute of Art, James Carter considered becoming an architect. He found that working with line and form was more important to him than creating buildings. His architectural training is evident in his clearly structured compositions, as well as in the use of architectural details in his work, including mantels and doorways, graph-like grids and crosshatchings as seen through surveyors' instruments. The crosshatches provide focal points for the eye.
The media he uses, acrylic with airbrush and serigraphy, are conducive to the soft, subdued, translucent quality Carter wants to achieve. In Germany, he studied the painting and printmaking of Paul Wunderlich, one of the few fine artists then working with airbrush. "Airbrush is such a great tool, because you can get tones and textures which can't be achieved with a brush," Carter says. He enjoys the exacting nature of airbrush and the fact that it lends itself so well to the depiction of sea and sky.
The printmaking process, with its step-by-step building of the image, has always fascinated Carter. He began working with lithography in college, and soon turned to an exploration of serigraphy. Many artists use serigraphy to produce solid blocks of color in their work. Carter is one of the few to apply the techniques of painting, including airbrush, directly to his screens, to produce a wide range of textural and tonal effects.
Carter considers printmaking to be, perhaps, his first love in art. "Living in Paris and learning from some of France's finest lithographers have been the highlights of my printmaking experience thus far. "The exciting new techniques and approaches I learned from the Parisian artisans made creating 'The Music Box' suite an unforgettable experience. The most exciting moment was to watch that first plate being proofed and then to see the print begin to develop. It was the learning and relearning of technique that was the most difficult but at the same time, it was the most satisfying. "I realized the key to producing a successful lithograph was to combine traditional printmaking techniques with experimentation to implement my ideas." Carter often creates a series of works on a particular theme. An early series concerned endangered species, such as the whale, the buffalo and the black rhino. Another series explored the imagery of the American West. Three of his serigraphs, "Siren's Song," "Indian Summer" and "Wedding Vase" feature American Indian artifacts and symbols. In these explorations of line and form, the objects are placed on an altar and given a spiritual significance.
Very few human figures have appeared in Carter's paintings. An exception was his Mona Lisa series, "Study for Mona's Last Dream," "Mona's Last Dream," and "Mona Talks to the Fish," where the Mona Lisa was used as an icon representing womanhood.
Carter admires the posters of the 1930s and 1940s in which the boldly lettered titles were an integral part of the design. Stylized letters add a draftsman-like element to many of Carter's compositions. He is also intrigued by black and white photography, with its many shades of gray and has done paintings using only grays. The interplay of light and shadows is important in his work. Although he says that color is secondary to him - that he uses it to add perspective and depth, rather than out of a primary concern for color itself - his complex and subtle use of color is valued by collectors of his work.
Over the past fifteen years, James Carter has built an impressive
body of work. He has received over two dozen awards and honors
and has exhibited widely. His works are included in major collections,
among them: Christian Dior, Inc., NY; the Bruce Museum, Greenwich,
CT; Yale University New Haven, CT and the United Jersey Bank,
Princeton, NJ. His exhibitions include Art Expo, New York 1985-1989;
Art Ex, Miami, 1986; The Fiest Paris, France, 1986; Summa Gallery
Brooklyn, New York, 1985, 1986; Newbury Fine Arts, Boston, MA,
1985, 1988; Upstairs Gallery Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Costa
Mesa, CA: Zenith Gallery Washington,