Richard Carter, Full Circle: Longtime Aspen artist opens new gallery and Bauhaus shows
IF YOU GO ...What: "Bauhaus Seen," paintings by Richard Carter and Dave Durance, furniture curated by Brad Reed Nelson When: Opening reception Friday, June 7, 6 p.m. Exhibition runs through July 5 Where: R2 Gallery, Carbondale More info: carbondalearts.com What: "Return to Simplicity: Bauhaus Inspired Art and Design" When: Opening reception Thursday, June 13, 5 p.m. Exhibition runs through Aug. 15 Where: Colorado Mountain College, Aspen More info: The show includes three paintings by Carter alongside works by 40 artists and CMC students, coloradomtn.edu What: Richard Carter, "The Erratic Series" When: Opening reception Friday June 14, 6 to 8 p.m. Exhibition runs through July 24 Where: R. Carter Gallery, 601 E. Hyman Ave. More info: The gallery is slated to be open through Oct. 1, with new exhibitions opening in August and September.
Painter Richard Carter first showed his work in Aspen some four-and-a-half decades ago as he began a career that would make him one of the town’s best-known and most acclaimed artists. After a much-lamented eight-year absence from the downtown scene, the painter is back with his own R. Carter Gallery.
Carter is unveiling the gallery in mid-June, along with his “Erratic” series of new paintings and drawings he’s made since 2017. His downtown return is complemented by a Bauhaus-themed show in Carbondale featuring his early Bauhaus-influenced work and a third exhibition at Colorado Mountain College including paintings from his “Mandala” series.
Carter’s pop-up on Hyman Avenue is situated next to the Aspen Art Museum, which Carter co-founded 40 years ago. And his downtown homecoming comes amid Aspen’s yearlong Bauhaus 100 celebration, commemorating the centennial of the German art school, of which Carter is a living descendent.
Carter has been a leading light of Aspen’s visual art scene since the early 1970s, when he worked as an assistant to Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer in Aspen while making his own work in a West End barn.
Though he’s remained one of the most prominent valley-based artists, showing with galleries in Denver and Los Angeles and garnering a national following, Carter hasn’t had gallery representation in downtown Aspen since 2011 when he had his final show at the David Floria Gallery. Like most locally based artists, he’s moved his shows to spaces in Basalt and Carbondale as downtown lease rates forced Aspen galleries to exclusively sell the priciest of blue-chip art to afford rent.
He’s leased the Hyman gallery space on a short-term basis, while its landlords — the Hecht family — seek a long-term tenant. Carter has the space through the end of September, and is planning to rotate three exhibitions there while he has it.
His new “Erratic” paintings and drawings, filling the walls of R. Carter Gallery, are more narrative than most of Carter’s abstract and geometric work. The series puts a finger on the unstable pulse of the humanity right now as the world order and the Earth itself balances precariously between our turbulent present moment and an uncertain future.
The series depicts monumental structures, temples, towers and boat-like vessels in the center of stormy backgrounds. His “Babel Rising” gives us a too-tall wobbling tower, “Erratic Cargo” a top-heavy spire overloaded and ready to crash, his “Erratic Structure” a house-like red form amid an emotive burst of particle waves, his “Ascending Vessel” a rowboat out of water.
“This is how I’m feeling — and how I’m sure a lot of people are feeling,” Carter said in the gallery on a recent afternoon. “That our universe is unstable right now.”
He’s created the tempestuous backdrops of the paintings with thousands of intricate, tiny dot and dash marks (Carter aggravated arthritis in his wrist during the meticulous process).
“To me, this is the positive side of these,” Carter said, running his hand over the gusty waves in one of the freshly hung paintings. “As unstable as things look, there is a positive energy flow that is a reality in the universe.”
The series draws inspiration from geological “erratic” material: rocks placed in unlikely places by glacial erosion (the local backcountry is peppered with them). It’s in keeping with much of Carter’s geometric work, which over the decades has often used science and natural phenomena as a jumping-off point.
The monuments and structures are fashioned out of carved masking tape, a signature Carter material since the early 1970s, beginning with his “Radial” series of paintings. Those are now on display in the “Bauhaus Seen” exhibition at the R2 Gallery in Carbondale.
The “Radial” paintings, made in 1973 while Carter was working for Bayer, depict centered circles in mostly muted colors. He’s hung them frame-to-frame for the R2 show, entirely covering two walls.
Carter hasn’t shown the “Radial” works since a 1974 show at Tom Ward’s Gargoyle Gallery in Aspen. He repaired a few that he had in storage and gathered more from clients and his children for the show.
“I thought it would be cool, for the Bauhaus thing, to drag these out,” he said. “I had always wanted to get these paintings up somewhere, because I think it’s some of the best work I ever did.”
The Carbondale show also includes Bauhaus-inspired paintings by Aspen’s Dave Durrance, and a collection of Bauhaus-styled furniture from across the U.S., including Anderson Ranch resident artists, curated by Brad Reed Nelson.
The circular forms in Carter’s “Radial” series have recurred throughout his work in the years since. Three paintings from his “Mandala” series, from 2014 through 2016, make innovative use of similarly framed circles in saturated colors and will hang in Colorado Mountain College’s Bauhaus-themed “Return to Simplicity” group exhibition, opening next week.
The Bauhaus celebration has brought Carter much attention this year, and forced the prolific and ever-evolving artist to look back. Last month at the Aspen Art Museum, a standing-room-only crowd gathered to hear Carter give a talk on his early career, his time with Bayer and the founding of the museum.
“The Bauhaus 100 has really made me dig,” he said. “That digging made me remember a lot of this stuff about starting the museum, working for Bayer, having a kid. Those first years in Aspen were definitely chaotic. They were erratic.”
Carter has lived downvalley and worked out of a Basalt studio for years, so coming to Aspen every day to prepare his new gallery and hang the “Erratic” show is a throwback. He’s kept the gallery doors open during installation and seen a steady stream of old friends pop in to visit.
It’s the kind of full-circle moment you couldn’t make up if you tried, bringing the artist back downtown for the first time in years, in a space next to the museum he co-founded as the town celebrates the centennial of the Bauhaus art school, of which he is a descendent.
But Carter, amid a prolific spell of new creations, doesn’t have much time for nostalgia.
“It’s been a really fertile two years,” Carter said. “Incredible. It didn’t feel like that, but when you turn around and look back and see the amount of work, it’s incredible.”
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The nonprofit VOICES led 39 bilingual Basalt Middle School students through a visual journaling project to tell their stories this spring.