NEW YORK, NY.-
An artist who has been exhibiting her work nationally and internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions since the mid-1970s, Nanette Carter creates abstract collages expressive of her sensitivity to injustice and humanity in the context of contemporary life and her responses to the drama of nature. Her shaped works, produced in multimedia on Mylar since 1997, are evocative of concepts in the history of abstract art and reflect the African American abstract art tradition, exemplified in the works of Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, William T. Williams, Howardina Pindell, Romare Bearden, and Alvin Loving Jr. In fact, Loving (19352005) was Carters mentor. A close friend, he inspired her in his view of invention in art as the result of process, in a manner akin to how jazz musicians create something new by riffing off of a melody.
In her art, Carter combines rectilinear structures with animated gestures, forming constructions that recall the lineage of African American quilt-making, while drawing on jazz, Japanese prints, Russian Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, and other sources. She describes herself as a builder, fascinated by the act of bringing pieces together to create a work of art, while noting that building is one of civilizations oldest endeavors. In 2013 she began her Cantilevered series, metaphorically using an architectural term referring to structures anchored by a plinth at one end that extend horizontallyalmost defying gravityas a paradigm for the balancing act in all our lives in the twenty-first century. Her series, The Weight, begun in 2015, speaks to the weight compounded on us as we reflect on our history and aspire to move forward to better ourselves.
A professor of art at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, since 2001, Carter was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, where her father was the citys first Black mayor, and her mother was a vice principal in Paterson, New Jersey and a dance teacher. While a student at Oberlin College, Ohio, Carter spent her junior year in Perugia, Italy, studying at the Accademia belle Arti and showing her work at Università per Stranieri. While abroad, she traveled widely, in Europe as well as in Africa. Majoring in art history and studio art, she graduated from Oberlin in 1976. That year she had her first solo show of drawings and prints at Oberlin, and her work was included in a tour organized by the National Association of Fine Arts Small Colleges. Carter continued to study art at Pratt, where she received her MFA in 1978. She was featured in several exhibitions in 1978, including the 25th Annual Juried Exhibition, which was held at the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, and curated by photographer Hans Namuth; Women Celebrate Women, held at the Nassau County Museum, Hempstead, New York; and a three-artist show, including the work of Rosalind Letcher and Loving, held at the Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York. In an article in Newsday on the Benson show by Amei Wallach, Loving and Carter were interviewed. Loving called Carter a great artist, noting that he had a vested interest in having her work seen by as many people as possible. Carter stated to Wallach: I think my work is very rhythmical and sensitive to forms, commenting that she was dealing with pattern . . . in a very African way, because of rhythm, because of line. Wallach observed in Carters delicate prints of undulating white forms growing out of gray and black dots and splotches a quality like the syncopated jazz patterns in the work of Stuart Davis, along with infinite depth that Carter had been picking up from Loving.1 In 1979 Carter was included in Eastville Artists, a show curated by Loving that was held at Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton. In a review in the New York Times, Helen Harrison gave recognition to woodcuts in Carters Syncopated Scapes series, noting that in these works, Carter used of a method of color gradation frequently seen in Japanese prints, while peppering her compositions with bright and shining accents of color that suggest fragments of sound.2
From 1978 to 1987, Carter taught printmaking and drawing at Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, New Jersey, where she completed a mural commission in 1980. During the 1980s, her work was featured in exhibitions in New York and in several other cities, receiving much recognition. When her collages and prints were included in a six-artist show at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1981, Theodore F. Wolff wrote in a review that Carters work exemplified the major attribute of the show, its openness of spirit. He described her contribution as consisting of muted, highly sophisticated works in which narrow color strips play dramatically against softly textured (or plain) backgrounds, producing an effect of a contained explosion, with the energy held in check or released by extremely subtle adjustments of the length, placement, color, or texture of the narrow strips of collage material.3 During the decade, Carter had solo shows at Ericson Gallery, New York (1983), NNamdi Gallery, Detroit (1984, 1986), Cinque Gallery, New York (1985), Montclair Art Museum (1988), and NNamdi Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan (1989). Her group shows included a national touring exhibition of prints and drawings, organized by the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists, Roxbury, Massachusetts; Voicing Expressing What Is: Action Against Racism (1980) and Action Against Racism (1981), both held at Westbeth Gallery, New York; Biennial Print Exhibition, curated by Gene Baro, Brooklyn Museum (1981); Black Achievement in the Arts, Equitable Life Assurance, New York (1982); the Womens Art Exhibit, Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana (1984); Celebration: Eight Afro-American Artists, curated by Romare Bearden, Henry Street Settlement; Louis Abrons Arts for Living Center, New York (1984); CollageThe State of the Art, Bergen Museum of Art and Science, Paramus, New Jersey (1985); Expressions: Black Art 88, National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc., Stamford, Connecticut (1988); and Impressions: Our World, Flushing Center, Queens, New York, curated by Frances Hynes (1989). Carter was featured in a show at McIntosh Gallery, Atlanta, with six other artists including Jacob Lawrence in 1987.
From 1990 to the present, Carter has continually evolved in her work and participated actively in gallery and museum exhibitions. Her work has been featured in at least one solo show each year, including exhibitions at the Fine Arts Gallery, Long Island University, Southampton (1991); Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (1992); Rathbone Gallery, The Sage Colleges, Albany, New York (1997); Conkling Gallery, Minnesota State University (2001); Presidents Gallery, Pratt Institute (2005); Gallery Ami & Kanoko, Osaka, Japan (2016, 2019); Alessandro Berni Gallery, Perugia, Italy (2017); and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba (2018). She has been included in numerous group shows, in museums, universities, corporations, and cutting-edge galleries. Of a show of her Fire Water series at June Kelly Gallery, New York (1991), Ruth Bass noted in Artnews, that her works in their evocations of trees, branches, and rocks interacting with odd intrusive shapes that seemed to allude to flames or bodies of water produced striking, evocative landscapes [that] exist at some mysterious junction between the world of dreams, mythology, and folklore and the realm of everyday experience.4 In 1996 Carter was represented in the traveling exhibition, Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists, curated by Jontyle Theresa Robinson, which featured twenty-four artists including Pindell, Barbara Chase Riboud, Faith Ringgold, Alison Saar, Betty Saar, and Carrie Mae Weems. Among the authors of essays in accompanying catalogue were Maya Angelou and Lowery Stokes Sims. In her essay in the catalogue, Robinson described works by Carter from her Window View-Scapeology series, commenting: There is harmony and discord in nature, and it is these contrasts that [Carter] puts on canvas and into prints. She shows human attempts to control nature and the powerful manner in which it thwarts their desires.5 Carters exhibition, Slightly Off Keel, held at June Kelly Gallery in 2000, was accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by Karen Wilkin, who observed that in fragments that may evoke familiar aspects of the natural world, the associations are endless. She commented that Carters work picks up speed and rushes silently along in purely pictorial terms, tipping us slightly off balance in a pleasurable way, but reminding us to stay alert and be ready for the unexpected.6
In the early 2000s, Carter created two series. In her Picante (saucy) works, she focused on the body and genitalia. When she discovered there was no clinical name for the fluid emitted by women during love making, she decided to name the fluid Aqueous. With Carter's Aqueous series, the biomorphic shapes allude to the women's genitalia; alluding to aquatic movement and sensuality. When the series was shown in 2007 at NNamdi Gallery, New York, it was accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by Leslie King-Hammond, who remarked that in her abstract Mylar paintings and installations, Carter explored the questions so adroitly poised by the Feminist critic Arlene Raven regarding the issues of the internal, female body and a model of rhythms and relationships upon which a society can be built.7 Jonathan Goodman commended Carters technical skill as a collagist and the fluency in works with expressionist surfaces, active with painted and printed with gestural marks. He stated: her sensuous idiom makes new use of Abstract Expressionist traditions.8 In 2007 Carter was chosen by the US State Department to represent the nation in the International Womens Art Festival in Aleppo, Syria. The State Department also organized an exhibition of her work at the Kozah Gallery, Damascus, Syria.
With Carter's earlier works, she often used "Scape" metaphorically to describe her work because the term, denoting representation over subject matter, has allowed her to weave a range of political themes and concepts into her art, while referring to land, sky, and outer space. She has even called herself a scapeologist. At times she has joined two or more scapes onto a single picture plane, while improvising to create new worlds. In her series, Bouquet for Loving (begun about 2009), Carter paid homage to her mentor. She states that the works were, "a benevolent offering of not your run-of-the-mill vegetation, but rather a creation from my minds eye.
Carters Cantilevered series is elegant, precise, and open, embracing the forms and concepts that she has explored over the course of her career. When works from the series were featured in An Act of Balance, an exhibition in 2018 at Skoto Gallery, New York, Jonathan Goodman wrote that Carter challenged the viewer to make sense of an art that is self-sufficient and visually poised.10 In a review, Daniel Gauss described the way that in the series one gets a sense that in order for the bulky, accumulated bunch of things not to fall over one must engage in a rigorous, continual balancing act. He stated that, in the series, Carter seems to ask us what the invisible sources of strength might be in our own lives, while posing the question of whether there is sufficient enough cantilever for any one or group that is suffering to endure and rise above and then become the agent for change.11 Carters latest series venturing into Afro-Futurism, titled Afro-Sentinels, features a sequence of vertical thin and robust forms. Sentinels are guardians meant to watch out for potential disturbances, and in this case to protect people of color from injustices and harm.
In 2014 Carter was included in the group exhibition, African-American Artists & Abstraction, held at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, along with Senga Nengudi, Ben Jones, Mel Edwards, Willie Cole, Pindell, Bill Hutson, and Victor Davidson. In 2017 Carter was featured in Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction: 1960s to Today, a show featuring African American women artists, organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City. The show traveled to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. This year, Carter is the program curator for New Yorks Art Students League, and she is a participant there in the exhibition, Creating Community: Cinque Gallery Artists, held May 3July 4, 2021. She is included in the Parrish Museums exhibition, Affinities for Abstraction: Women Artists on Eastern Long Island, 19502020, curated by Dr. Alicia Longwell, from May 3 to July 18, 2021. This summer, she will be on a Pratt Residency at the Siena Art Institute, Italy.
Carter has received many grants, fellowships, and awards including Gottlieb Foundation, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, The Jerome Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts. Carter continues to evolve a body of work that broadens and deepens in its thematic, technical, and humanist dimensions.
Carters work is represented in many private and public collections, including American Express, Minneapolis, Minnesota; ARCO, Philadelphia; AT&T, Florida, New Jersey; Bellevue Hospital, New York; Bristol-Myers Squibb, Princeton, New Jersey; The Bob Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, New York; The Brandy Wine Workshop Collection, Philadelphia; Broadway Savings and Loans, Los Angeles; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Charles H. Wright Museum, Detroit; CIGNA, Philadelphia; Cochran Foundation, LaGrange, Georgia; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio; Curtis and Edison Law Firm, Detroit; Deloitte Touche LLP, Parsippany, New Jersey; Dwight Englewood School, Englewood, New Jersey; Ferguson Development, LLC, Lansing, Michigan; First Independence National Bank, Detroit; General Electric, Fairfield, Connecticut; IBM, Stamford, Connecticut; Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, New Jersey; Huntington Museum, Huntington, West Virginia; Johnson & Johnson, Inc., New Brunswick, New Jersey; Lang Communications, Randolph, Vermont; The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Lower East Side Printshop, Inc., New York; Lucent Technologies, Warren and Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Merck Pharmaceutical Co., Philadelphia; Magic Johnson Enterprises, Los Angeles; McKinsey & Co., New York; The Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, New York; Motown Corp. L.P., Los Angeles; Mott-Warsh Foundation, Flint, Michigan; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba; National Steel Corp., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Nedd Hotel Collections, London, England; The Newark Museum, New Jersey; Nextel Corp., Los Angeles; Nissho Iwai American Corporation, New York; The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; PepsiCo, New York; Perez Museum, Miami; Planned Parenthood, New York; Rutgers University School of Graduate Management, Newark; Mudd Center, Oberlin College Library, Oberlin, Ohio; Paul R. Jones Initiative, University Delaware, Newark, Delaware; Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri; Salomon Brothers, New York; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York; The United States Embassy, Lome, Togo; Sims Varner and Associates, Detroit, Michigan; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, New York; State Farm Insurance, West Lake, California; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Times Mirror, New York; The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; The University Museum, University of Delaware, Newark; U.S.A.A., San Antonio, Texas; University of Maryland David C. Driskell Center, College Park, Maryland; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
-Lisa N. Peters, PhD
1 Amei Wallach, Black Artists Cross the Moat, Newsday, May 28, 1978, p. A3.
2 Helen A. Harrison, The Eastville Story, New York Times, February 25, 1979, p. LI12.
3 Theodore F. Wolff, Harlems Studio Museum: The Tricky Business of Identifying New Talent, Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1981, p. 14.
4 R[uth] B[ass], Nanette Carter, Artnews 90 (February 1991), p. 140.
5 Jontyle Theresa Robinson, Passages: A Curatorial Viewpoint, in Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists, exh. cat. (Spelman College and Rizzoli International, 1996). p. 33.
6 Karen Wilkin, Nanette Carter: Slightly Off Keel, exh cat. (New York: June Kelly Gallery, 2000), p. 3.
7 Leslie King-Hammond, Aqueous: Nanette Carter, exh. cat. (New York: G. R. Nambi Gallery, 2006), p. 5.
8 Jonathan Goodman, Nanette Carter at G. R. NNamdi, Art in America (January 2007), pp. 13940.
9 Nanette Carter, On Using Scapes, Black Renaissance Noire (Institute of African-American Affairs, New York University) 9 (2009), pp. 8895.
10 Jonathan Goodman, Nanette Carter: An Act of Balance, Brooklyn Rail (February 2018).
11 Daniel Gauss, An Act of Balance: Nanette Carter at Skoto Gallery, Manhattan, Wall Street International (March 9, 2018), p. 2.