Wednesday, January 18, 2017

More Bravos, More Joy

The news came this year just the same as the year before, in an email from the American Watercolor Society, this one time-stamped 6 January 2017, 2:57 pm. The subject line said it all: “Congratulations! Your work has been accepted.” The jury of selection (Antonio Masi, Don Andrews, Linda Baker, Pat Dews and Paul Ching-Bor) had voted unanimously to include Jim Carpenter’s painting, Eminence Claire, in the annual AWS exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in Lower Manhattan.

Jim Carpenter, Eminence Claire
Less than 20 minutes later the phone rang. It was John Patt, the Executive Director of the American Watercolor Society. The AWS had just learned that Jim Carpenter had died in 2016. It was not the policy of the AWS to include posthumous works in the annual exhibition. “It’s not that kind of show – not an ‘in memoriam’ show.” I mentioned that some posthumous works had been included in the past, and we spoke briefly about some of those cases, but he made it clear that the AWS was withdrawing Eminence Claire from the show.

Different people will take away different things from this story. Most of us will regret that the thousands of visitors to the exhibition this April, will not get to see this extraordinary painting there. (Ironically, it is perhaps the one Carpenter acrylic that is most difficult to capture in a digital image; it seems to be a case of “you had to be there.”) And I hope that most of you will share in the enormous joy with which Jim Carpenter, the artist and the person, would have received the news of the unanimous vote of the jury of selection to include Eminence Claire. He was, and for me still is, a master of joy. Let that joy be contagious.

See Jim Carpenter’s blogpost A Question of Eminence for his thoughts on the painting itself and the process that produced it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jim Carpenter (1947 - 2016)

James Richard Carpenter, 69, of Gainesville, Florida, died on August 9, 2016.

Jim Carpenter, as he was always known professionally, was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, on January 3, 1947. He was the second son of John Richard Carpenter, a conductor on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and Helen Budnick Carpenter, a nurse at Norwalk Hospital. As a young boy he was discovered to have a talent for dancing, which the adults in his family encouraged and nurtured. He was trained as a tap dancer and went on to dance in and eventually choreograph stage musicals. He was to dance, act and sing on stage well into his thirties.

He graduated from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with a degree in English literature in 1969 and soon began a career as a public school teacher in Charles County, Maryland. First at Lackey, then at La Plata High School, he taught English, and occasionally Latin, but, over the course of almost 30 years in the classroom, he was best known as a drama teacher. He took graduate courses in dramatic arts at the University of Connecticut. Back in Maryland, he excelled as a director of musicals, 20th-century comedies and dramas – and Shakespeare. He was a fervent advocate of teaching Shakespeare through performance, and he had the reputation of taking students who initially found Shakespeare’s language daunting, casting them in Shakespearean roles, teaching them to interpret the text of the play in question – and turning them into skilled, confident readers of Shakespeare. He had come to understand that theatre was “all about text” – making text accessible to audiences in all its richness. At the same time, he was a master at using light, color and space to guide the eye of the spectator. His repertory extended from the medieval morality play Everyman to the spoof on operettas Little Mary Sunshine.

A prize-winning teacher, Carp, as he was called by his students, stressed collaboration in the performing arts, and dialogue in the classroom. His 1994 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Maryland examines the reading, rehearsal and performance of Hamlet in one of his productions, and shows him constantly listening to and learning from his students. Although many considered him one of the most talented people they had ever met, he set little store by talent alone, and stressed the importance of training, self-discipline, risk-taking and hard work.

Late in his career as an educator, he left the classroom for five years to work in county-wide administration and eventually served as Specialist for the Fine and Performing Arts for Charles County. In his last year in Maryland he returned to the classroom and once more directed students on stage – and for the Port Tobacco Players directed a spectacularly successful production of You Can’t Take It with You. The production won eight awards at the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors, including best play and best director.

In retirement Jim Carpenter began a new career as a painter. He had taken courses at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1990s, but it was not until he moved to Gainesville, Florida, in 2003 that he had time to paint. He studied for five years with Linda Pence and took workshops given by other leading watercolorists and acrylic painters, including Carole Barnes. He began as “a painter of flowers” but in 2008 transformed, almost literally overnight, into a powerful spiritual and figural artist, working mostly in acrylic. (He partly attributed this transformation to his practice of the ancient Chinese art of qigong, or energy cultivation, which he eventually also taught.) Many of his paintings have theatrical themes. His work was juried into numerous national and international exhibitions. He was a member of the Gainesville Fine Arts Association and the Melrose Bay Art Gallery, and a Signature Member of the Florida Watercolor Society and the International Society of Acrylic Painters.

The first of his works to attract wider attention, Toreador, Toro, Tra-La, brings together “on stage” a matador, a clearly theatrical bull, and a flamenco dancer. (Who will upstage whom?) It was the first of his paintings he found sufficiently distinctive to submit to the Florida Watercolor Society for its annual exhibition. It was accepted, in 2009, and this was the beginning of a relationship that was to last for the rest of his life.

He discussed his work both before “live” audiences and on the blog accessible via his website, , which reaches thousands of readers and followers world wide. He travelled in more conventional ways, too. An early visit to Spain awakened the passions he later transformed to paint Toreador, Toro, Tra-La, and he returned from Japan with new ideas of how to stage Macbeth. In retirement he honeymooned on the Via Veneto and the high seas. By the third of his many trips  to London he was so at home there, especially in the streets connecting Covent Garden (home of the Royal Ballet) and the National Theatre, the Old Vic, the Young Vic, the flagship Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly, the Royal Academy of Arts, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery (his essential London “ports of call,” top honors going to the National Theatre), that Britons asked him for directions, not the other way around.

Retirement for him, however, was not primarily a time for leisure. He admired the book How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson – but in retirement he had a clear mission, which was to paint. And his painting was anything but a hobby, just as his paintings were not intended as mere adornments or garnishes. He loved to paint, but it was work. He spoke of his paintings as slowly revealing themselves to him through a long process in which he painted, scrubbed, and repainted, creating the effect of multiple layers and multiple eras. As in all his other work, there was in his painting an element of surprise, even for himself: “Although I am always present in the doing,” he wrote, ”I am always surprised by the way a painting ends.”

In 2010 he married James Hulbert, a writer, who had shared his life since 1991. They wed in Washington, D.C., and a few days earlier, hundreds of Carp’s former students celebrated the forthcoming nuptials at a party organized by them in Dupont Circle.

In April 2016 he saw one of his paintings, The End of the Pilgrimage, honored by the American Watercolor Society in its annual exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in Lower Manhattan.

He learned only upon returning to Florida that the lung cancer which had been diagnosed and treated in 2015, had gone into metastasis, and only in July that it was not responding to further treatment.

His admirers and collectors include at least two Broadway stars, a fact of which he was proud but that he never mentioned publicly.

He spoke most readily of his pride in the achievements of his former students: the teachers, the soap stars, the rock stars, the working actors, the techies, the parents who participated in their children’s education, the business leaders, the hoteliers, the diplomats, and of course the hoofers, the chanteuses, the belters, the bombshells, the wedding singers, the writers…  It was an important part of his day to keep up on Facebook with the continuing lives of his former students, now his friends – and not only in the conventional Facebook sense.

Two experiences that deeply moved Jim Carpenter, help to understand who he was.

In 2010, on a whirlwind visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., he moved past the Motherwells he had come to re-study and was confronted – surprised – by a painting he did not remember ever seeing up close: Van Gogh’s White Roses. His heart pounded, his breath quickened, tears came into his eyes (just as his own paintings frequently make others cry). When he tried to analyze the experience online, he referred to it as an example of “the Stendhal syndrome” — in which an observer is so overwhelmed by the beauty of a work of art that they seem to become ill. What Jim Carpenter felt he was responding to in the Van Gogh, however, was not formal or artistic beauty: it was the boundless courage of Van Gogh, the total presence of the artist in the work, that gave it its enormous energy.

In 2016, three days before his death, his former students surprised him – again, a surprise – with a video in which dozens of them speak candidly about how his teaching and his belief in them changed their lives. Again, enormous energy. The video was played over 1000 times in its first ten days online.  ( )

Jim Carpenter died peacefully in his living room, surrounded by loved ones. He left a message for his friends everywhere: “I love you all. I love life.”

He is survived by James Hulbert; his brother John Joseph Carpenter and sister-in-law Kathy Carpenter (Clearwater, Florida); nephew John Michael Carpenter (Oldsmar, Florida); niece Gina Carpenter Kuchta (Mechanicsville, Virginia); hundreds of other beloved family members; and thousands of students, friends, admirers, followers and collectors.

A celebration of Jim Carpenter’s life will take place Saturday, September 24, 2016, from 12 noon to 3pm at Francesca’s Trattoria, 4410 NW 25 Place, Gainesville, Florida 32606, telephone 352.378.7152 .

To contribute to the Memorial for Jim Carpenter at the Florida Watercolor Society, please go to  , click the “add” button, make sure the “donation type” from the pull-down menu reads “Memorial for Jim Carpenter,” then fill in the amount and other information as prompted.

In addition, Jim Carpenter would have asked that you take a young person to a professional theatre or dance performance, or an art museum.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making History: Leaving Marks

"Angel 8"  by Jim Carpenter, 6.5" x 4.5"

The Process Of Aging: Leaving Marks

This painting which I am titling "Angel 8" for the time being, is small. That is, it is small by comparison to what it was a few hours ago.

You may have noticed I've skipped from Day 16 of Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Painting Challenge to Day 21. That's how long it took for this painting to arrive. The original start had  been around for several years, painted blue and 11" x 22." I scrubbed it back and cut it in half weeks ago. In the last five days I must have painted it and then taken the painting back down to the raw paper at least 4 times. This is how my paintings get that aged look that I like so much. Each time I remove paint some elements are left behind - the scratches, the lines, the most stubborn layers of paint embed a history into the paper. 

I don't set out to do this - that is, I don't say, "Ok, I'll paint this and then destroy it 5 times and then finish it." Each pass I am hoping will release the painting. But sometimes that's what it takes.  That and an "ah ha" moment. 

Ah Ha: History Repeats Itself

For me this time the "ah ha" moment came when I realized that maybe the part of the painting I was really focused on was the essence of the painting and that the rest of the painting, though nice, was a distraction. Did I learn nothing from my own blog post on Day 15? All it took was finding mat corners to frame the area and I could see that I needed (once again) to crop the painting and that (once again) the image was exactly 6.5" x 4.5." What's that all about?  

I still like what is left behind of the 11" square. I may be able to use what's left for the next few paintings in the challenge. But what I'm learning from this process - two paintings in a row now - is that when the painting isn't working as a whole and I really like two different sections of the painting that maybe I have more than one painting going on in one space. It is a matter of composition. Sometimes I may be playing with composition and wanting to split the viewer's focus, but it didn't feel right today, and I sensed a need to zero the focus in on one grouping.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Finding The Painting: The Challenge Day 16

"Angel 7" by Jim Carpenter, 6.5" x 4.5," Acrylic on Paper

Re-Turning To What I Never Left, Right?

It has been one week since I submitted anything for Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge.  I did spend time in the studio painting, but I seemed to be getting nowhere fast. I am not really a "daily painter" - although I hope to paint every day, my process is one that does not generally lead to a completed painting in one day. My process is also full of surprises for me, but that is to be expected when one approaches things from the perspective of "not knowing," which is how I approach my paintings.  

I did not see "Angel 7" until 7 p.m. tonight although it was actually right in front of my face and at the end of my brush for the last 48 hours. I had been working on the same 9" square sheet of paper for a week - painting and lifting and painting and lifting, and obliterating. A couple of days ago this sheet of paper was a proper painting  and then I decided it was really just dreadful and so I rubbed it out and started again. 

I delineated the figure in "Angel 7" two or three days ago and was quite happy with it but because it was settled in the left side of the 9" square I spent much of my time trying to make the other half of the painting work. I saw the figure on the left side of the paper as a secondary figure. I really don't know why I thought that way about it, but my hunch is that it was because it was on the left side of the paper and there was nothing on the right to balance it. The composition demanded something on the right and as I worked on bringing out a vague figure on the right side of the paper I also worked on solidifying the figure on the left, never actually thinking it was more than a secondary point of focus. 

Step Away From The Painting and Carry the Moon

I was determined to post a painting tonight so when it was time for me to leave my studio to go to the Wellness Center to teach my qigong class, I promised myself that when I got back I would get back to painting right away.  "Carrying The Moon" is the qigong pattern we did tonight. I never underestimate the cleansing power of my qigong practice and the clarity of mind it produces. I think it no coincidence that the moment I got home after class and went to the painting I saw that the painting wasn't working; I saw that I had a figure on the left and a big vague empty space on the right.  I said "It's not a painting yet." And then it hit me, "But if I crop this, maybe I'll have a painting." I took some mat corners and cropped it to exactly the same size as the paintings in the angel series, 4.5" x 6.5." How weird is that?  

Trust Your Creative Process

It may seem like an immediate no brainer to some of my artist buddies. Are you all saying, "Well, big DUH, Jim!" I don't blame you. I'm saying it too. Why I didn't see it sooner I don't know.  I was holding out for something bigger? Yes, like twice as big, actually - 9" instead of 4.5!  "Just crop it, Jim!" 

If this teaches me anything it teaches me that my creative process is always working, even when I think it is not. Painting paintings that I decide are all wrong, spending hours trying to make one part of the painting work when the actual painting is already there just waiting for me to notice it - that's all part of my creative process.  And to me, the most intriguing aspect of this is that this painting is exactly what I set out to do on day one of this challenge - a series of "angel" paintings - 4.5" x 6.5" - and here I "thought" that I had given up on that idea.  Ha!  

Sometimes I think my creative spirit has a mind of its own.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Risk Of Dinner Theatre: Challenge Day 9

"Dinner Theatre" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11' x 30" 

My Challenge: Dare I Follow This Image?

I paint along side hundreds of artists from all over the world partaking in Day 9 of Leslie Saeta's 30 day painting and blogging challenge. That there are so many artists participating lends the challenge a certain camaraderie (not unlike what we experience in the collaborative art of theatre) as well as adding a certain amount of pressure (if you allow it), because so many artists are posting their paintings every day. Gotta keep up! 

I welcome the pressure to produce. It creates an interesting tension between my desire "to be idle," to paint for the joy of it, and the desire to please that turns painting into work.  So today when I decided to pick up this odd-sized start with a lot of bright paint on it, I immediately thought "what the heck am I going to do with this!" 

So often my first thought was to wipe out the color and to look for a scene. But before I got to obliterating the start, I took time to see the half circle in the middle of the page - and looking inside it I began to see a scene unfolding, not just in the center but on either side. 

The Start for Dinner Theatre

Theatre is a great metaphor for life and I immediately recognized the setting for the characters in this painting as a theatrical one.  The title became apparent to me early in the process when I was looking for an explanation for the character just left of center that is drawing attention from the two central figures. I immediately thought, "this is dinner theater!" And thus, early on I had my title.  

 I did not let the title or reason stand in the way. I was going to risk having some fun.  I immediately allowed for other characters to appear on the right and left, leading to the possibility of multiple plays taking place at the same time - or perhaps 3 different views of drama/life being played out simultaneously.  

I could have wiped the entire painting out at any time - there was some neat stuff under that paint - I did rub out on section on the left to reveal the mystery melodrama taking place on the left side of the paper!  But I decided not to second guess myself.  I decided to enjoy the return to the theatre. The truth is I've been looking for some of the more playful paintings to re-appear.  And now one has! 

In case you are wondering about me and dinner theatre... stay tuned. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Once Upon A Time: The Perfect Start

 "Places" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 13.5" x 11" 

Once Upon A Time, Long Long Ago...

Five years ago I painted a start that I thought was the cat's meow! I loved it. But I didn't know what to do with it, and I was afraid I'd ruin it if I pushed ahead with it. So I put it in a folder and put it aside.  I would pull it out over the years hoping that I would see it and know where to go next with it. But that never happened. And when I looked at it today I had pretty much lost that loving feeling - that is, I still liked it but I thought it wasn't all that precious and it was time that I tried to do something with it or let it go. So, for Day 8 of the 30 Day Challenge I decided to finally do something with this 'ancient' start. 

Originally I wanted it to be a non-objective abstract, and that was one of the main reasons why it remained in the folder.  I know now how "non-objective" turns out for me - inevitably, save for a few rare occasions, an image begins to emerge and I'm off to carving out figures.  Why didn't I do that 5 years ago?  

Places: Story Time

I titled the painting "Places" because I get the sense that the figures are each from different stories - living in different environments - each with a tale to tell - but they are all in the same framework.  The title also alludes to theatre, an apt metaphor for story telling: when the stage manager gives the cue "Places!" the actors move to their "place" on stage to begin or to continue telling their story.  

It occurred to me only as I was preparing to write the blog post that this painting might be the cover of a great storybook - full of tales that resonate through the ages. If I decide to pursue that notion I will let you know. Maybe tomorrow!  

Here is the start I painted 5 years ago.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Tricky Path To The Sages

"Sages" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9" x 9" 

Challenge Day 6: Trust In "Not Knowing"

It seems a bit ironic to title a painting "Sages" and then to blog about "not knowing." But, that is how I operate when I start a painting. I do "not know" what I will find at the end of the painting journey. And even when I start out with the idea that I'm going to paint a certain something, I often end up with something altogether different. Today I had planned - I should say "hoped" - to paint something joyful and full of color - and I ended up with a monochromatic image of two mysterious figures with a spiral behind them. I didn't know that was what I really wanted to say until I started to see it - then I knew what the painting was about. I use "not knowing" to get to "knowing." 

Here are the images of my "Start" and my "All The World's A Stage" mid process painting.

Even as I tried to accept it as "finished" I knew the painting with the 3 figures wasn't right. I felt the pull to obliterate it and find the real painting as well as the pull in the opposite direction - to resist the risk of obliteration and to preserve what was there. Ever been caught in that tension? 

I felt I had to go for something more authentic. I sprayed a paper towel with rubbing alcohol and scrubbed. 

The search for wisdom is a constant. Perhaps the figures I identify as "Sages" are a metaphor - a  representation of an old notion knocking around in my head that there are "keepers of the knowledge" - that there are "those who know" - and the path to them is tricky, risky, and full of false starts.