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Uncomfortable realism

David Carpenter’s detailed work is inspired by classic European forms

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-07-07


David Carpenter is a New Haven native who went to the University of St. Francis for his undergraduate degree before spending two years in New York City attending the New York Academy of Art. This is a prestigious institution in the heart of the TriBeCa neighborhood, which is devoted to the advancement of figurative painting, sculpture, and drawing in the contemporary arts and is the only accredited school of its kind in the world.

Excelling there, Carpenter's abilities have been honed to perfection. His ability to render lifelike images and to capture the likeness of a person is superb. He has all of the makings of a great portrait artist. Carpenter's talent is also suggested by his ability to paint and draw on nearly any scale. A near life size canvas for an oil painting and a 5 in. by 7 in. piece of paper for a small drawing are both homes for him. Building upon traditional painting techniques and a slight lean toward the absurd, David Carpenter has become one of the best painters to come out of Fort Wayne in some time. His artistic ability spans the whole range of creative expression, focusing on oil painting and drawing.

On the small scale, Carpenter has been creating coin sized paintings and drawings of nudes on the interiors of Altoids canisters. These small nudes are quite impressive, both because of the style of their display and the quality of their brushwork and draftsmanship. A body of Carpenter’s Altoids work will be appearing in the North Carolina Clark Gallery after the gallery director saw a few of these works in New York last fall. The Clark Gallery is primarily composed of contemporary figurative artists working in painting.

Another of Carpenter's paintings received a good deal of attention at the end of his time in New York. His large painting of his father, which was done in oil paint, and is approximately 8 feet by 5 feet, was a favorite of Natalie S. Riessen, part of the Guggenheim Museum's Young Collectors Council, and who vice-chaired the Tribeca Ball, an event to benefit the New York Academy of Art, where she saw Carpenter’s painting.

Carpenter's work has transformed over the past three years from the somewhat post-apocalyptic wastelands with existential figures during his undergraduate studies, to a study of Vanitas and Trompe-loeil throughout graduate school. Vanitas paintings, popular during the Netherlands during the Dutch apex of the 16th and 17th centuries, are meant to be meditations on the meaninglessness of our time and physical possessions on earth. This rich historical structure, combined with Carpenter's artistic abilities, create complex images that push the viewer into uneasy rational and emotional spaces. The viewer is forced to decide how to accept the spaces presented as either real or illusion, and decide the importance and meaning of the people represented.

Carpenter’s portrait of his father, a diabetes patient, is a great example of this. At once, the viewer must reconcile their feelings over the voyeuristic relationship that is made through this painting of an actual person, and the painters use of an actual person as the conduit of meaning in the painting. Visually, the bleak hope that Carpenter uses nonchalantly is referenced most closely with the reformation age Protestantism's denouncement of worldly pleasure through Vanitas. However, Carpenter’s images make no defined reference to an afterlife, a significant part of Vanitas’ work.

In addition to receiving his graduate degree, Carpenter was also awarded the John Brady travel grant by the New York Academy of Art. The purpose of this grant is to allow a student to see master works first hand and to truly witness artworks, instead of the non-experiential learning that most art schools and students necessarily use because so much of the art world is spread, literally, across continents. Carpenter thinks he will visit Germany to study the works of a few artists he is interested in. This will no doubt further Carpenter's understanding of the technical and conceptual histories of European Age of Reason classicism.

David Carpenter is a prime example of the kind of rich talent that comes out of Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, the kind of talent that cannot be supported by our area’s proverbial cold shoulder towards the arts. Artists like Carpenter are leaving our area, and making names for themselves.

Carpenter is returning to Fort Wayne this summer to teach painting and drawing at the university of St. Francis' High School summer program. This is a month long educational program where high school students are given the opportunity to choose a morning and afternoon class, where the materials will be provided for them through the generous support of the Foellinger Foundation. Carpenter is also participating in this year's Three Rivers Festival Art in the Park, with a large format image as part of a new public art piece which will be on display in Freimann Square on July 12th and 13th.

Carpenter intends to use his travel grant this fall, and is applying for a teaching position with Indiana University in Bloomington.

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