Exhibition Review – John Carter, Royal Academy, Tennant Gallery, London.

Between Dimensions, 2nd October 2013 – 16th February 2014

Carter is a renowned British abstract sculptor, this exhibition reveals Carter’s development from early art influences (Op and Pop Art) to the ordered structural works of his current practice. Maquettes, sketchbooks and on-going studies are shown alongside his finished drawings and sculptures.However for me the most fascinating element is looking at his works on paper and how they evolve and enable him to develop his sculptural works.

JC 1Fig. 1Matrix’, 2012. Oil on cut paper, 475cm x 475cm

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the gallery space and view his finished works is whether they are sculptures at all, they are not hung as sculptures in the traditional sense hanging from the wall in or without frames or evolving beyond their framed enclosures. They are three dimensional paintings bringing his ideas and developments, from his drawings into a rigorously ordered abstract reality.

He has an obsessive approach to manipulating the surface of his paper with a repetitive use of the same geometric shape(s). Drawings and sketches of the same trapezium, rhombus and triangles, rotated, repeated, fitting together in unlikely tessellations, patterns forming in the spaces between the geometric shapes as much as from their own repetition.

‘Matrix’ (Fig. 1) is one short step away from the completed three dimensional work; yet there are a number of experimental drawings, also complete and beautiful, that show the evolution of Carter’s artistic development of his work. Oil paint on paper with cuts to separate the squares and rectangles that has evolved to create this pattern, the original shape is clearly on show and yet has been lost and represented in Carter’s own form.

It is fascinating to see the artistic process, the thoughts and ideas, the aesthetic decisions taken, the elements discarded as the work develops from initial line drawing to coloured paper, to painted form. Finally cumulating into a solid-looking three inch thick plywood ‘block’ painted with marble powdered infused acrylic paint with the cuts made deep through the block to create a three dimensional sculptural painting.

JC 2Fig. 2 From Left to Centre, 2013. Acrylic with marble powder on plywood, 50 cm x 50 cm.

Carter’s work reminds me of various artists, Piet Mondrian in painting, August Salo in sculpture, Bruce Nauman in the way that he works across the boundaries of practice mediums, Max Bill for his design and architectural approach…  

John Carter describes his own work as “between painting and sculpture” rather than as construction, painting or sculpture alone. Carter has been regarded as a constructivist artist but this is something that he seems to avoid wholeheartedly aligning his practice with, preferring to be between the mediums of paint and sculpture, ‘between dimensions’ so to speak.

He was however an advocate of a generation of British Constructivist who emerged in the 1950’s particularly of Anthony Hill and John Ernest, with whom he taught at Chelsea School of Art in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

“Carter considers drawing to be preparatory as much as an end in itself, and points out in his own concise text in the small booklet accompanying the exhibition that he has never developed a drawing practice as a singular and independent means of expression but sees it as a means of transition between thinking in two and then three dimensions” (Bick, 2013)

Carter’s work is exhibited beautifully in the gallery space, it was genuinely a delight to see a shape develop and distort over time, sometimes decades, into a piece of work that is so hard to describe and pigeon hole into an artistic movement. It is a shame that his work is less recognised in the UK than I believe it should be.


JC 3Fig. 3 Transition from Left to Right: Two Equal Squares, 2013, Acrylic with marble powder on plywood, 72 cm x 42 cm.

Quote Sources:

Q. 1 Bick, Andrew (2013) [John Carter: Between Painting and Sculpture] (Text)

At http://abstractcritical.com/note/john-carter-between-painting-and-sculpture/

(Accessed on the 2.01.14) Para. 3

Image Sources:

Fig. 1 http://static.royalacademy.org.uk/images/width300/2012082403-johncarter1-24444.jpg

Fig. 2 http://abstractcritical.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/From-Left-to-Centre_1.jpg

Fig. 3 http://abstractcritical.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Transition-L-R-Two-Equal-Squares_1-266×400.jpg

About X-Wide P

Award winning advocate for the arts, heritage & culture; Fine Artist & Curator at StudionAme; Resources Manager for Leicester Arts, Museums, Festivals & Events; Founder & Curator of L.O.V.E. Art the Leicester Open Exhibition
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