John Carter RA

b. 1942

John Carter was born in Middlesex, and studied at Twickenham School of Art, and then at Kingston School of Art from 1959-63, where he was taught by Terry Frost, among others. Upon graduating, he was awarded a Leverhulme Travelling Scholarship to Italy. At this time he made collages on paper, using the bold colours of Pop Art as well as showing an interest in shapes and geometry. Several examples can be found in the Arts Council collection, including The Great Square I. Herein, the intersecting lines of primary colours appear to form the basis of one of his first contructed works, the three-dimensional painting on composite canvases and wood, entitled Emblem, of 1964. After working as an assistant to Bryan Kneale, Carter specialised in the making of large mixed media sculptures, which have been described by Charles Saumarez Smith as "thoughtful, scrupulous Constructivist works, attentive to optics and to the way his work is viewed by the spectator". Carter found instant support for such work; the Redfern Gallery offered him a solo show (he would exhibit there regularly in the next decade, too), and he was selected by Bryan Roberton for the 1966 edition of his acclaimed New Generation exhibitions, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. By the end of the decade, he was part of Herbert Read's survey of British painting and sculpture, a touring exhibition of the USA, alongside Anthony Caro, John Hoyland and Bridget Riley.   


By the mid-'70s, Carter began creating sculpture on a smaller scale, but which still played with the viewer's perceptions. These required the participation of the viewer, in that just as the viewer moves closer to the work, and views it from different angles, so their experience of the work changes. His series of three works entitled Resemblance, of 1973, was purchased by the Arts Council in 1976. Carter has explained how in the '80s he moved "away from making complicated or even romantic constructions, which demanded equally complex working methods, to more logical ways of working". As such, he took shapes as the starting-point for his work, and then over the course of playful investigation, explored variations of that shape. For example, a simple square would be repeated and subjected to rigorous rotations to create an artwork, but each work is always underpinned by a sense of harmony and proportion. For the art critic Mel Gooding, "these objects conform always to a systematic ordering of theoretic relations, the mathematical or geometrical givens that have generated them in the first place - in Carter's case, these are invariably simple, albeit ingenious". This led to the creation of his so-called 'Wall Objects' - sculpted plywood, each painted by the artist with a delicate mixture of acrylic and marble powder. These works can be seen as forming a dialogue between painting and sculpture, in that they often possess some of the characteristics of painting such as flatness, divided surface areas and colour, while retaining the sculptural qualities of physical bulk and non-rectangular contours. The holes, slots and incised lines, which penetrate their surfaces, are sculptural rather than pictorial in effect. The wall objects are arrived at only after many preparatory studies, and indeed, the mathematical rotations and calculations can be seen in the artist's drawings and prints. As such, Carter has shown in drawing bienales around the world, and was part of the British Council's touring exhibition of works on paper in 1979. That same year, Carter was chosen for the first British Art Show, a survey show of 112 leading painters and sculptors, organised by the Arts Council. 


In 1983, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Warwick Arts Trust, London. In 1986, he participated in the international group exhibition Die Ecke at Galerie Hoffmann, Friedberg, Germany, where he met the European Concrete and Constructivist artists. He has since exhibited widely in Europe, especially Germany, and 1993 saw the realisation of a monumental sculpture at the Technische Universität, Darmstadt. Alongside his career as an artist, teaching has been an important aspect of his life, and he lectured at Chelsea College of Art for nearly twenty years, before retiring in 1999. Elected Royal Academician in 2007, Carter was the subject of a retrospective at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in 2019, while an exhibition of his printmaking was held at the Royal Academy later in the year.


John Carter RA is represented by the Redfern Gallery. 

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John Carter RA

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