Chris Carter demonstrates ‘playful painting’ at DCA

MD-Artist Chris Carter at DCA_3x

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Chris Carter recently demonstrated her painting techniques during her special show at the DCA. Trying out her methods is local artist Will Dennehy.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester Center for the Arts is sponsoring a solo show this month and next by Chris Carter. Ms. Carter hails from northwestern New Jersey, where she lives with her husband Tom and serves her muse by painting or sketching every day.
Her latest works reflect a spacey world of globe-like orbs and fascinating textures, and though she paints primarily in watercolor, a variety of media may find itself worked into her pieces.

“I’ve always wanted to project onto the wall what goes on inside my head, so that other people could see,” she tells us. “It’s kind of like fireworks and kaleidoscope inside, and that’s real hard to express to people. It’s kind of like when you see a really good movie and want other people to see it too. I feel like finally at this stage of my life I’m able to start sharing that joyous world that’s always been inside of my head.

“I can’t do that unless I’m totally prepared to make decisions of shapes and lights and darks and colors and lines, and for that I need to practice traditional representational work,” she explains. “That (traditional) work is usually work I don’t exhibit, but this exhibit is a real comprehensive one that shows my process, as well as showing the exercises that I do to train myself.

The main gallery of DCA contains her “Orbs and Energy” paintings; very abstract, but still delightful in an impossible to define way. Ms. Carter says that in order to paint her abstract “orbs” she needs to be grounded in her interpretation of conventional subjects, which are fortunately displayed in the main hallway of the Art Center. Most interesting is her wall of musician paintings, some using only a single brush stroke to invoke an image of a performer or an instrument.

On a past Saturday at DCA, Chris Carter gave a public demonstration of her creative process, and welcomed a local artist, Will Dennehy, to try her techniques. Her painting method consists of building up layers of patterns and textures until an idea starts to emerge. Paint is applied by brush, or an atomizer spray, or dribbling or slinging, whatever seems right at the time. We ask whether, with all the layers of color and pattern piled up on the canvas, can her paintings every truly be called “finished?”

Artist Carter doesn’t see her “Orbs and Energy” paintings as ever being completed. “It’s a stopping point,” she says, more than being finished. “They could keep going forever. I think anyone could paint on one painting for their whole life. That would be deathly boring! For me, I want to leave room for the viewer to step into the painting, and to make it tell their story.

MD-Artist Chris Carter at DCA_mug

Artist Chris Carter

“Often these painting are illustrative of stories inside of me, but my story is not important at all. What’s important is that somebody can look at a painting of mine and see something different each time they look at it. If I make it so neat and tidy that it’s finished, then it leaves no room for the viewer to experience a new territory — whether it be a representational landscape, or a portrait of somebody or an abstract, it becomes still (if it’s finished).”

“For me,” Ms. Carter says, “life is about moving, no matter what. So the painting has to move, and if it moves it means it’s always changing. I won’t put a painting on my wall at home if I don’t see something moving. My own paintings would bore me to death if I didn’t see something new in them. I would say, then, that I never bring a painting to total resolution. It does have to come to a point where the elements — the shapes, the values, the colors — that make it, have to be resolved so it’s a symphony. What means a lot is the creative energy that I feel when I’m pulling from the inside and pulling from the outside, and finding that balance between.”

Ms. Carter and Mr. Dennehy spent the early afternoon playing with paint and texture materials, and seeing what they came up with. Artist Carter has no problem with referring to such techniques as play, as a matter of fact she is offering a workshop at DCA on March 12, called “Playful Watercolor Techniques.” Participants will learn about how to flick, splatter, mouth atomize and sponge paints, how to mix clean colors and many more of the methods Ms. Carter has developed over the years. More information on the workshop is available from Dorchester Center for the Arts.

MD-Artist Chris Carter Orbs_1x

One of Ms. Carter’s “Orbs” paintings, on display this month at Dorchester Center for the Arts

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at

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