by Jonathan Goodman
An Act of Balance
SKOTO GALLERY | JANUARY 25 – MARCH 3, 2018
Nanette Carter’s first solo show at Skoto Gallery, An Act of Balance, comprises abstract paintings made with oil paints, oil sticks, and pencil on collaged mylar. Educated at Oberlin College and Pratt Institute (where she has been teaching for some time) Carter has developed a painting style that consists of abstract designs and effects superimposed on top of each other in ways that emphasize chance. The overall form of each work is deliberately eccentric; little regularity is found on the outside edges, which curve and veer and jut out, emphasizing idiosyncratic form over tightly considered composition. This does not mean that Carter’s audience experiences a lack of measure in her art—far from it. Instead, the random placement of patterned designs within the paintings, along with their slightly free-form outlines, establishes Carter’s wish to work both inside and outside the conventions of her genre.
Carter does not exactly follow a particular tradition, nor does she work closely enough from painting to painting, in terms of style, for her audience to characterize the art as beholden to serial repetition. Indeed, Carter challenges the viewer to make sense of an art that is self-sufficient and visually poised. Cantilevered #26—Teetering (2016) presents an amalgam of designs that are numerous and diverse, the overall effect of which is highly pleasing. Cantilevered #36—Teetering (2017) is a small work, dominated by a collection of dark grays and near blacks. On the bottom of the piece there is an narrow apron painted over with black, gray, and white banding, a quiet but compelling visual addition to a painting whose ambition and achievement is greater than its size.
It makes sense that we experience Carter’s art as elegantly conceived, nonpartisan, and persevering in its determination to engage an American nonobjective style. No one fully breaks free from the confines of culture, and it is clear that Carter is participating, despite our experience of her self-sufficiency, in a language that is not new to her. Even so, the exhibition is not a scholarly exploration. One of the most attractive aspects of the show has to do with its cumulative effect, which is based on a sharp insight into similarities of form. Practiced from one work to the next, the echoing components of Carter’s paintings actually strengthen the works, both individually and as a group. Thus, she advances her vision incrementally, one adjustment at a time.
A recent painting, entitled With Grace and Aplomb (2017), departs a bit from Carter’s regular output. Made with oil paints on mylar and jeans fabric, the image looks like a flag. On the right, the dark-blue cloth of the jeans serves as a support for the variously colored ribbon-like extensions—red, blue, light green, gray—that unfurl from the material. Unlike the other paintings in the show, With Grace and Aplomb is not monolithically solid—the ribbons are separated by thin bits of space between them. The high rhetoric of the title seems to refer to something specific in Carter’s imagination that is beyond our immediate reach. My guess is that Carter is offering her audience a conundrum, one meant to elicit mental questioning. Like most good art, this painting and the others in the show support speculation but offer no answers. Carter has always known that art remains sufficient within its own jurisdiction, as she proves so well in this fine show.
JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.