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Patching Things Up

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Carol Ann Carter's three-month stay in Nigeria in 1984 was the first great influence on her art, she says, but not in ways she'd expected. She already knew that her prints of geometrical designs unintentionally resembled African textiles, and while in Nigeria she visited a number of museums. But she was most entranced by the "street wanderers" of Lagos. "They traveled with their shelter," she says, "sometimes under umbrellas, with piles of fabric. They would wear rags that were fragments of traditional Nigerian textiles. I might see someone who had rigged a ladderlike structure on his head with some of his belongings hanging from it, or someone who would carry a ladder with possessions on his neck. They were exquisite assemblages." Observing the wanderers from the safety of a car, she began to question the comparative orderliness of her art. When she returned to the States, she started tearing her prints into pieces, dyeing them different colors, and stitching, gluing, and taping them together. Later she worked with torn fabrics, collaging them in layers and adding paint, marks, and objects.

The street people of Nigeria still influence Carter's work. X'd Bundle--one of several mixed-media pieces at G.R. N'Namdi, along with digital prints and a video--is what she calls a "bundle painting." Behind the distressed, stitched, painted, and collaged canvas, she says, "I placed notes, lists, photographs, objects--things I'd collected but couldn't throw away." The variety of her surfaces suggests long histories. The rough-looking, almost skinlike orange-tan canvas in Storage Unit #7 has many round holes in it colored black or red (showing through from a second canvas underneath), fragments of handwriting, painted geometrical shapes like those in construction barriers, and a few small rectangles of filigreed lines. Chest List looks like a handbag with a ripped bottom; peeking out there and at the top are numerous handwritten pages--Carter's old "to do" lists.

After a decade of making work inspired by her visit to Nigeria, Carter made a second important trip: to Scandinavia, because she liked its design aesthetic and functional furniture. "Having found my parallel in Africa, I went looking for my complement. I'm earthy, their culture is cool and lean and functional." After the trip to Scandinavia she started using more muted colors, even off-whites and flesh tones. Land Skin, which is less detailed and colorful than the other pieces here, has a filigreed pattern and tiny handbag painted on its stained and painted off-white surface. The work's many small punctured holes, she says, remind her of "nipples and breasts and skin" because after she began Land Skin she photographed the scars of two friends following their breast-cancer surgeries.

Carter lives in Lawrence, where she teaches at the University of Kansas. When she was growing up in Indianapolis, her dad had a delivery business for high-end design shops and would sometimes bring home damaged or unwanted objects--gifts from clients--and pieces he purchased cheaply. "I grew up with these beautiful things," Carter says. "Navajo rugs and Asian-influenced English ceramics, carved chests, figurines, statuary. I remember being seven years old and being transfixed by a ginger jar from China with a white flower pattern on a blue ground." Arabesques and filigrees are part of her work today, but other influences are less benign. Because of a "psychologically violent trauma" at 19, she says, "I recognize the universal need to heal, to connect broken skin through touch and through tracks crossing the landscape of skin." Holes and burns mark the surface of her work, and track and stitch marks reflect both wounding and healing. The wish to heal also underlies the way she assembles works out of many parts. "The fragments I use are reflective of how I felt about myself. I need to mend them."

Carol Ann Carter

When: Through Fri 3/3

Where: G.R. N'Namdi, 110 N. Peoria

Info: 312-563-9240

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