Sometimes a line will veer off course on its journey from point A to point B and surprise Rob Carpenter.
Perhaps that’s why he titled his exhibit “Paths of Moving Points.” It runs through Thursday at Baton Rouge Gallery.
Carpenter’s show is joined by three May exhibitions by fellow gallery artist members: James Burke’s “Good Morning and Other Events,” Mary Lee Eggart’s “Canticle of the Sun” and Eleanor Owen Kerr’s “Conversations With the Cosmos.”
Some people refer to Carpenter’s work as tapestries or weavings, though all the lines are drawings on paper.
“I never called them tapestries, but after hearing the term by almost everyone who looks at them, I’ve embraced the term,” Carpenter says.
His viewers are right. Carpenter’s drawings are created through layers upon layers of hand-drawn lines, creating the effect of a tapestry. Each drawing takes weeks to complete, and Carpenter never knows the direction they’ll take. “I might start out covering the page with dashes or squiggles, which is the only planned part of the drawing,” he says. “I’ll put down an entire field of color, then I step back to figure out where it will go next.”
The process is reactionary as Carpenter adjusts line weight and color interaction with each layer, with each change having a direct effect on the composition’s texture.
“It gets complicated from layer to layer,” he says. “And it’s terrifying, because sometimes my decisions don’t work out. My process isn’t as forgiving as a painter’s, who can cover up or scratch out something that’s not working. If my drawing doesn’t work out, I have to stop and start over.”
Carpenter likens his terror to that of an airline pilot.
“I’ve heard them say that it’s 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror,” he says. “That’s how it is when I’m drawing.”
That’s not to say Carpenter doesn’t enjoy his process. It’s an adventure in abstract impressionism, a genre he’s been exploring for only five years. He worked in representative art before that, specifically illustrations.
Carpenter was teaching at Nicholls State University at the time. He’s since retired after 28 years, but he was drawing lines in search of inspiration one day when a student pointed out that there were only lines on the paper.
“I had been drawing illustrations to go with humorous stories I was writing,” Carpenter says. “Fortunately for the literary world, I developed a permanent case of writer’s block. So, when I was drawing in class that day, my colleague, David Horton, walked in, and the student pointed out that I was drawing lines. Then David said, ‘Rob likes to make marks on paper.’ And I was inspired by that comment.”
Carpenter traded representational art for nonobjective art, also called abstract art.
“It was a 180 degree change, and I’m not trained in nonobjective art,” he says. “But I’m completely committed to it.”
Carpenter follows the path set by so many abstract impressionist painters, who make a mark on a surface, then react to that mark, then continue reacting until a painting comes to light.
“I never know where I’m going,” Carpenter says.