Creator Spotlight: GREG CARTER
At the frontier of the digital revolution, then taking it to the real world
Greg Carter has had a big influence on me in the decades since we met and I first saw his work. Not just artistically, but in the positive ways that he has gone about the business of life. He took some time to answer some of the questions I’ve had on my mind for quite a while.
When we met back in the early 1990’s you had recently moved to North Carolina looking for work. Your portfolio was already diverse in subjects and content, but it seemed you had not begun your journey towards the wide expanse of mediums you would tackle since then. I’d like to talk a bit about where you started and how you got to the work you are known for today. There isn’t much out there about you personally, but perhaps you can talk a little about what led to your journey from Minnesota, to school in Florida and then to settling in Raleigh, North Carolina? What kept you in this area since then?
I left Minnesota to get away from the cold – I went to Tallahassee FL for Grad school, then came to Raleigh looking for work. Tallahassee was a wonderful town but didn’t have many employers in it, job opportunities are something that I have never lacked for here in Raleigh.
You spent a significant time in school before your career, and have continued supplementing your artistic pursuits with teaching roles. What draws you to this type of work vs. your commercial work vs. your gallery shows?
The thing that I have had to battle my entire working life has been “boredom”. I have jumped career paths a dozen times, each time moving on when I got past the excitement of learning a new thing. When a job became doing a thing over and over, and trying to do it just a little better each time, that is not enough for me to stay 100% engaged. That total engagement is something that I demand of myself, and when I cannot deliver that I know it is time for me to be doing something else where that will happen.
When I was a freelance illustrator (with international representation by “Three in a Box” out of Toronto) I found myself being asked to do versions of: “the worker breaking out of the cubicle”, “technology challenging the worker”, etc. over and over and over. This is not a scenario that I am that interested in depicting week in and week out. When you have a rep, you don’t have the luxury of turning down assignments or you will stop getting the call, so I tried, but not with my heart in it, and I could tell, if not the clients.
When I found teaching (at the university level), I found a job that was constantly self-renewing. Each semester is a new chance to do something different, not just a little better than last time, but it can be radically different from last time. When I teach, I am not so much teaching a skill, like how to draw perspective; I teaching an approach to any novel situation in life that the student may need to acquire something that they did not have coming into that situation, in order to complete the task. “Learning to Learn” is a phrase often used to express this. “Learning” during one’s work career is what keeps you relevant to the world around you – if you come out of school thinking you are going to do one thing for 30 years you are doomed to relegation to the sidelines of life in short order.
So each semester I have the opportunity to teach different classes, and use different assignments to introduce the ideas that I need to. The first time I try out an assignment on students, I get as nervous as I would for any premier performance, and to me that is a sign that I have the “buy in” that I expect of myself.
I still participate in the gallery/museum system. I have gallery representation through Adam Cave Fine Arts here in Raleigh, and I will be exhibiting both at CAM and NCMA during this year. Those are opportunities for me to try out new things in new situations, and they don’t have to be profitable. Adam Cave probably wishes that I would be a little more profitable, but we have arrived at an understanding that I can give him something in my shows, in terms of spectacle and total experience, that his other artists cant. And that is good for both his reputation and my self-respect.
When we met back in the early 1990s, I really loved your scratchboard work, but it seemed you were way ahead of the curve on creating digital art, what led you to this medium?
“Digital art” presented itself at a point in my career where I needed a new direction. I wanted to be involved in something that hadn’t been done before, and that wasn’t going to be within the gallery system. So when desktop technologies began to open up a new aesthetics, I jumped into it happily. New companies were being run like rock-and-roll bands, they had groupies and huge parties at conventions and were more interested in making the next coolest thing rather than money (there was plenty of money flying around before the first dot com bubble burst). Companies like HSC software (Kai Krause), MetaCreation, and Alien Skin, were all eager to have young talent using their products, raising the company’s profile, and associating the company with the broader emerging digital culture which was becoming the true avant-garde of society.
So to recognize that the avant-garde was no longer where I had prepared myself to participate in it, that was the motivation to shift my attention. In as sense, it was my first “learning to learn” a new way of thinking in order to stay relevant.
Were there mentors or influences that informed you when you began creating digital artwork?
Well, so I was there at the beginning so there was really nobody making things even vaguely like what I was doing. So… I was not looking at images at that time for inspiration, I was looking at writing, specifically “cyberpunk”, and I was looking at broader social movements like “Transhumanism” and the “Extropians”.
“Transhumans” were using emerging technologies (in which I included desktop technologies) to force the evolution of the human species. They were wanting to speed up the pace of change exponentially, by taking the digital realms abundance of information and information storage. They were the people starting businesses that would cryogenically preserve your head till the time when the technology advanced far enough to reinstate you in a brand new body. They were talking about changing your self with nanotechnology and life-extension transformations.
“Cyberpunk” was taking these ideas and writing treatises on how these technologies would be applied. As the means didn’t exist at the time, literature had to be the method of the expression of the impact of the emerging technologies. Cyberpunk was a literary movement that brought us some of the earliest attempts at CGI in movie making (“Lawnmower Man”, rather than “Tron”, which I would consider more a “Star Wars” type fantasy adventure). In print, Cyberpunk when not published as stand alone novels, was in the SF magazines, and so was I. Science Fiction Eye, bOING bOING, and Mondo 2000 would often use my images to illustrate Cyberpunk articles. The issues that these stories dealt with were much more in line with the type of imagery I prefer to make so it was a very good fit. For a while until the movement “matured”, the entry of venture capital into the businesses that operated in these areas changed the nature of the game. Business were no longer run like rock-n-roll bands, and those who couldn’t adjust were squeezed out by the endless rounds of mergers and acquisitions that swept the industry after the first dot com bust. It wasn’t a fun game to play any more, when the people looking to make money came in.
I think your work has really evolved into different directions over the years. Choice of medium is one of those areas you have really expanded. You may have already been dabbling in animation when we first met. But you’ve also gone well outside of the digital realm into sculpture and now body art. Can you talk about what has led you through these various mediums?
One of the first things that changed with the introduction of new money into the developing desktop/digital aesthetic, was that the industry stopped taking the chances that had characterized its rise. The first visual aesthetic became one that smoothed out the rough edges, and eventually became the gaming aesthetic. More realistic images became the fashion and software developed in that direction as well. Photoshop filters and 2D/3D hybrids became what “computer graphics” were known as. So I had to look elsewhere.
At the time, I believed that technology doesn’t exist without the people who direct it, who channel the possibilities in a meaningful direction. Time has not proven to be a persuasive argument. The AI has won the day, and that doesn’t interest me, so I will not follow.
So much for being part of the avant-garde, I have moved to use the technology to tell stories that are made using the oldest conventions of cell animation (drawing one picture then another then another). Technology is a tool now rather than an end in itself, and I only use it where/when appropriate. So yes I am making animation on the computer, but meant to work seamlessly with hand made stuff.
With my 3D work, I have moved into areas that don’t exist without people, which for me, means making things actually with my hands. I have recently been working on “Totems” or “Trees” that are the “analog” life to the computer’s “digital”.
Another area of your creative growth is the wide variety of subjects and tones you’ve tackled. You’ve always had a humorous vein running through your work, but sometimes you can be colorful and joyful, and other times draw from a more drab and serious palette. What leads you to finding your subjects?
I pull my visual inspiration from societies other than ours. Rather than western industrial societies, I draw from aboriginal/native societies. I very much enjoy the western art tradition, and I have studied it more than is good for any one person. But inspiration comes from elsewhere. I look to places that are not as repressed and self-aware as America for both my imagery and my color: meso-american pattern and color; aboriginal line and form; African tribal shape and expression. Those places give me ideas that are not aesthetically played-out like what I see around me here.
I see you are back to doing some animations. Got specific plans for future projects you’d like to tease?
I will be participating in CAM’s spring fundraiser: an animation running all night that will greet the guests as they enter the building.
And as if there is ever enough Greg Carter, he has graciously allowed us to have a page featuring more of his work: http://alternatingcrimes.com/greg-carter/
To purchase a digital copy of this wonderful book go to:
Or a print version is available through LuLu at:
While we are at it, samples can be found online at his great website: gregart.net
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cyberpig
To purchase a digital copy Alternating Crimes 1 got to: http://alternatingcrimes.com/alternating-crimes-1/