Maya Ostle reviews John Carter’s exhibition, showing at the Jerwood
from 30th March to 9th June

On Tuesday, April 2, the Jerwood Gallery opened its doors for the latest ‘Free Tuesday’ evening, when the gallery is free to view (held on the first Tuesday of every month) from 4.00pm-8.00pm. 

The exhibition on show was John Carter’s Sight Lines. This is London-based Carter’s (b.1942) first major institutional survey in the UK, having had his work exhibited several times in Europe. The works are an unusual blend between painting and sculpture; labelled ‘wall objects’ by their creator. Made for the most part of painted plywood glazed with a combination of acrylic and marble powder, these ‘wall objects’ are half-sculptures lying just below the mark of being labelled as 3-D.  Galleries 1 and 2 contain an array of Carter’s more recent works, dating from the mid-1960s up to about 2015. Art Historian Mel Gooding said of Carter “[he] is an imaginative artist, a maker of objects that provokes thought by first engaging our senses, inducing us to speculation through visual pleasure and surprise”.

Green Square, John Carter

Upon entering the exhibition in Gallery 1, to my untrained eye, it appeared simply to be a confusing array of large, dark shapes upon the walls. The influence of minimalism and Op-Art was clear. However upon closer inspection the desired effect became more apparent – the slight protrusions of the works and the angles they were set at on the wall created an effect of not-quite-reality – they became optical illusions, moving with me as my eyes travelled across the room. As I moved around, so did the pieces on the walls. The effect was somewhat hallucinatory. 

One, striking example is the namesake piece: Sight-Line, circa 1972, which immediately plays upon the eyes as it has a large, thin, long, angular protrusion, causing it to seem kaleidoscopic and ever-changing as I moved towards it. Another standout piece from Gallery 1 was made up of a large grey ring containing an angled oval in the centre. When moving about, this gave you the impression of an eye following you around the room. These illusory effects are due to the geometric secrets behind his work. Unusually, there is a strong scientific and mathematical element behind his art – it is not just a free-flow exercise.

Gallery 2 is an accumulation of Carter’s slightly later works; immediately you can see the influence of media and Pop Art in his work as the colours and forms have changed; the pieces are brighter and appear less heavy, too, reflecting the pop-culture at the time. For example, the pair Big Pink and In Blue c. 1978 reflect the emerging bubblegum-esque styles in music and television at that time. This second room has a much lighter feel to it, caused by that thin freshness of the objects, despite the fact that Carter has said that he does not create art to evoke an emotional response within the viewer – it is all about perception. However this leaves me wondering: is art without an emotional response even possible to achieve?

Carter will keep you guessing. No two glances at his work will look the same.

• Sight-Lines is up until 9th June. Ticket prices are £9 per adult, or £4 for Hastings Borough residents. Children under 16 go free.

• The next Free Tuesday is 7th May, if you want to go and have a look for yourself.

• For more information go to www.jerwoodgallery.org


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