Regina Haggo’s review of “Broke, Busted and
Badly Bent” at the YouMe Gallery, James St. N., Hamilton, August 2015
If it’s broke, don’t fix it Hamilton Spectator Jul 31, 2015 | By Regina Haggo
Traditional materials like clay, marble and bronze are not for Doug Carter. He prefers to make art from “cultural debris” picked up in his wanderings. “My work is often inspired by life on this planet,” he tells me. “I continue to use found material of the cultural debris sort because it helps explain the story I’m trying to express.” Carter’s work is on show at you me gallery in Broke, Busted and Badly Bent — an unfortunate state for a person to be in, but a succinct characterization of the objects in his sculptures. A painter, sculptor and printmaker, he has been making art in Hamilton since the 1970s. This exhibition, a mini-retrospective, spans the past 30 years. Carter has created in many styles, from lifelike to abstract. These pieces incorporate found objects, both manufactured and natural, including car parts, metal fasteners, toys, wire, wood and shells. “Cultural debris is everywhere and has been since I started to create images,” he says. “Only the variety and types of debris change. You can’t see it from a car. You have to be wandering the neighbourhood, town, beach, planet by foot or bicycle.
“Each fragment I use has been worked once or twice or several times by humans and has arrived in its current place on the planet through accident, careless disposal, by being lost, broken from use.” In using found objects, Carter follows in the footsteps of Dada, a movement that, about a hundred years ago, was the first to declare found and manufactured objects suitable materials for art. There are two recurring motifs in this body of work: the human figure and boats. Carter’s human figures are disguised, misshapen and highly stylized.
In “Self-Portrait: Homage to Man Ray,” Carter acknowledges one of the founders of Dada. The self-portrait comprises a face on a rectangular plastic head. The features are recognizable, but disguised; that is, the materials they are made from take centre stage. A tangle of wires serves as hair, a broken lens from a signal light becomes a nose, and so on. Self-portraits can convey the artist’s ideas. This one, in drawing attention to the materials, suggests the artist and his materials are one. “Do you wanna dance” might be another selfie. The discs for eyes and a guitar for the body can refer to Carter’s musical accomplishments. He’s a bass player and songwriter. Carter, who now lives in Port Colborne a block and a half from the Welland Canal, takes inspiration from what he sees. “For years visual artists have painted, sketched and photographed the canal and especially its boats,” he says. “It came to me that I could create boats my way, using cultural debris to abstract details of the deck furnishings, and oils to paint sky and lakescapes on some surfaces. The sailboats grew out of the canal boats I made.” A work like “Sail Boat” is undeniably concise: a trapezoidal chunk of wood, painted green, supports two white triangles. But wait; the hull seems to have a glassy eye, which makes us see the gash below it as a mouth, and the prow as the nose of a shark.
Regina Haggo, art historian, public speaker, curator and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art.