On Yvonne Pickering Carter’s Linear Variation Series
at Berry Campbell Gallery
By Joanna Seifter, April 10, 2023
In Emma Allen’s New Yorker profile of Yvonne Pickering Carter’s life and works, the contemporary artist fondly recalls her husband allowing her the time and space to contemplate and create, subverting the longstanding narrative that women artists prioritize their husbands’ livelihoods without reciprocal support. Carter’s artwork, encompassing painting, sculpture, costume design and performance art, explores this dichotomy of domesticity and isolation, of inertia’s comfort and existential dread.
These themes are prevalent in Berry Campbell Gallery’s Linear Variation Series, a survey of Carter’s 1970s abstract Washington Color School-esque oil paintings and her first solo show in over three decades. Like Allen’s New Yorker article, this exhibition is part of an emerging movement to recognize Carter’s prolific career, much of which has been under-documented, intentionally minimized or unjustly ignored by the greater public.
Each painting in Linear Variation Series is a captivating matrix of intersecting parallel, perpendicular and angular multicolored brush strokes, thick yet weightless, suspended in a white backdrop. Carter’s inclusion of dripping paint and larger shapes rooted in their central lines amplifies each painting’s scale, creating a cohesive structure and complex nexus, while her brush strokes are differentiated enough to amplify the pigment’s vibrancies. Though each painting’s lines stumble and extend beyond their canvases, the negative spaces they form lend them definition, establishing multidirectional visual planes.
Although Carter’s paintings are not defined depictions of perspective or objects, they still beautifully capture immediate, visceral impressions of environments. Untitled (Image 1), for instance, conjures the coziness and overwhelming brightness of a sun-drenched room, like the creative haven her husband nurtured. The painting’s simplified, aestheticized lines command the viewer’s attention and develop the interior’s structure. Some of Carter’s other works invoke movement as well as space, like another Untitled (Image 2), which is laced with one-dimensional Suprematist-like lines forming both the contours of a rural landscape and the directionality of a speedy car ride through it.
Carter’s paintings also reflect desperation in the pursuit of intimacy, which Carter’s artist statement bookending the exhibition characterizes as a “scream out for love,” only answered in the guise of an “echo return[ing as] a stinging arrow.” Love Conquers All the Sad Times (Image 3) concretizes Carter’s metaphorical arrow as a phallus-like shape roughly penetrating a crevice delineated with thick red brushstrokes, reducing “love” to physical acts at the expense of emotional connection, made poignant by its juxtaposition with an optimistic title. In Country Girls Can Dance Too (Image 4), a collage of multiscale objects imposed on the same plane, like a drinking glass and the visage of a hand groping a body, suggests the chaos, density and intoxication of a passionless nightclub encounter.
The American Museum of Natural History’s fourth floor features a short film pinpointing commonalities between prehistoric animals and their contemporary counterparts with a cladogram, a diagram connecting shared traits with straight lines branching into their own categorization clusters. At the film’s conclusion, in a bit of snappy transitional editing, the cladogram, a classification map, rapidly rearranges itself into the Hall of Dinosaurs’ floor plan, a spatial map.
In the same way that not all sauropsids are sea turtles but all sea turtles are sauropsids, Linear Variation Series is dedicated to a phase of Carter’s career as opposed to her complete body of work, while affording this period the depth of examination it deserves. The exhibition's presentation of Carter’s early career also encourages audiences to explore the artist’s later works that expanded upon themes that she touched upon in her paintings, like Door XI: Latched (an interrogation of secrecy and seclusion) and Operation Forward (Image 5) (a series of performances in which Carter repurposed her paintings into costumes).
Above all else, Carter’s paintings, like the transformational cladogram, are mesmerizing hybridizations of the geographical and conceptual. Each work intricately maps her memories of encounters and environments, distorted by the passage of time yet unflinching in their raw representation of the artist’s process.