meditations in color
Bradley Carter’s vibrant, layered paintings by Kathryn Manis
AINTING has always been about connection and
balance for Bradley Carter — connection with his
art and the process, and balance between his life
and career demands.
Carter cultivated a love and natural skill for
art with encouragement from his grandmother
while growing up in Virginia, and he later received
a degree in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth
Soon after graduating, Carter and his wife moved their family to
Wilmington to start a business. But they quickly realized they had differ-ent
paths to walk.
“We took a step back and thought, ‘How did we get here?’ And we
realized that this isn’t what we dreamed of,” he says. “There was nothing
wrong with the path we’d followed, and we’d been successful, but it
wasn’t where we wanted to be. We decided to make a change.”
Carter’s wife pursued her career dreams and he became a stay-at-home
dad, painting in earnest from his home
Carter paints in multiple series, each utilizing
a different set of aesthetics. But every piece he
creates demonstrates an emotional relationship
with the process and a sense of intimacy that is
reflective of his career trajectory and indicative
of his signature style.
Connective threads running through all of
his work are a focus on abstracting techniques
and the importance of creative, textural, and
beautifully crafted surfaces for all of his imagery.
Regardless of the figures or abstract designs
they will eventually feature, Carter takes great
care to build up the surface of each canvas to
create a field of contrast, tension, and depth on
which to place his compositions.
“I’m giving a bit more substance to the art
— I think a painting needs to be more than
the final image,” he says. “Someone told me
once that if you paint an amazing image but
you put it on something boring and basic, no
matter what you came up with, it’s still just on
The process of generating a compelling sur-face
involves many steps, materials, and tools.
Despite the labor involved in preparing each canvas, Carter typically
works on several at a time.
“I’m just not very patient; I have to have multiple things going on,” he
says. “It’s all about knowing your vices. If I work on one piece only, I will
overwork it. But if I have multiple ones I can keep myself from going too
far. Otherwise, I’ll get myself in trouble.”
Carter’s great care in building up the surface of the canvas is evi-dent
in “Us.” The painting features two figures standing together and
embracing. The smaller female figure gently rests her head on the
shoulder of her taller companion. Their solid black silhouettes are
slightly abstracted; their limbs are a bit too long and their torsos just
slightly too broad, giving the composition an exaggerated, dream-like
The background of this piece is dramatic and several layers thick.
Carter often applies the acrylics he prefers with rubber scrapers to
create even more exaggerated depth, and he works with gesso and
molding paste to achieve as much movement and texture as possible.
WBM november 2018
“Us” features a combination of pale blue in
the top right of the canvas that fades into a
reddish-brown at the bottom, engulfing the
figures. Spongy paint application in slightly
different shades and multiple layers allows
lighter areas to peak through the more densely
thick sections. This creates a pleasant contrast
between the light and airy context and the
dark, solidly painted figures.
“Us” is part of Carter’s Memories of Us series,
which contemplates the formative role of mem-ory
in our lives. He illustrates the importance
of singular moments through the painting of
“Our lives are all based on certain moments
through time that define us,” he says. “Often,
you have a silhouette. You can’t see all of it,
but you know that moment; you don’t have to
remember the ancillary details.”
Other paintings in the series, like “A Moment
in Time” and “Day at the Beach,” feature lighter,
more ethereal color palettes, with large sec-tions
of white paint and cooler tones. Yet all the
paintings in this series are clearly connected in
form, style, and content, and the story that they
tell together recalls an animator’s storyboards.
Us, 24 x 12 inches, acrylic on canvas.
Opposite: Bradley Carter in his
Wilmington home studio.