©2021 Mary E. Carter
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Surrealist painter Mary E. Carter
offers her lifetime of work on this site.
From her early award-winning graphic paintings of the 1980’s through to her complex atmospheric and metaphorical works of 2007,
Carter has created a vocabulary of images and a stylistic signature for her contemporary surrealism. Flying, falling and floating
through Carter’s work are goose girls and chicken ladies, cigarette-smoking women, intertwined couples and inadequately winged
My work is contemporary figurative surrealism. I say “contemporary” because I want to put distance between my painting and the
manifestos of the Surrealist painters of the first part of the 20th Century. Yet as to that state of mind, that ineffable dream, that flow
of metaphor and symbol, that unlocking of the subconscious, I identify with those sources of visualization.
Process: Solitary Search for the Exquisite Corpse
The historic Surrealists experimented with a drawing technique called Exquisite Corpse. The idea was
to create a montage of a figure by having several artists take turns working on a part of the figure
without being able to see what the other artists had already drawn on the paper. But, most
importantly, the exercise was done as an aid to unlocking the subconscious minds of the artists. The
resulting figure was the Exquisite Corpse. These exquisite drawings revealed sometimes hilarious,
sometimes eerie things about the human condition and provided a door to images from the collective
unconscious. The drawings rearranged expected patterns and in wonderfully bizarre forms, tweaked
preconceived notions of what was “right” or “correct” in art.
Similarly, I start with the human figure in my work. But I work alone. My paintings grow as much out of
my interaction with the human form as from pure intellectual processes or rationales, growing as
much from my hands working as from my brain thinking. My aim is to open the doors of my own
perception in order to access my own subconscious and preconscious material and to challenge my own notions of artistic
I start by drawing a naturalistic human form on paper. Then I cut it apart, reassembling limbs and organs, adding or subtracting
elements until new patterns of human possibility emerge.
I prepare the canvas separately, splashing, sloshing, or dripping paint on the raw surface. Despite allowing paint its way at this
stage, there is nothing expressionistic about my backgrounds. Gradually I reign in my surfaces, meticulously re-working them, inch
by inch, to create an atmospheric depth into which my figures will fly, float, or fall, communicating their ineffable ambiguous stories.
Finally, I place the drawing over the canvas ground and use elements of the ground to further shape and influence the drawing of
the figure as I paint it into its atmosphere.
By shifting anatomical elements I create an exquisite corpse. Yet, far from dead, this vision is alive in its unfamiliarity. Emotionally
compelling, my figures reveal sub and preconscious states of humanness.
My work acts as a Rorschach test. Sometimes people see different things in it from my intentions. But even when viewers do not see
what I may have had in mind when I worked on a painting, there is a certain logic to their perceptions. And who knows? Maybe
those Rorschach reactions are, indeed, what my work more inclusively intends.