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Rhythms of life

Pueblo artist prepares to step into New York spotlight

By AMY MATTHEW
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN

Sometimes deferring a dream turns out to be the best way to make it become a reality.

Joel Carpenter has been an artist for most of his life. He's always been creating in one form or another, and received an art degree from the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo) in 1976. His passion is painting, but for most of his adult life it had been relegated to the sideline. Life took priority - not in a negative way, but in the typical family-comes-first way.

Yet, here he is, at 52, about to see his work featured in an art gallery in New York City, the mecca for artists across the globe. On Feb. 22, Carpenter will be on hand for the opening reception at Agora Gallery in Chelsea. His oil-on-canvas paintings will be featured in "Form and Substance," a collection of works from several artists that will run from Feb. 20 to March 13.

"They bring non-New York artists (in) and introduce them to New York. I'm unknown even in my own locale, so I feel fortunate to be included," said Carpenter. "I feel like Jed Clampett going to Beverly Hills."

Carpenter isn't well known here for a couple of reasons. He only began painting diligently, with the intent of creating a career, six years ago. Because of that, he has focused on building his body of work and honing his talent. He hasn't publicized his newer work much, although he did have an exhibition at a local gallery in 2005.

"I've known for a while the stuff I do would be something I'd have to go to New York or L.A. to sell," he said. "It's nothing against this market. It's just different."

Angela Di Bello, Agora's gallery director, said Carpenter's work is unique.

"Joel's ability to express the emotional state of his subjects through simple linear structure and muted color is striking," Di Bello said via e-mail. "His female figures express and embody an engaging, serene innocence. The childlike manner of the women speaks of fragility and yet his paintings depict strength as well." Carpenter says his work has a "pro-feminist" theme. The expressionist paintings feature seemingly simple faces drawn with few lines. The mood is conveyed through large dark eyes and use of color: murky reds and grays, stark blue and gold.

"Some are just nice abstract images. Some have deeper, almost social, commentary," he said. "I let the painting dictate what it's going to be. What comes out is just the understanding that there's inequity in the . . . world. Some of them get very intense."

He describes one painting in particular, which depicts a woman on a cross, as one that usually generates strong reactions from those who see it. His other works frequently do, too.

"Some people look and say, ‘That's how I feel.' You want to affect people," said Carpenter. "You can't tell how some will react, but just the fact that they react is good."

Some of his paintings, especially the darker ones, generate discussion about the artist himself, despite his affable demeanor.

"I get psychoanalyzed by pseudo-analysts a lot," he said, smiling. "(My paintings are) not a reflection of personal unhappiness. It's more like I'm aware of the world and how it's not wonderful for everyone."

Gender inequity is a personal issue for Carpenter, as the father of a daughter. He said he has always been concerned about what type of world Melanie, now 26, would encounter.

"We raised our daughter to be very conscious that she could do anything," he said of himself and his former wife.

Carpenter has a great interest in art history. He was a student of the late USC art professor Orlin Helgoe, as was accomplished Pueblo artist Nathan Solano, who attended the university at the same time as Carpenter.

"Helgoe probably put that seed in me: If you have talent and vision, you can make something nobody's seen," Carpenter said. “(Solano) is just a master of his craft. I'm in awe of how he can keep producing."

During the years when painting was more of a hobby, Carpenter made his living as - appropriately, perhaps - a carpenter. He did, and still does, restoration work and high-end design.

"It's always easier to work physically if you're involved in a creative process," he said.

He has been painting his feminine-centered pieces for several years now, but expects his focus to shift at some point.

"You need to grow. I don't want to be painting the same painting in five years," he said.

Carpenter said he has received great encouragement from Di Bello, who selected his work for exhibit after he submitted an online portfolio last September.

"New York likes new things," he reasoned. "It's the place in the world for contemporary art."

Carpenter's hope is to attract interest from another New York gallery and have his work permanently represented there. Maybe it will happen, and maybe not. He's philosophical.

"Beyond (the exhibit), I don't know. If I go there, have a nice show, come home and that's it, that's fine," he said.

Whatever the outcome, he'll keep working. He's been able to produce about 80 paintings that he's "proud of" and feels the focus on his art is happening at the right time.

"What's good about it for me is I bring a lot of maturity to my work," he said. "I can't imagine having the life experience (in my youth) to say anything meaningful.

"It's the rhythms of life. It's just the way it happened."

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