By Clint Buehler
There’s a bright new star emerging on the artistic horizon with an unlikely story of increasing success. Actually, when you hear story of what Jason Carter has accomplished over the last decade—and how he’s accomplished it—that rise seems quite likely. Born in Kamloops, Jason moved to Edmonton with his family when he was seven, and that’s where he grew up. His mother is Cree from the Little Red River Reserve at Jean d’Or Prairie in northern Alberta. His father, he says, is English, German, Scottish, Dutch, and Irish.
Jason studied art in high school and passed it with honours. He also studied graphic arts at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) for a year, and later completed NAIT’s two-year digital media program. Upon graduation, he became the cameraman for CityTV’s Breakfast Television. That’s still his “day job.” While pursuing his personal path as an artist, his CityTV connection would prove to be a valuable asset. Considering all that has happened since, it’s hard to believe that Jason made his first carving only seven years ago, and his first paintings after that. It began almost by chance when he offhandedly mentioned to his sister that he would like to try soapstone carving. She gave him a piece for Christmas, but he left it in the closet for a while. “I was looking for a flat piece of stone to smudge with and carry around with me,” he says. “I ended up cutting a piece off this soapstone, which turned into an eagle’s wing, and that’s when I really started playing with it.”
Jason made his first carving using a screwdriver and wrench as tools, but it was enough to inspire him to pursue that medium with a vigour that has become his trademark. “I have discovered so much through carving, about not just the stone, but myself. The stone is often frustrating in that you run into deposits that make it impossible to carve and you have to work your way around the stone, often changing your initial vision for the piece. Or after much fine detail work, the stone will break and then you try again, and again it breaks, and after a few more attempts you’re in this standoff with the stone thinking ‘what is this stone trying to teach me?’”
If Jason was intimidated by those challenges, his actions didn’t reflect it. Within the first year, he scheduled a solo exhibition in the gallery of the non-profit artist mentoring organization Sun and Moon Visionaries. Then he realized that, although he had plinths for the sculpture, he had nothing for the walls. Since he wanted to keep it a solo exhibition, he started painting in his signature style: angular images of animals and now mountains on solid backgrounds in bold colours. That first exhibition featured 20 carvings and 30 paintings created in only eight months. “I have fearlessly painted animals big and small. I am drawn to paint with colours that many would not,” he explains. “I believe in the empty space on canvas. I believe that colour can give us something that image cannot. Conversely I enjoy breaking down the most complex animals to the very essence of their being. I have, to a certain degree, defined my paintings through these terms.”
What is most impressive is what Jason has been able to achieve through his dedication, hard work, and skilled self-promotion in such a short time. After only a few solo exhibitions, he was the only Alberta artist chosen to have a featured exhibition at Alberta House on Alberta Day at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and was publicly acknowledged by Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett at an international press conference before the event. His commissions include the design of billboards to promote Edmonton’s Winter Lights Festival, as well as designing part of the installations for the Downtown Mural Project at Beaver Hill Park for The Works International Visual Arts Society. Most impressively, he designed a 60-foot-wide mural that will grace the departure gate at the Edmonton International Airport.
A significant factor in his exposure and success has been his collaboration with the multi-talented Bridgit Ryan, the co-host of CityTV’s Breakfast Television, who is a dynamic and charismatic actor, singer, musician, playwright, and producer. One of their projects is Who Is Boo? The Terrific Tales of One Trickster Rabbit, a children’s book written by Bridgit and illustrated with 21 of Jason’s paintings. The book was launched at the Royal Alberta Museum this past summer, with the paintings exhibited there for three months. Also this year, the “Year of the Rabbit,” the duo took over the Catalyst Theatre, combining displays of Jason’s artwork with performances by Bridgit and her Hare Band Cabaret. The book and the Catalyst event are products of their “Rabbit in the Yard” multi-media production company, which also shot its first music video for Christian Hansen and the Autistics’ “Cocaine Trade.”
As if that wasn’t enough, in addition to his regular representation at the Bearclaw Gallery, he also launched his new mountain series with an exhibition at the Sawridge Hotel in Jasper. How does he manage to it all? “I never feel tired; I never feel old. I feel blessed to have discovered carving and painting, and I’m excited to see how far I can take it,” he says. “Being an artist who divides his time equally between painting and carving, I have been gifted the opportunity to express myself through two mediums, stone and canvas, and both I approach with humour and optimism. In the world we live in there is much to be cynical about, but I have found an outlet from which I, myself, gather much joy and light, and I’m so fortunate to be able to pass that joy on.”
Jason’s next goal is to do large-scale granite and marble carvings. “As an Aboriginal man, I gather much inspiration from the stories passed on by the Elders within my community, stories that have evolved and changed, some documented, some not, but the essence of these characters is passed on through the years.” Jason says he is “inspired by the essence of some of these characters” and creates new stories filled with wonder and morals, bringing them to life through canvas and stone and written word. “As a contemporary Aboriginal person in pursuit of becoming my true authentic self in this ever evolving culture, I am aware that much of my craft comes from an innate ability that I have been born with, and believe this to be blessing and responsibility, both of which I take very seriously,” he says. “I am continuously using my gift to create new stories inspired from traditional characters with my stone and canvas. I seek inspiration from the past as I create a bold and colourful future.”