Carol Carter (1955-) is an established St. Louis painter, one of the most interesting artists working primarily in large-scale watercolors and acrylics today. She has exhibited extensively over the past eighteen years both regionally and nationally, including seventeen one person exhibitions and numerous invitational and group exhibitions. Though she also paints large format acrylics, her precise control of washes and transparent color harmonies make her watercolors some of the most unusual contemporary works in the medium.

This black & white Nude Watercolor (1995) presents Carter's technique at its most basic — denuded of color, except for a few subtle touches of prussian blue. The entire painting is a mosaic of washes only — even in the woman's hair there are no brushstrokes or texturing effects. Everything is built up from carefully interlocking wash fields and the liquid variations of value and pigment inside them. Carter prefers to work in humid weather, which allows her to extend the time she can coax a wash, stroking the color and charging it with additional water and pigment to produce her trademark wash blossoms. The remarkable aspect of this technique is its riskiness: the movement of blossoms is very difficult to anticipate or control, yet Carter uses them sculpturally, in the highlights or shadows on figures or objects, where the blossom must contour and shade exactly or the three dimensional illusion will be spoiled. When they are successful, they add a unique surface energy to the forms; when they fail, an entire work may be ruined. Carter accents these soft water effects by placing them in a very strong composition: the irregular negative space between the two faces bounded by the man's dark arm, the woman's arm echoing this enclosing effect along the space where their bodies touch. But at the intimate focus, the two faces, the clarity turns into ambiguity. The woman has averted face for reasons we do not understand.

Emotional distance is one of the most striking elements in her signature series of female bathers — wonderful self portraits of the watercolorist as swimmer in light. In Sunset (1995), individual brushstrokes are completely effaced by the interlocking washes and the backcrawling edges of moist blooms. Vibrantly pure colors play throughout the image of an inwardly concentrated and surrealistically intense young woman. Part of the intrigue of Carter's style lies in the way her photographically literal imagery is absorbed by unexpected combinations of color and value. The bather's cobalt turquoise skin glows with an ethereal coolness that pulls together the fields of ultramarine, diluted dioxazine violet and burnt sienna neutralized with turquoise. Her fiery vitality, shining out in the pyrrole red hair, is even more intense because we cannot see her eyes.

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Carter is as disciplined in her choice of subjects as she is in her technique. Besides the swimmer series, her watercolors include large format botanicals, a poignant series of Belle Glade skyscapes lit with morning or evening light, and enormous growth portraits of her son. Thanks to her strong color sense, she typically executes each painting with only a handful of colors. Worth (1998), an image of the balustrade of a hotel along Ft. Lauderdale's Worth St., is painted in nickel dioxine yellow, dioxazine violet, ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine green, burnt sienna, and cadmium orange. The intricate foliage is built up as a puzzle of tiny washes. Yet because of her extraverted color harmonies — the complementary color tensions of orange against blue in the banister columns, violet against yellow in the walls — and the high key even in areas of shadow, the overall effect is one of supernatural light radiating from tense and restless life.

Carter's watercolors are gradually getting recognition in print. There is a good selection of her bather paintings in the October 1989 American Artist. Many of her recent watercolors and acrylics are on view at her web site, http://www.carol-carter.com/.