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The living room (showing the Hanging Tree foreground left, and totem1 right)
If you visited Carter’s house in Tallahassee during the ‘80s, an army of brightly colored action figures, fresh out of the plastic from the toy store, greeted you near the door. The top of the fridge was usually covered with an attacking army of little plastic monsters. Godzilla dolls of varying size watched from every corner.
Keep in mind, this was when Carter was in his mid-20s and studying art at Florida State University. He just had this fascination with monsters and freaks. The horror-show imagery popped up often in the large acrylic paintings that he painted and kept in his rented studio by the OK Club. The studio was a junky old warehouse across the street from the civic center. It’s gone now. Leveled.
The roof leaked. The place was home to a family of noisy rats. It was hot as hell in the summer and freezing in the winter. Carter loved it and held court, talking art with fellow members of the Critical Art Ensemble as well as anyone else who dropped by.
Back then, he painted sprawling, six- and seven-foot-tall acrylic canvases depicting big-headed mutants, rampaging Godzillas, gene-splicing experiments and other assorted oddities. The paintings were included in gallery shows around the Southeast in cities such as New Orleans and Nashville.
Then Carter’s world changed in a hurry.
Carter got married, had two kids (Sonja and Beckett) and landed a steady job in computers at a company called Eyebeam. He and his wife, Grace, moved the family to North Carolina. Carter promptly quit painting. Hey, when you’re raising two kids in an apartment, there’s not a lot of room for gigantic Godzilla paintings.
That’s when Carter began to think small – think digitally.
He turned his home computer into his cyber-studio.
"This was still the early days when the tools were pretty primitive," Carter said. "The first ones I did were done entirely on floppy disc. I didn’t show them to anyone. It took about a year or more to get the feel right."
These days, Carter’s Grand Guignol of fish-babies and freaks pops up regularly in magazines that cater to the cyber generation, such as Axcess, Plazm, Juice, and bOING bOING. He also has his own web page at http://www.cyberpiggy.com. As you may have guessed by this point, Carter’s art is not, um, traditonal.
``When people first see my work the first question they always, always ask is, `Are you really this sick?’‘’ Carter said and laughed.
``As sick as they are, they do have a sense of humor," Carter explained. "That’s their saving grace."
Carter’s work is a wild, vivid, colliding universe that draws from his formal art training as well as the fringe worlds of underground comics and science-fiction stories. The images are at once horrific and humorous, grotesque yet a little goofy. Are they a spoof or genuinely creepy? His themes return again and again to people who have been mutated by technology gone awry. ``The art world really doesn’t know what to do with me,’’ Carter said. ``I get no response from them at all. I guess I’m so far out there that they haven’t decided what to call me, so they don’t. I’m more of an outsider artist, despite the fact that I work with new technology.’’
Regardless of the lack of critical attention, Carter likes the immediacy and the democracy of having a web page.
``I can get things out to such a wider audience than through the gallery world,’’ Carter said. ``That’s what I enjoy.’’
One fan, Rodney Alan Greenblat, was so knocked out by Carter’s art that he wrote:
``Your work is so demented and wonderful. Too bad the underground doesn’t pay more. What if everything was reversed and independent underground artists were paid more than lawyers, and lawyers had to live in tiny apartments and wear used clothes. That would be great. I don’t know what your situation is, but I hope you live in a swank penthouse in a partially abandoned but stately old hotel in the heart of Raleigh (N.C.), and you have a secret room full of electronics and surveillance equipment. I hope at night you are a kind of vigilante ninja, who plays both sides of the law, and during the day work as an artist creating all your bizarre images.’’
As far as the actual process of creating a digital ``painting,’’ it ``takes about the same amount of time as it did to paint one of my big paintings,’’ Carter said. ``It’s usually about 40 or 50 hours of solid work time.’’
Mark Hinson is a senior writer for the Tallahassee Democrat and a former school buddy of Cyberpig’s.