Oil painter John Michael Carter spends a lot of time traveling the world looking for scenes that excite him. It might be street life in Paris, a sunrise over a river in Florence or a hay wagon in Honeyville, Indiana. But his real love is figurative painting.
Carter's figurative work is rich in detail and color. His use of light brings his subjects to life; his masterful brush strokes add depth and emotion. Viewing his online gallery forces you to wonder how such painting is possible.
Wonder no more. On Saturday, October 1, Carter will demonstrate his approach to figurative painting at Castle Gallery in Fort Wayne. The event is just part of a long weekend program kicking off the month-long national juried exhibition at Castle Gallery of works by Oil Painters of America artists.
The exhibition runs through October 29.
The Oil Painters of America 2016 Salon Show will feature the work of 300 artists. In addition, there will be talks and demonstrations and a plein air paint out by OPA members. The plein air paint-out competition will be judged by Indiana Master Signature artist C.W. Mundy.
Carter is the current president of OPA. He is also a Master Signature member of the group. There are only 55 artists who have earned that designation in the organization, which has 3,500 members.
When I called Carter recently to talk about the Castle Gallery show, he was in Gloucester, Massachusetts painting a harbor scene with four other artists. He said the quality of the work that will be at the exhibition is exceptional.
"We had a tremendous number of entries for this show, but only a small number are selected," he said. "So you end up with very high-quality pieces."
As representational painters, OPA members are part of a rich history of artists stretching back hundreds of years. From the portraits of Rembrandt to the water lilies of Monet, O'Keeffe's flowers to T. C. Steele's landscapes, representational artists give us new ways of seeing the seemingly mundane people, objects and places that surround us. And the way each artist portrays a subject is as varied as the artists themselves.
"The juries for these shows are looking for different points of view," Carter said. "That's what makes for a balanced show."
The work at the show encompasses everything from the boundary of photo realism to the edge of abstraction.
Carter began studying drawing at 16 and later attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles to study at Art Center College of Design. He teaches and hosts workshops across the country. In 2004 he won OPA's National Gold Medal award.
In addition to Carter's demonstration of figurative painting, Mundy will present a class on landscapes, Kirk Larsen will show how to paint night scenes effectively and Carolyn Lewis will demonstrate how to move inspiration to the canvas. Charles Shepard III, president, CEO and chief curator at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, will give a lecture called "200 Years of Indiana Art from the Haan Collection."
Mundy, who studied at Ball State, is best known for his impressionist style. His paintings have earned him Signature Master membership with OPA and Master Status with the American Impressionist Society. He is also an accomplished banjo player.
Lewis is a published writer in addition to an acclaimed painter. Her writing and art have been featured in several national and international books and magazines. She serves as a juror for the current OPA show.
Larsen is described as a modern renaissance man, dividing his time between painting, acting, sailing, playing music and whipping up gourmet meals.
Kathryn Berligratis, executive director of OPA, said the show will give art lovers the chance to see a large number of very good painters at a single exhibition.
"It's just a great opportunity for people to see a collection of work of artists living today who are of a very high caliber," she said. "You just don't see that these days."
Berligratis said many of the artists represented at the salon show have achieved Signature or Signature Master membership. And that, she said, is no easy task.
"It is extremely difficult to earn that," she said. "Members coming in have already achieved a lot, but to become a Signature Member you have to be selected to three national juried shows in a five-year period. And becoming a Signature Master is even more difficult."
Berligratis likened oil painting masters to top professional athletes in that both have to work for years to reach the top.
Carter said the same thing. He said oil painting is very competitive, in a gentle sort of way.
"Painters are always looking to see what other painters are doing," he said. "But there's no backstabbing. We're very nice people."
The one opponent painters can never outpace is time. While we talked, Carter said that the light in the harbor was changing.
"I'll have to pack it in before noon," he said. "If I don't get what I want by then, I'll just have to go look for something else."
"Painting is a language," he added. "And once you get fluent in it, it is a very pleasurable way to experience life. It's like eating a fine meal."