Father and Daughter James and J Carpenter Pair Text and Art in a New Collaboration
The current fiscal crisis has led businesses both large and small to share resources, conserve energy and maximize teamwork. Entrepreneurs, however, are not the only people embracing the spirit of collaboration.
In the past six months, the father-daughter duo of writer James Carpenter and visual artist and McGinley Square resident J Carpenter have been working together on a new body of work that pairs drawing and text. New York has an established history of poet-painter collaborations — we need to look no further than Philip Guston and Bill Berkson, Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers and John Ashbery and Joe Brainard. What makes this tandem special is their connection: a parent and child.
J and James will be presenting their work in “Everything Is Index, Nothing Is History,” a group exhibition co-curated by Melanie Kress and Natalie Bell and presented by Recession Art, which opens Saturday, June 2 from 6 to 10 pm at the Invisible Dog in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
We caught up with J and James Carpenter to discuss their new work, the artistic dynamic between father and daughter, and the ins and outs of collaboration.
Jersey City Independent: Hi, J. Tell us about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?
J: I make sculpture, drawings, and prints, all employing textiles, particularly lace-making, in unconventional ways.
JCI: Hey, James. What about you?
James: I’m retired from the affiliated faculty of the Wharton School where I taught computer programming and systems design. I live in South Jersey.
JCI: J, how long have you lived in Jersey City and where are you from originally?
J: I’ve lived in Jersey City since 2008. Since then, I’ve lived Downtown and in the Heights, and I am currently in McGinley Square. I’m from South Jersey originally. Not the Jersey Shore, but southwest Jersey, about 45 minutes southeast of Philadelphia.
JCI: You were a longtime member of _gaia, and remain affiliated with the organization. When did you join and why? How have you benefited from membership?
J: I joined the collective in 2006, because the other women in the group are interested in many of the themes in which I’m interested artistically, particularly in the contemporary American female experience. _gaia offered me my first experience of working with a community of artists in my adult life. The benefits of this are endless.
JCI: Let’s discuss your participation in the upcoming show “Everything Is Index, Nothing Is History.” How did you get involved in the show?
James: We’d been collaborating on a project for a couple of months when I received Recession Art’s email soliciting submissions to “Everything is Index, Nothing Is History.” Our project looked like it could be a fit in that each piece in our drawing-text diptych points to the other.
JCI: The work on view is a collaborative effort between a father and daughter. Collaborations between fathers and daughters come to mind more in pop music than in art. Some are tender, as in Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s ballad Something Stupid. Some are creepy, as in Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s infamous song Lemon Incest. J, why did you choose to collaborate with your father on this project, and why now?
J: My father and I have shared a common aesthetic interest for a very long time. We have been searching for years for a way to collaborate. Here I saw an opportunity for us to employ our common aesthetic.
JCI: Anything to add, Dad?
James: As to why now? We finally figured out how.
JCI: Do you guys know of any other father-daughter collaborations in contemporary art or art history?
J: I don’t know of any offhand. I’ve often wondered if Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi collaborated, as Orazio trained Artemisia. I wonder if the teaching process ever crossed over into collaboration.
JCI: Ekphrastic Inversions, the work currently on view, is a set of three diptychs, each comprised of a drawing and story. Where did the idea to join words and pictures come from?
James: In trying to find a way to work together, we had always assumed that the visual and the textual had to be melded in the same object in some way, but that always reduced to either pastiche or collage, which has been done better by others. Then I came across Rick Moody’s short story Pan’s Fair Throng, which served as the catalog for Elena Sisto’s 1999 show “Fairy Tales” at the Maier Museum. Moody’s story and Sisto’s paintings were essentially companions in a united effort. The story and the painting retained their individual effect, but together became something more interesting. I called J and told her about it. After a few weeks of back and forth, during which we explored different approaches, we settled on the idea of the diptychs.
JCI: I like that, companions in a united effort. What type of reaction do you hope the new work elicits in the viewer?
J: I hope the lack of resolution in both the drawings and the stories encourages the viewer to invent, or remember, some of his own stories. What story will this viewer write while looking at one of our images? What images will he imagine while reading one of our stories?
James: I hope most viewers respond by saying, “I absolutely have to own this.”
JCI: As a member of Agitators Collective, I have worked on several projects with artist Jason Seder. We were friends first, and partners second. As an artist, I experienced some of my greatest highs, as well as some of my lowest lows, as a result of the collaboration. I am curious as to how you and your father went about the project. How much time did you work alongside each other, and how much time did you work in private? Did you set guidelines or parameters to work within to safeguard your creative egos?
J: As we live a distance from one another, there was a lot of email, text, and phone collaboration; our studio sessions were held separately. I did the drawings on my own and he wrote the stories on his own. Most of the collaboration was done in pairing the drawings and the stories and in discussing visual presentation. My dad was very kind about making sure I knew we were equal partners; I believe that helped things go smoothly. Egos? What egos?
James: One guideline that we had was that if we didn’t completely agree on an issue, we would not move on. The risk in that is that differences could lead to conflict as one partner tries to persuade the other. This did not happen with us. We worked more at trying to understand what the other’s concerns were and then attacking them as a team, a truly gratifying experience.
JCI: Did the process of working in partnership reveal any new insight about your work, or working methods?
J: One of the drawings portrays a small window on a large page. Its accompanying story involves text covering a whole page of the same size. As I looked at the text next to the drawing, I became increasingly aware of the importance of the empty space in the drawing. The drawing, I realized, depicted not only the small window, but allowed the viewer space to imagine events and characters existing in a relationship with this window. The result is that I’d like to include much more empty space in my work in the future.
JCI: How long have you been working on this new body of work?
J: I started these drawings last summer; they’ve gone through a lot of changes since then. The collaborative process began this past January.
James: I have occasionally written short shorts and prose poems in the past. Some of these appear in other pieces, but most of the work is new. I think my side of the project has been a little easier in that I could react to J’s drawings. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic changes as we continue to develop new pieces.
JCI: James, how long have you been writing, and what’s your specialty, fiction or nonfiction?
James: I wrote and published some poetry in my 20s. I began writing fiction after I retired, so you could say I’ve been writing for 45 years or for four and both would be correct. I pretty much write fiction these days, with an occasional prose poem when I’m feeling wistful.
JCI: How would you describe the new work to someone that has not had the privilege of seeing it in person?
James: There’s this art piece. Part of it is a story and its in a frame and that part is not really a story, it’s an artifact. And then there’s this other piece and it’s a drawing and it’s in a frame too, except it’s not a drawing because the lines are thread and is, by the way, a narrative, except not in the linear way you think it should be.
JCI: J, Do you listen to music, radio, or television when you are working in the studio? If so, how does it affect your work?
J: I listen to a lot of folk music while I’m working. Lots of songs with two chords in them. It helps me keep my work clean and simple. Sometimes I watch Lost while I’m working. This is not a good thing and I should really knock it off.
JCI: What are some upcoming projects?
J: I’m currently working on a 9’ x 9’ x 12’ house, made of steel lace. Look for it in early 2013, venue TBA.
James: I’ve nearly completed a novel, my third. The first two were too embarrassing to try to publish and reside in the abandoned stories folder on my computer. I more hopeful this time around.