Hello dear readers! Are you enjoying the first few days of fall?
We've got a cool spotlight post for you today. I want you to meet Theodore Carter.
He's stopped by the blog to write a little bit about his evolution from author to artist. It's amazing to read about how it all came about...how becoming a published author pushed him into a world of street art, which brought along recognition in a way he had never imagined....
Why Visual Art Keeps Invading My Fiction
I rebelled by being conventional, by NOT going to art school. The product of three generations of visual artists, I studied Political Science, then moved from California to Washington, D.C. for internships. I wore ties. I went to press briefings.
Of course, this lead to a quarter-life crisis to which my mom said, “The problem is you’re an artist, and you’re going to have to figure out what to do about that.”
This statement rang true in the way that a lot of things your parents tell you when you’re a teenager begin to ring true in your mid-twenties. I earned a graduate degree in Creative Writing and began writing fiction seriously. I published stories. I breathed easier.
In 2004, a group of thieves stole Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” from an Oslo museum. I couldn’t stop reading about the heist and wondering who would steal a painting that could never be sold. It stuck in my craw, and when something sticks in my craw, I fictionalize it. I turned it into a novel. The main character is an obsessive aspiring artist who learns from the works of great masters and creates an art studio in his attic. During the years of writing the novel, I remembered things I thought I’d forgotten like the obscure tools my mom kept in her studio and how my grandparents argued about their overworked canvases. I recalled attending gallery openings and going to museums though I could have sworn I was not paying attention. Of course, I also did my own art history research which blended together with what I’d learned informally.
In the midst of writing the novel, I published a book of stories (The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance, Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012). I faced the happy problem of having to switch from author to marketer.
I didn’t have an advertising budget. After quite a bit a research, I realized street artists are masterful at creating a brand without paying for advertising space. I made my own sea blobs out of plaster and paper mache () and put them out around Washington, D.C. A lot of the print and online news outlets that weren’t interested in writing about my debut collection of stories now became interested in my “sea blob invasion.” I’d become a street “artist.”
The project proved effective and exhilarating. I read more and began experimenting with D.C. street artist Mark Jenkins’s technique of tape sculptures. Then, using my wife as model/mold, I made a life-size tape sculpture holding a copy of my book, placed it around the city, and .
After about a year, I felt everyone who wanted to buy my book already had it. I ended the marketing campaign but could not stop seeing places around the city that could be enhanced by street art.
I turned a traffic box into a robot, then, a year later, turned that same traffic box into The Empire State Building adorned with King Kong and biplanes. Both times I made the local news, not as an author, but as an “artist” and a “father/disruptor.”
I’ll take the “father/disruptor” title, but cringe at the title of “artist.” I do not have the expertise and skill of a visual artist the way my family has defined it for me through their training and hard work.
However, my reverence for and fascination with visual art continues to grow. The novel, “Stealing ‘The Scream’” will hopefully go to print in 2016. I’m currently working on a new collection and several of the stories are about art in both concrete and abstract ways. I’ve also begun interviewing visual artists for my blog () and am discovering parallels between their creative processes and my own writing process.
Art is a pervasive part of my history and identity and it’s going to keep popping up in my work like ceramic sea blobs invading the sidewalks of Washington, D.C.
Theodore Carter is the author of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance (Queens Ferry Press, 2012). He’s appeared in several magazines and anthologies including The North American Review, Pank, A capella Zoo, The Potomac Review, Necessary Fiction, and Gargoyle. His street art projects, which began as book promotion stunts, have garnered attention from several local news outlets including NBC4 Washington, Fox5 DC, and the Washington City Paper. If you ask, .