Ethereal depictions of local vistas are rich in observed detail
Perception is a fickle thing. Alan McCarter knows that firsthand. He never saw his mother, Lynn, for the artist she was until months before her passing. McCarter had just graduated from Lowell University when, for no reason in particular, he paused to watch her paint.
“I felt an incredible awakening,” says McCarter. “I had no interest in art before then, and no interest in anything else after.”
In 2003, McCarter and his wife, Robbin, opened McCarter Gallery, on the corner of North Main and Fifth Avenue West in Hendersonville. Distinguished by emerald-green awnings with crisp, white lettering, the storefront serves as a showcase for the couple’s soft, romantic style. (Though Robbin does curate a handful of vintage oils.)
Besides a departure from realism, the paintings are unified by a strong sense of place — a survey in the “Beauty of Nature,” reads the gallery’s website. Mountain brooks meander through laurels, morning light yellows dales, and mist peppers hemlock groves. McCarter offers the occasional seascape — a briny nod to his childhood on the shores of New England. “I walked along the ocean in the morning as a kid, smelling salty air and listening to seagulls,” McCarter reminisces. There are also dramatic depictions of the Tetons from a trip, but the prevailing motif is undeniably local.
“I wanted to live in an area where people love their landscape,” McCarter says, referring to his and Robbin’s move to Hendersonville in the late 1990s. (They previously owned Bayberry Art Gallery in Southern Pines, NC, and later in Ogunquit, Maine.) “Convincing people of their landscape is half the battle.”
But even “convincing” might be too forceful a word for McCarter’s soft, ethereal compositions. Though he prefers to paint en plein air, his work buds from a place of introspection. “I make a few strokes on a blank canvas, and then let it unfold as an inwardly artistic composition,” he explains. “Artists who paint from photos miss out on the shadows that come on naturally.”
The result is loose and hushed — bucolic scenes that verge on refined impressionism. There are lights and darks, warm and cools, and edges — but McCarter strays from heavy-handed deliveries.
“If it becomes too realistic, you lose something,” he says. “I prefer a softer approach: you can see a field, but can’t count a single blade of grass.”
McCarter’s romanticism deviates from his mother’s sharp and contemporary style. Inspired by the 1970s fame of realist painter Andrew Wyeth, she produced simple, dramatic compositions. But art was never a full-time pursuit for Lynn. Her first husband, an attorney in Newark, died in a tragic train accident in the 1950s, leaving her to care for McCarter alone.
“I was just a baby when it happened, but I still remember my father bouncing me up and down on his knee,” McCarter shares. “I remember so much love.”
Like his mother, McCarter spent many years making art in stolen moments. As a computer programmer, he relegated painting to evenings and weekends. “I took jobs that paid the way,” he says. And even when he and Robbin opened a gallery in Maine, most time was spent curating rather than creating.
McCarter Gallery adopts a comparatively minimalist approach. By featuring a collection that is, almost exclusively, their own work, the McCarters eschew much of the administrative mire that comes with owning a gallery. For the sake of simplicity, the two also elected for in-house studios. That being said, McCarter still finds himself dragging his easel up front, where the abundance of light feels quite apropos for his subject matter.
“Misty Falls,” for example, began with a white canvas and white paint. After making two brushstrokes, McCarter knew the composition would take the form of a waterfall anointed by greenery, blood-red cardinal flowers, and a meandering stream. In effect, the painting evokes a certain peace. Like a long exhale, the scene is grounding, perhaps because McCarter expects little from onlookers. He simply wants them to see.
“I’m naturally drawn to nature,” he says. “When we look out at nature, we’re not focused on the detail of everything at once, we’re simply focused on the beauty.”
McCarter Gallery, 451 North Main St., Hendersonville. For more information, visit mccartergallery.com or call 828-698-7117.