Carter Shappy

Carter is a printmaker by trade and likes to branch out into installation mixed media. He has been at RWS since 2015 and manages our print studio and wood shop. Carter has a deep appreciation for the time he spends in the studio tinkering. He loves exploring things that are of very little consequence and have a broader implication in the meaning of his own life and the way he sees others lives. As he sees it, there’s no consequence if his experimentation fails--he’s not building a bridge or structure meant to hold. There may be some personal consequences, but it’s a “private, intimate study of very miniscule things.” This attention to detail is evident in his work. A lot of his work is process heavy. There’s a bit of his artistic expression in every work, naturally, but a lot of what he does is discovering or finding a process that has unexpected results. “It’s an act of creation that doesn’t have a ton to do with me. I’m not drawing from my mind. I feel like I'm part of witnessing something that’s being created, like I'm a part of a bigger thing, a bigger process when I'm making this work. And it’s so thrilling. It’s magical when you’re making it.” Carter lives for that eureka moment where you think, I did not expect that. His work generally depicts natural phenomena, especially having to do with water. He’s very interested in how things move and grow. His Ghost Gear series pulls discarded materials from the ocean and other bodies of water and is equal parts investigation of litter and sea trash and of their impact. (This newsletter's cover image is an example of this series). The accumulation of plastics in the ocean is a large part of his exploration but his art is also the study of things moving in water. This series stems from an assignment during his undergraduate days at MECA, to start with an action, to do something repeatedly and see what comes out of it. What Carter did, out of concern initially for the growing abundance of plastic in the ocean, was go and clean up trash on the beach. “I would go and collect bags of trash. And then I fell in love with rope and bait bags and plastic films and plastic bags as a material and their ability to produce irregular and complex shapes and lines”, which also ties into his Viscosity series. He views much of his own work through the lens of fractal geometry, a branch of mathematics he discovered after a particular printmaking experience when he had made a mistake while printing an etching. He’d gotten the back of the plate covered in ink and when he was done editioning the print he went to clean the back of the plate and found branching patterns. This intrigued him. He pulled a print of the plate and still has it in his studio six years later. He went searching to recreate this mistake in the studio. The result is the Viscosity series. His Viscosity Monotypes focus on recreating in the studio patterns he notices everywhere, including growth cycles and the way water moves on our planet in large and small scales. These images are reminiscent of the patterns that the movement of water creates on the seafloor, of coral, algae, dendrites in your lungs, and neural pathways in the body’s nervous system.

The series is heavily influenced by the type of liquid he’s using and the physics of the process. He’s fascinated by how deep the science goes and ended up reaching out to the Physics chair at USM to better understand what was happening at the level of the ink’s molecular chemistry. The results have everything to do with an irregular type of fluid--in the case of acrylic it’s called “non-Newtonian” fluid--that has a weird ratio from shear force to viscosity. In some cases the shear thinning or thickening force applied either reduces or increases the viscosity disproportionately to the time or force that’s being applied. Essentially, he’s exerting a tremendous amount of pressure, which reduces the viscosity. Once the pressure is released the viscosity of the paint returns to its natural state. In that moment of release air is being forced into the ink, which produces the intricate patterns. “The sciences are very important to the arts and vice versa.” In 2016 Carter was the inaugural artist in residence at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, a nonprofit research institute in East Boothbay, Maine. The project with Bigelow, called Colorcosm, was an opportunity to combine his curiosities for art and science. For four months he worked alongside Senior Research Scientist Dr. Steve Archer and Research Associate Carlton Rauschenberg and developed a visually immersive and experiential interpretation of Archer's research on ocean acidification and its impact on microbiological production of dimethyl sulfide (DMS). DMS, once aerosolized, is important in the formation of planetary cooling cloud coverage. “It’s more so a collaboration of how science can influence the artist and how the artist can help the scientist tell a story in a different way in order to reach a broader audience.” Learn more about Carter and his work on his website,