Big Al is Definitely ‘Larger than Life’
“I don’t really have a style. I just do it. I love lines, I feel lines. I see something, I say, ‘Man, that’s nice!’” – Allen B. Carter
This month the ASU Art Museum is presenting the work of the talented but humble Allen “Big Al” Carter, and looking at the legacy he left behind, I admire many characteristics of his work.
Sketched and painted with thin to thickened lines, he expresses a variety of emotions through his artwork, as well as through his dominate color choice of green and blue tones. In the exhibition of work currently on view at the ASU Art Museum, titled Big Al: Larger than Life (now through Aug. 22, 2015), each painting depicts African American life as Big Al saw it —from portraits of both the rich and the poor to art made on wooden chairs, lamp shades, and even on a wooden room divider —reflecting his compulsive habit to make art on and with almost anything. Comparing one artwork to another, Carter has a style that is distinct and I am able to notice the difference in emotion, energy, and scene which I feel is what makes his art “larger than life.” He is a painter that paints from the heart, for the world, for freedom of his expression, and seeks to illustrate how he views individuals in society, including many people in his own life that he’s known.
In this exhibition, one work titled Carp showcases his unique technique and style. Viewing this piece, I found that it was different from the rest because of the combination of two separate artworks combined as one. It’s one of several works that depicts an individual fishing. Through my research about Carter, I found that his art often recaps some of his life experiences; his love for fishing is incorporated in many of his artworks. He also utilizes different types of unconventional materials — including using Popsicle sticks that adhere to the canvas and are painted over to add a unique texture.
The texture he creates in these depictions of fisherman at sea draws you in the painting. In the top portion of the painting, he uses the Popsicle sticks in place of the sky, and then transitions into creating a more monochromatic and sketch-like picture. Most of his work seems to leave the viewer open to their own ideas. Through his sort of playful approach you can tell he had compulsive desire to make art with anything he could get his hands on. Even though Big Al was a classically trained artist, he did like to refer to himself as an “outsider” artist. He focused on making his art speak for itself, which I think he achieved.
On another piece, a painted wooden room divider titled Intense, his usage of color depicts different types of emotions. The color selection perfectly describes the title of this painting. This piece is only painted on one side, perhaps so that all viewers stand in front of it together. I had the opportunity to take a group of second grade students on a tour of this exhibition, and as we gathered in front of this piece, I asked them what emotions are associated with the colors in the painting. In response, the kids were able to distinguish the shades of blues and greens associated with the feelings of sadness and despair. They were energetic and very eager to get close to the art, and I know that this colorful exhibition heightened their excitement.
As a viewer, looking at Big Al’s artwork, you are encompassed by his life, the people in it, and his passion to create art on objects you would have never think to paint on. I hope that everyone will make a visit to the ASU Art Museum and leave with an idea of who Big Al was, his personality, and the artistic products of his unique way of living.
— Leilani Solema, Public Relations and Marketing Intern
Big Al: Larger Than Life is on view in the Kresge Gallery at the ASU Art Museum through Aug. 22, 2015. All works in this exhibition are on loan from Flora Stone and Cecilia Carter. This exhibition is supported by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Evelyn Smith Exhibition Fund. Big Al: Larger than Life was curated by Dana and Steven Tepper and was designed by Stephen Johnson, chief preparator.