Carter Thompson is an illustrator and scenic designer. Thompson describes himself as ‘well-bred and corn-fed’ and he lives in Harlem.
Tell us about your art. I have always been a storyteller, and that’s my main goal with my art. I try to tell stories; to expose some facet of the human condition. I think that is the purpose of art, and the purpose of life. To learn what it means to be human. Mostly my art focuses on people and characters and trying to capture some moment in their journey, however strange or whimsical it might be. I studied Theatre Arts with an emphasis in scenic design at BYU, which gave me a terrific education in not only art and history, but communicating, collaborating, and storytelling. After graduation I moved to New York and I’ve been working here as a freelance artist and designer for the past two years.
You describe your style as “dark sophistication and witty effervescence”. Explain. I have always been fascinated by the idea of using humor to understand heavier things. That old expression, “truth is best told in jest” really resonates with me. So when I think of humans and the human experience, I always try to capture that in a bubbly, lively way. I admire artists like Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, and Quentin Blake, who had this great ability to infuse light-heartedness into serious situations. They could make strange things charming. I like to explore the line between what is grotesque and what is lovely. Along with that, I love storytelling and I think wit and humor are great ways to explore truth. I think of it as a sort of winking self-awareness that reveals aspects of the human experience.
What do you gain and lose from working digitally? So far, it’s been very positive to transition into the realm of digital art. I think I was leery of it in the beginning because of this stigma of a cut-and-paste insincere sort of art, but that’s really not how I work at all. I view my stylus and my iPad as tools, just like paint and pencils. In fact, working digitally opens the door for new artistic possibilities in certain situations. I can mix “mediums” in ways that I never could in real life. Switching around every five seconds from pencils to oils to watercolors in the same project would be much more complicated and costly without the aid of digital technology. That being said, if a project is better suited for a more traditional medium I definitely go in that direction. I still love to get my hands dirty in the studio. Working digitally also allows me the freedom to work almost anywhere, which is very inspiring to me. I’ll work on a project in the park, the lobby of the Waldorf, on a subway, there are infinite possibilities. I have a fully stocked studio anywhere I go. It’s liberating.
Your Instagram account is a cultured tour of New York architecture. You include quotes from Stephen Collins Foster, Jawaharial Nehru, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I didn’t intentionally set out to create an Instagram full of architecture, but I think it came naturally out of living in New York. I always try to capture images and stories that inspire or edify me, and in Manhattan there are just so many lovely and interesting buildings. They surround you everywhere you go. Every building has a story, and because it’s New York, I suppose, the history for every noteworthy building is well documented. As far as the quotes and literature I like to post, I think that comes out of my love of reading. I collect quotes and phrases, and have found that sometimes I express my thoughts best by using someone else’s words. Literature sparks a lot of my creative ideas. My art is often born out of a phrase from a poem or short story I read. I take that idea and build my own thing out of it. I like to think I have had a positive reception so far. Most of my art commissions come from Instagram, which is something I never would have dreamed of a few years ago. It’s a wonderful platform to connect with people, create, and share my work.