Raised in Palm Springs, it seemed unlikely that CAA member Gary Carter would eventually settle in rural Montana, but that’s exactly what he did. Early on, he knew he was tired of the dry riverbeds and scorched landscape that surrounded him in his youth. When his parents bought a cabin in Montana in 1959, he was delighted to spend his summers there in the midst of Yellowstone country.
Before he put down roots there, Carter’s path led him to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, Calif., where he graduated with honors. He was encouraged to get support from his instructors for his focus on western subject matter in his school work.
“At the junior college I attended before going to the Art Center,” remembers Carter, “they thought I was a Neanderthal because I liked horses and cowboys.”
After graduation, he freelanced as an illustrator in San Diego for a few short months before he became a staff illustrator in La Jolla. As so many young artists do, Carter painted his western subjects on the side. He was lucky enough to have Ginger Renner – owner of western art galleries – critique his early works. This proved to be a big break for him and led to his paintings hanging in Trailside Gallery in Palm Desert, Calif. Soon after, Margaret Jamison of Jamison Galleries saw Carter’s paintings and invited him down to Tucson, Ariz., to show his art in her gallery.
“She promised me I would never go hungry,” laughs Carter. “Margaret was so prominent in my success.”
His stint in Tucson led to an invitation to be the artist in residence at the Sun Ranch, situated near his parents’ home in Montana. There, living in his bunkhouse studio, he gained insight into the contemporary working cowboy. When Carter married Marlys, now his wife of 33 years, they settled on land between the Sun Ranch and Yellowstone Park on Hebgen Lake. It is there they built their home on six acres surrounded by Forest Service land.
“It’s a special place,” says Carter. “We both felt we belonged here.”
His first studio at the house was in the garage. Eventually they built a much larger one on the east end of the house. The scenery is so enthralling that he doesn’t dare gaze out the window for fear of wasting away the day.
“I had to build a studio below ground level so I wouldn’t look out,” he explains. “I am a stargazer.”
The peaceful surroundings are not reflected inside his studio. Carter works amid chaos, often with music or television in the background and a visitor observing him.
“The only place where I want it quiet is outside,” he says. “The noise in my studio makes me concentrate even harder.”
Carter has a broad range of interests, which are reflected in his work. For him, gathering research is as much fun as painting. He dreads being pigeonholed and remains conscious of wanting to create something different all the time. While he built his reputation decades ago painting mountain men hunting elk, today he values diversity in his subject matter and an exciting storyline.
“I just do the things that interest me at the time,” he explains. “I’m in this to keep painting.”
Carter is grateful for where his life has taken him. “I am where I want to be and doing what I want to do, and I thank heavens for that.”
~written by Julie Wilson, JFW Communications