An artist's moods and muses: Dave Carter finds inspiration in natural world after move to Cape Girardeau

Friday, December 2, 2016
Dave Carter poses for a photo in his home studio among some of his oil paintings Wednesday.
Laura Simon

After 50 years of painting, Dave Carter is happy finally to call himself a painter.

"Not a teacher who does artwork. Not a graphics manager who does art. I worked at a newspaper, you know, for six years," he said. "But now, I'm an artist. And that's a lot of fun."

The freedom of retirement is as nice as he thought it would be, he said, sitting in his basement studio surrounded by stacks of canvases. But what he didn't anticipate is how much he'd love being an artist in Cape Girardeau especially.

He's formerly from Kirksville, Missouri, which he said is, well, flat and boring visually.

"Here, it's a much more visually stimulating environment," he said, "which I feel may have something to do with why people here appreciate visual art so much."

Dave Carter works on one of his miniature oil paintings Wednesday inside his Cape Girardeau home.
Laura Simon

A member of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, he's found a community here since moving to Cape Girardeau about two and a half years ago. By his count, he's got 20 or 30 pieces on display between Paducah, Kentucky, and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

"I can say this without trying to butter people up," he said. "We've never been a part of somewhere where everyone is so interested in visual art."

The local landscape and fauna are endlessly engaging for a painter and photographer like Carter. He said he used to have to travel to get inspired, but not anymore.

"I haven't felt the urge since moving here," he said. "I wish I'd moved here 10 or 20 years ago."

And his art, much like his conversation, seems guided by a happy spontaneity.

Dave Carter works on one of his miniature oil paintings inside his Cape Girardeau home Wednesday.
Laura Simon

The walls of his upstairs study are full of paintings of squirrels. A melty, abstract piece hangs near the stairwell. The dining room features landscape and a jungle cat, both painstakingly rendered.

"I've been criticized my whole life whenever I have a show," he said. "It always looks like it's six or seven different people's paintings, but the way I see it, are you always in the same mood?"

He's equally happy with natural or abstract subjects, and sometimes sees them as one and the same. He pulls out a photo, from which he's painted a dragonfly. It's part of a series he's done based on microphotographed insectoids.

"Doesn't that look like it's a machine?" he said. "It doesn't even look like an organism."

Farther down in the drawer, there's a stack of photos of nature, part of what he calls his ongoing "monstro-pomorphic" series. In one, a lump of rock that looks oddly ogre-ish. In another, a rotting tree stump rising from the moss like a yawning dragon.

Dave Carter works on one of his miniature oil paintings inside his Cape Girardeau home Wednesday.
Laura Simon

In another series, he said, he's focusing on the elderly. The most recent painting he's finished depicts a man on a bench beneath a brightly-colored storefront. The man holds his cane upside-down between his knees, staring quizzically at the rubber endcap. Something about candid portraits of seniors fascinates Carter.

"And you can't just go out and do it," he said of a series like that. "They just sort of happen."

He's got no rush, though. And where the inspiration meanders, so goes Carter's paintbrush.

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