New York

Carter

Jack Hanley Gallery

Carter (no last name) operates from a coolly paranoid position. In his collaged drawings and photographs, he seems primarily concerned with various means of masking the self. Most of his works, which in a recent show at Jack Hanley Gallery included several large gray blobs painted directly on the gallery walls, feature masklike profile silhouettes of a head based on the artist’s own image, or on a sculpted dummy that he created for the purpose. Many have blank apertures for eyes, and a few have cavernous holes where new noses might be affixed, Mr. Potato Head style.

In Carter’s diagrammatic works on paper, selections of replacement parts are presented alongside the primary image. These generally include a few eyes and noses and an extensive selection of hair possi- bilities, all of which appear in the form of small drawings of undulat- ing locks, some full and luxuriant, others thinning and stubbly. A few of the works on view in his latest show also include strands of synthetic hair—wigs are a recurrent motif in Carter’s oeuvre—which form delicate lines within the confines of the silhouette. The material evokes nervous systems, hillside foliage, and free-floating pubic hair and, though black, tempt one to read it as an allusion to Warhol’s iconic silver-gray toupee (especially as earlier works not shown here reference it directly). In a few pieces, bundles of sticks form a kind of balding pate. In an untitled Polaroid from 2005—again, a nod to Andy—a head shot of Carter is covered by another photograph depicting a blank wall and a hand. A small (peep, or glory) hole has been cut out of the top photograph, revealing a slightly blurred brown eye peering through.

The show’s ten listed works, as well as an eleventh consisting of a group of small, swatchlike hair drawings pinned to the wall, form a layered palette of disguises and stylistic possibilities. In each one, additional components are applied to a larger piece of paper like a skin graft, the whole then coated with a thin, gently glistening layer of gel medium. Some also incorporate carefully cut pieces of handmade marbleized paper as a stand-in for rock. In Untitled (2006 #1), these form a group of boulders—elements to hide behind—in a forest landscape. Three heads, each with a range of hair and eye possibilities—perhaps morning, noon, and evening ensembles—float above the rocks, and two schematic drawings of left hands are similarly positioned in the upper right. The model for these might be visible in 2005 Polaroid #8, which shows a mannequin’s hand and forearm reaching for a tape dispenser. This juxtaposition hints at the quest to create a perfect model with economic means, a palpable subtext in Carter’s practice.

The tone of these works is provocatively ambivalent. It’s difficult to tell if Carter means us to relish the possibilities on offer or fear them. Are the choices he presents empowering or dizzying? Because the images are rendered with such rough simplicity, perhaps a faux naïveté, the project has the feel of outsider art. It also evokes the quirky aura of Ray Johnson and his googly-eyed bunny mascot. Both artists make copious use of their cryptic eccentricities, collaging them into deviant visions of themselves. As with Johnson’s, there’s something confounding about Carter’s project. He traffics in a creeping sense of discomfort and anxiety. His work is both inviting and insular, reflecting complicated ideas of self-image, and as open to shifting interpretation as a look in the mirror.

Glen Helfand