Alice Carpenter cedes control to create lunar magic

The Clintonville artist's monotype landscapes are featured in 'Celebration of Summer,' an exhibition opening at Keny Galleries this weekend.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Alice Carpenter's "Hoarfrost in Moonlight (19.2)," 2019, monotype with addition of gouache and sgraffito, 5.5 x 6 inches

Alice Carpenter grew up in Lewisville, Ohio, a tiny Monroe County village in Wayne National Forest that had one blinking stoplight. From her bedroom window, Carpenter could hear the calls of whip-poor-wills, and in the evenings, she’d look out across the field to watch the moon appear in the night sky.  

“When you’re in a small town, nature becomes more magical because there's nothing else going on,” Carpenter said recently from her home studio in Clintonville. “That still sits with me, the magic from watching the moon.” 

The moon appears often in Carpenter’s black-and-white monotype landscapes, including three pieces from “Celebration of Summer: A Selection of Contemporary Art,” a multi-artist exhibition opening with a reception at Keny Galleries in German Village on Friday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Three other Carpenter monotypes are also part of the Butler Institute of American Art’s 85th National Midyear Show, which opens on Sunday, July 18, in Youngstown, Ohio. 

Carpenter stumbled upon her distinctive landscape style mostly by accident. Up until the mid-2000s, she worked as a Realtor, but after a breast cancer diagnosis, Carpenter began reevaluating what she loved most in life and dropped out of real estate to focus on her art. (Full disclosure: Carpenter helped my wife and I find our first home years ago.)

Alice Carpenter's "Landscape 20.10," 2020,
subtraction monotype with gouache, sgraffito and collage, 5 ½ x 3 ½ inches

Early on, Carpenter worked in watercolors, but on a whim she bought some black ink and decided to try her hand at monotypes, which incorporates aspects of both painting and printmaking. After applying the newly purchased ink to a smooth plate, rolling it with a brayer and pressing it onto paper, the results were “horrible,” Carpenter said. “I had all this ink, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ So I started playing with it, just making marks and stuff. I took my brayer and rolled over the ink and started rolling it onto my paper, and all of a sudden I started getting images. I started seeing possibilities in that.” 

The more Carpenter experimented with this new way of making art, the more she enjoyed it. “When I first started doing this, I would be by myself and just start laughing because it was so much fun. It was a delight to see what was happening,” she said. “What I love about it is there's an ambiguity that other people will read into it. To me that's when the work is the most successful — whenever there's a degree of ambiguity that brings a person in to think about it.” 

Often, the twilight scenes Carpenter conjures take their inspiration from her travels throughout rural Ohio, where isolated geometric structures like barns and silos dot the vast landscape.

Carpenter uses both additive and reductive methods to make the images, manipulating the ink while also employing a palette knife on the plates and a utility knife on the paper to etch the outlines of buildings, trees and country lanes. Sometimes, as in the piece “Hoarfrost in Moonlight,” Carpenter uses gouache to lend a lunar glow to the landscape. 

Because she is limited in size to the length of her brayer rollers, Carpenter tends to work small. But everything else about the creative process remains gratifyingly open-ended. “I’ve found so much joy in not having control,” Carpenter said. “It's like looking at the clouds and seeing shapes.”