He was a great raconteur Anyone who knew Paul Carter for even the briefest of times will know that there are far too many anecdotes to recall here. A great raconteur, he liked nothing more than the chance to put the world to rights. Paul was lively company and I will miss him as a friend and as one of the most exciting artists that I had the pleasure to work with.
I met him when I moved to Edinburgh, watched his work shine in shows like those at the Collective Gallery and Generator, and was lucky enough to work alongside him at Stills Gallery in the exhibition Become Like Me .
When I moved to Wales to work at Chapter Gallery, one of the first meetings I had was with Paul to talk about working with him towards a solo show. It was shortly after 9/11 and we looked at a headline in The Guardian . It read: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ and was accompanied by a picture of a nuclear mushroom cloud. I asked Paul if it worried him; if we should, indeed, be making plans in such desperate times. He laughed out loud and proceeded to tell me about a film called Silent Running, ‘not quite the worst film ever made’, on which he planned to base his entire exhibition at Chapter. The premise of the film—in which the remaining pieces of Earth’s rainforests are floated into space in giant ecosystem space stations and visited as tourist attractions—would form the basis of his new works and through this he would continue his attempt to make contact with, escape to, or find salvation in a number of (often hopeless) situations. His fantastical journeys, missions and explorations might bring up some questions that could focus our search for a meaningful life.
It strikes me now that sometimes, when you’re researching an artist, working closely with them to deliver a show, a little of the immediate spark that you feel about their work ebbs away; the suspension of disbelief is suspended. With Paul, this was far from true: he sprinkled his blend of DIY mystery and unbending belief in belief itself, and the magic revealed itself little by little. It continues to resonate, even now.
Hannah Firth, curator Chapter Art Centre and for Wales at the Venice Biennale 2007
‘He wore the emblem’
This dedication is to the distant memories and spirits of heroes and adventurers, to the absolute power of the 12 Caesars of Suetonius and their parallel male impotence, from Julius through Caligula and the ‘delicious debauchery’ of Nero, to the Greek heroes of Plutarch, to Themistocles and Alexander, their moral characters and their country’s position as educator of the western world, to Romulus and Remus, born of the god Mars, adopted and suckled by the mythical she-wolf, and again to the fratricidal Romulus, creator of the city of Rome, ultimately enveloped by a stormcloud, to the epic poem of Kalidasa, the Meghadutam, the cloud messenger, to an archive photograph of the skies of Korea where the wind and water sculpted the head of Christ, to the spiritual crisis and ‘new mythos’ of an Edinburgh man, Thomas Carlyle, and his social writings On Heroes, to Lewis and Clark, to their guide and interpreter Sacajawea, to the west, to the east, the end and the beginning, to rock and roll and its shifting focus, to another man called Carter, who dared disturb the Jackal crouching over nine bound prisoners and to his words on seeing his sleeping treasure, to Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, his architectural achievements exaggerated by their existence in spiralling generations of the imagination, to courage and stupidity, birth and creation, to the aeronautic and the submarine, to the New Atlantis where science and nature harmonise in Bacon’s utopia, to survivalist journals and magazines, to ‘Protect and Survive’, to politics, ‘Protest and Survive’, to William Burroughs, this is to the man who wears the emblem of Partick Thistle but knows not where its country lies.
Mike Nelson is an artist
‘He was without pretence’
I first met Paul in my first year as a student at Edinburgh College of Art in 1998. It was clear from the start that he was a friendly and approachable person. He was always capable of breaking down any sense of seriousness and humourlessness in classes. He made us feel relaxed, but there was also always a constructive lesson to be learnt from the fun he allowed us to have. Paul related to us 17- and 18-yearolds without patronising or making us feel inferior. He spoke to us as we would to each other, and was always keen to introduce us to new things that he thought we would find interesting.
As a young student, it was so inspiring and encouraging to have someone take interest in what you were doing and, at the same time, see that this person was making a success of themselves. I remember seeing his exhibition in the Art Bus that came to college, and feeling that if this person, who seemed so like us, could succeed, then perhaps we could too. His enthusiasm and passion encouraged many students to study sculpture.
When I told a friend who had met Paul only a couple of times about his death, they told me that Paul was always friendly and happy, and interested in them, whether they were artistic or not. He was someone without pretence, without any sense of snobbery, which was another reason why young students found him so welcoming. It occurred to me that I had never seen Paul unhappy. He was always smiling, every time I saw him. Even when he was angry, or annoyed at something, he seemed to be happy anyway. When I helped him with his show at the Embassy, I remember there was one good review, which Paul was pleased with, but he seemed even happier with a bad review that had been written. He recalled a time when he received a terrible review for a show he did in Germany, and alongside the review, there was a photo of his work, with his son Blake standing next to it. Beneath the picture was the caption ‘the artist and his work’ which he loved. Paul always seemed to find something positive in everything.
Craig Coulthard was taught by Paul Carter at Edinburgh College of Art
‘He was a mod in rocker’s clothing’ I first met Paul Carter in 1994 when he was helping to organise and install an ambitious, city-wide, artist-run project called Aerial in Edinburgh, in which I was one of the participating artists. Our roles soon reversed, however. Unable to sustain the constant renewal of faith in oneself and faith in the wider world needed to work as an artist, I became an organiser, while Paul went on to succeed where I had been discouraged.
And as an artist, his area of interest was exactly that question of belief that had defeated me, but which for him was an endless source of inspiration, not as a question answered, but as a question to be asked again and again, in all forms and in all situations. From some source unknown, at least to me, he derived an optimistic power that could transform the most mundane problem into a fundamental question with a potential outcome worth fighting for. It would begin with, ‘But you see …’ and end with a beautifully argued refutation of everything you thought you knew. At the same time, he was no fundamentalist, in fact the opposite. He was a mod in rocker’s clothing, or maybe the other way around, seeing no contradiction in being a meticulous aficionado of both aesthetics.
I was lucky enough to work with Paul on the catalogue for his 2003 exhibition at the Fruitmarket, Edge of Darkness . It may be unfashionable to put it so directly, but the exhibition, and our conversations about it, addressed the relationship between the failures of historical capitalist organisation and the religious ideas which had been subverted to make that organisation possible; as well as the reverse: the idealism and the realistic hopes that could be found within the same histories. Paul’s approach was an inspiration to me in bringing up many hitherto forgotten ideas and finding ways in which they might have a contemporary resonance. He was always concerned with art as a social discourse, and with the possibilties that art practice offered for philosophical or practical discussion. Rather than accept the art world as a commercial market, he preferred to make work that questioned the historical and philosophical foundations of the art world itself; work which synthesised both abstract and pragmatic questions and focused those questions in real, physical space.
Beyond this, Paul himself was a link between many different art communities. His openness and the range of his interests enabled him to make productive connections across what might otherwise have seemed to be conceptual boundaries, particularly in the Scottish art world. I’m going to miss him for that, and for many other reasons.
Will Bradley, writer and curator
‘He gave students self-confidence’
As a teacher at Edinburgh College of Art, Paul had a natural ability to inspire, animate and engage students, irrespective of experience or level. He possessed no ego that prevented him from teaching right across the spectrum. This generosity stemmed from a genuine interest in his students and their individuality, and a passionate involvement with art and with supporting the embryonic artist. Paul was equally magnanimous and committed, whether helping the complete novice to prepare an entrance portfolio or applying his knowledgeable and highly informed pedagogy to a sophisticated postgraduate or practice-led PhD student.
During his time in the School of Sculpture, Paul recruited generations of students. At an early stage, he enabled them to recognise the innate value of their own idiosyncrasies. He made them aware of contemporary art practice, encouraged in depth research in their ideas and emphasised the importance of context within their work. He had that special gift that imbued his students with total self-confidence and he fired them up by encouraging overwhelming ambition and courageous risk-taking.
Latterly, Paul’s predominant role was co-developing the curriculum and teaching on the MFA Sculpture postgraduate programme. Over the last two years, his charismatic and dynamic input there, and the motivating example he provided through his own vibrant professional practice, will long remain his legacy.
To his students and colleagues in the School of Sculpture, Paul was also a good friend who enjoyed a sociable conversation along with a fag and a pint.
Having personally taught Paul as a young undergraduate when he studied sculpture in Edinburgh and having watched him evolve to become one of Scotland’s foremost artists, I fondly recall his commitment, his presence, his great sense of humour, and his irrepressible desire to shake things up.
Carter747 will be remembered.
Professor Jake Harvey, Head of the School of Sculpture, Edinburgh College of Art