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Ceramics artist makes the abstract concrete through work

By Staff | Jun 3, 2010

Andi McCarter in her studio.

Doors make Andi McCarter shudder with fear. They stir her imagination. They compel her to create often winding and curvy ceramic pieces… pieces that are both startling in their sense of foreboding and ethereal in their beauty.

The seasoned artist has really no choice in the matter. The pieces must be done to quell the roiling emotions she feels… Andi McCarter discovered one of her best friends dead behind a closed door — a closed door that she opened.

Distraught and unnerved by his death, McCarter chose to celebrate his life as well as purge her torment. One painted tile depicts a surreal kind of supernatural scene of swaying greyish blue trees and a solid brown door with a slight crack above. “That’s how the light gets in, no matter how closed the door appears,” McCarter said.

And the flecks of red gingerly dabbed about the piece seems to make concrete — in an abstract way — the macabre scene she encountered.

McCarter’s sage green eyes soften to a watercolor haze as she gazes out of her home studio’s window. She gropes with her eyes for the sweet things that surround her life and studio. An island bird gliding by, a tortoise lumbering through the grass, or her daughter, a young adult poet, peeking in the studio and encouraging her to take a walk.

It’s the chance that hope can take root and goodness will win in the end that makes McCarter pulse with new ideas and a seemingly bottomless inventory of ceramic pieces that include whimsical mosaics and intricately designed works. “I used to be afraid I would run out of ideas,” she said.

But the mostly self-taught artist carved out confidence and inspiration from the guidance of artists such world-renowned potter Don Reitz.

As she portrays in her art — which is comprised of mosaic sea creatures, musical themes and deeper, thought-provoking works such as her doors — McCarter extracted bits and pieces from each instructor she worked with. The Reitz mantra — “Do one important thing every day” — is perhaps the most influential piece of advice she lives by. “These things really stay with me,” she said.

McCarter chuckles in an inside-joke kind of way when she thinks back to her early days as a camp counselor in her hometown of Philadelphia. There, at 19, she started working with clay, trying to shape young minds to cultivate a love of art.

Many pieces of clay and art gallery exhibits later, the fifty-something artist is still trying to shape young minds through techniques she herself created. One of her favorite ways to help a child create is with narrative story-telling. She encourages her students to create stories to go along with the pieces they create — making them think as they work.

She loves the results.

“They have no boundaries,” McCarter said. “They’ll take risks.”

Up until this year McCarter worked as an art teacher at The Sanibel School. But when art got carved out of the school budget, McCarter was out a job. Still the perennial optimist found other ways to work with young minds. She is an an instructor at the Sanibel Rec Center and will be an art teacher at BIG ARTS Summer Camp program starting in June.

And, when she is not instructing children in group or private lessons, she is alone in her simple downstairs studio working. She revels in the earthy smell of ceramic pieces drying and of the many brightly-hued sculptures scattered about. But she mostly delights in the solitude.

And, ‘though McCarter is one of those artists who loves the rapport of fellow artisans, she also (like most creators) must have time alone to think, wonder and create. This is when she notices the tortoises saunter by on the lawn or hitches to a thought of something important that must be put to clay.

“I am being most creative when I am by myself,” she said.

It’s when the hum of jazz and other fine music playing from a small radio atop a shelf spreads through the room, to her ears, and through her hands that she feels the impulse to make things happen.

This is where her signature sea life creatures hand-cut from ceramic tiles seem to breathe life and take on the whimsy she sees in her head. And this is where the more abstract pieces, interspersed with color and dark shadows, come to be. McCarter’s studio becomes a wizard’s lair where transformations from the soul to clay come to be.

“My creativity is like a muscle,” she said. “I always have ideas on the back burner.”

Some of these ideas and ceramic creations can be seen at BIG ARTS on Sanibel, 2 Islands Art Gallery in South Seas Island Resort’s Chadwick’s Square on Captiva, Suncatcher’s Dream in the Olde Sanibel Shoppes and at the Sweet Art Gallery in Naples.

Her mosaics and sculptures can also be viewed at her website www.andimccarter.com.