Jim Carpenter is Camden Public Library’s January Artist of the Month

How one man found accidental art in the bottom of a paint bucket

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 8:45am

    CAMDEN — It was just an ordinary day for Jim Carpenter, who has worked in the paint department of EBS in Camden for about 10 years. The rote rituals of the day included interacting with customers, helping people choose the right products, ringing up purchases on the cash register and so forth. Every day, he does a nice thing that has nothing to do with his job. He prints out and displays the day’s weather forecast for the working guys who come in, so they can anticipate their week.

    But something happened one day, a confluence of happenstance that would change the way Carpenter viewed the ordinary tasks of his job.  When people want a certain color of paint mixed, he’s there to do it. But first, each day he has to purge the paint machines so that the dispensers that produce the colorants (the pigments that make up color) are free and clear. On this day, things got a little interesting when a coworker gave him a brand new white bucket to purge the colorants out of the paint machines.

    As the mixture of pigments flowed into the bucket, they naturally swirled into extraordinary colors and patterns. “That was the first time I really saw the designs come out,” he said. “I’m looking at this and thought, ‘Wow, this is really beautiful.’”

    Carpenter just so happened to have a good camera nearby. “I was always into photography,” he said. “We have this thing at EBS called the ‘Biscuit Club’ for the dogs, so I had my camera on hand to take pictures of the dogs once they got their biscuit.”

    This time he took a photo of that colorant mixture. And each morning thereafter, when he cleaned out the bucket, he looked forward to seeing the new patterns.

    “Colorant is not the same as paint. It’s made up of pure pigment like red oxide for the color red. I started realizing that if I manipulated the colorants a little bit, move them around, I could make certain designs. The way they would blend together was fascinating,” he said.

    Without trying to, Carpenter found himself drawn to the idea of accidental art. A self-taught photographer who has always enjoyed capturing the beauty that surrounds him, he began to go a step further than just taking photos of what he saw. He photographed the additional patterns made when colorants flowed into a paint can before they were shaken up to be made into paint. He experimented with certain vessels that could catch the colorants — white bowls, sometimes a thin layer on the paint can itself — just to see what else he could produce. Sometimes, he’d take a tool and physically move the swirls of the colorant to evoke something else — like Dragon of the Sea, a photograph he took after manipulating the patterns.

    By using varying techniques, he then evolved the process by enhancing the designs in Photoshop and created his “Paint Can Art” prints. He often prints his work on metal or on metallic paper for the added brilliance and sheen of the metal.

    “There might not be anything spectacular in the colorants themselves, until I’d zeroed in with the camera. And then I’d find an area that dispersed itself in certain ways and I’d take the photo of that. And in Photoshop, I’d enhance the image to really make the colors pop,” he said.

    Each design is unique, for the medium he uses changes so rapidly that only a photograph could capture it. “It’s an unstable medium because the colorants never dry like paint. It’s not like painting on a canvas,” he said. “The colorants are like mud and when they harden, they crack and start to fall out like a jigsaw puzzle.”

    The result is a series of photographs in Carpenter’s “Paint Can Art” display. He will be showing his artwork at the Camden Public Library Saturday, Jan. 18, at 2 p.m. There will be a reception and all are welcome. This will be Carpenter’s fourth show. He also keeps a few photographs up at EBS, so the next time you’re in, check out the paint department and talk to the artist himself.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com