Abstract painting

Larry Carter connects to heritage through abstract painting; Chickasaw locksmith turned artist gain

CONTRIBUTED BY Gene Lehmann, Media Relations., Media Relations.

This article appeared in the January 2016 edition of the Chickasaw Times

TISHOMINGO, Okla. – Hidden in the fiery colors of a Larry Carter canvas is the essence of his Native American heritage.

“There’s a point of personal satisfaction when I know an art lover ‘sees’ what they first overlooked,” the Noble, Oklahoma resident said with a smile.

It’s not always difficult to spot the central theme of the abstract artist’s work – yet often it is.

Mr. Carter’s Bear Witness is a good example. Art festival aficionados know that “something” lurks in green, blue, yellow and red. The painting requires a few scans of the beholder’s eye to make the final decision… “hey, that’s a bear.”

Another work by Carter is titled “War Bonnet”. Finding the feathered bonnet is not difficult. Discovering the warrior who puts it on requires mental gymnastics.

“It’s a painting that’s the hardest (for others) to decipher,” Carter said. “I frequently emphasize the forehead, eyes, nose and chin so that the viewer can fully appreciate the warrior amidst the cornucopia of colors used to create him.”

Using palette knives and – reluctantly – a paintbrush for intricate detail, the Chickasaw artist finds himself at age 51 in the final chapter of his life. He is self-taught, painting for only five years and devoting a mere 20 months to abstract art incorporating Native American themes. .


Mr. Carter worked for the University of Oklahoma for 20 years, eight of them as supervisor of the locksmith department.

“I pick locks,” he says.

His broad smile signals that he expects expressions of shock and disgust when he offers a three-word job description sounding like a crime.

“I learned it from my dad,” he jokes, adding an uncomfortable level of ambivalence for those within earshot.

His career as a locksmith turns out to be fortuitous.

Born in Oklahoma City, a graduate of Noble High School, Mr. Carter attended OU for two years before moving to Montana to join his father’s locksmith business.

He landed in Bozeman, Montana. For a decade he struggled. But he also did something else – he imbibed the mastery of the famous Western oil painter Charles Russell and other art giants who found solace and creative inspiration in the vast expanse of the Big Sky Country. American.

“I love hunting and fishing,” he says. “I hunted deer and elk as often as I could.”

Scenic mountain ranges spilled into splendid meadows followed by seemingly endless plateaus. He was unaware of it, but the artist was picking the lock on his own mind, acquiring information – colors, themes, animals, terrain, sunlight, shadows – that he would turn into a canvas near two decades later.


His work is in the home of University of Oklahoma President David Boren and also hangs in the office of OU Dean of Students Clarke Stroud. Mr. Carter donated them, but two other works by Carter were purchased by the university and adorn the walls of the Stephenson Research and Technology Center.

Five years ago, the artist and his Montana-born wife, TJ, chose a painting for his office. He captures an elk in the desert.

“I can do it!” he exclaimed.

He bought a beginner’s oil painting kit. Imagery of his hunting adventures in Montana flooded his mind. He lightly brushed the canvas. What emerged was a deer standing in the foreground of a dark and mysteriously beautiful forest, head held high sniffing out danger. Mr. Carter signed him up for an OU staff talent show.

He won first place.

“The paint wasn’t even dry,” he said. “I have often wondered what would have happened if someone had realized that this was my first painting and that it had been done using a rudimentary beginner’s artist kit.”


Until 20 months ago, his work consisted of realism – landscapes, wildlife, even a portrait of his son, Kael.

Then Rocky Hawkins appeared on Mr. Carter’s radar. Mr. Hawkins was born in Seattle in 1950 and enjoys an international following.

“I saw his work and it completely inspired me,” Mr. Carter said. “He (Hawkins) paints an abstract. He then sits down and studies her. He allows the abstract to tell him what he is supposed to become.

Larry Carter is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. He votes in tribal elections. His ancestry has been known to him since childhood. But he will be the first to admit that his Chickasaw blood did not inspire his art until he began to follow Mr. Hawkins’ method of abstract painting.

“I don’t look like a Native American at all,” Carter observed. Indeed, her complexion is clear. His hair and mustache are a mixture of colors that resemble his paintings.

Following Hawkins’ technique, Mr. Carter’s summaries spoke to him in a decidedly Native American language.

“The connection amazed me,” he said. “I saw warriors, brave men, horses, bison. I saw the trail of tears. Ninety-nine percent of my abstracts are Aboriginal-themed. I now say “I am a Chickasaw artist and this is what I paint”.

He is also an American patriot. Old Glory is painted often because “the red, white and blue scream to be painted.

“The beauty of abstract is this: a part of your heart is contained in the work and you decide which part of it touches your soul,” said the artist. “He will speak to you in a way that others won’t understand or even understand. Your relationship with her is what it becomes.