Beth Carter received her degree in Fine Art from Sunderland University in the United Kingdom. In 1995, she was awarded 1st prize in the “Northern Graduate Show ‘95” at The Royal College of Art, London. Afterwards, she traveled to Sri Lanka and India to study mythological sculpture. She later traveled to New Zealand, Mexico, Gambia, Kenya and Tanzania to further explore the precedents for this genre of sculpture. Her work has been shown in the US and abroad and appears in private collections throughout Europe, Asia and the US.
– The instincts are a far better protection than all the intellectual wisdom in the world. – C G Jung
Beth Carter’s world of sculpture and drawing features a cornucopia of dream-like, circus, or half man-half beast shape-shifters who at their core embody the contrasts characterised in Robert Browning’s ‘dangerous edge of things’- honest thieves, tender murderers, superstitious atheists. A wolf appears to contemplate his kill pityingly, while a fox steals into the night with a pheasant, which on closer inspection he holds delicately, in human hands, the bird appearing potentially injured rather than ripe for plucking.
Carl Jung talked about dream animals being frightening, or ‘minatory’; about how they would often appear to the subconscious engaging in strange behaviour or exaggerated in size. This he claimed was connected to how we deal with our instincts, our inner nature; about coping with our raison d’être. The human being it seems, reveals himself to be prone simultaneously to contradictory forces, accommodating the tendency to be both ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ in this chimeric hinterland.
Some of Beth’s sculptures, despite engendering intuitive, emotional or animal responses, take as their cue her own life experience. Particularly significant is the death in recent years of her artist father, a physically imposing, larger-than- life figure who was prone to depression. Looking at her minotaur creations, the largest of these is physically impressive, but with his head lowered he appears trapped in his own labyrinth, shorn of his power, rendered gentle. Another minotaur has his attention fixed in concentration on a moth cupped delicately in his hands. Beth describes how in a large chaotic family her father’s discovery of reading changed his life and helped him to be more contemplative.
In Man and Dog, though it is not the black dog of depression, the baleful figure’s closed eyes shrouded in gauze take on a pensive, inward demeanour. Like most of her standing figures, the stance is diffident, demur even. The dog is heavy, but the man’s head is bowed in acceptance of his fate as carrier, the little clown’s hat bringing a touch of pathos to the piece.
Figures which should carry threat are often disarmed by innocence. Standing Elephant depicts an adolescent boy’s lower body touching his pachyderm face self-consciously. Grinder’s Monkey seems less trickster and more a figure being comforted by his diminutive sidekick. Both monkey and elephant stand, as with Man and Dog, awkwardly, as if embarrassed by their very presence. The Frink-like Boxer has his head uncharacteristically raised (most figures look bashfully downward) though this seems only to emphasise that he may have taken a battering. His fighting days are surely numbered.
It is a notable irony that the smallest sculpture in the show wears a crown, and looks optimistically out towards the sunny uplands. The little guy is king. This is a typically oxymoronic trope, an elision of contrasting ideas that invites further consideration. Indeed the choice of animals is itself significant, the monkey and elephant with their highly developed intelligence calling to mind the gods Hanuman and Ganesh; or indeed the dogs, horses and bulls, which we can also in our global village spot as emissaries to the after-life, depicted on ancient walls from Lhasa or Luxor. The animist symbolism runs deep. These messengers, amid ill-fitting hats and masks and tassels, are somehow familiar to us, and part of the fun of considering their import is figuring out why. Or as Yeats put it, The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.