10 Minutes with… Rob & Nick Carter, Artist Couple
An interview with Rob and Nick Carter, Artist Couple
Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
A Little Background…
Rob and Nick Carter are a power couple indeed. An artistic husband-and-wife duo, the pair have been collaborating for over 20 years. The Carters’ work is centred on the boundaries between the analogue and the digital and has taken many mediums including camera-less photography, painting, installation, neon, sculpture, and time-based media.
One of their most highly-acclaimed works, the Transforming series, has been 10 years in the making and creates a unique intersection between the art of the past and cutting-edge computer-generated imagery. Their work is housed in the collections of the Frick, Pittsburgh; Mauritshuis, The Hague; Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; David Roberts Foundation, London; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; and the Fondation Custodia, Paris, as well as being the first living artists to show a work at the Frick Museum, New York.
1) Can you tell us about yourselves and your art?
Nicky (Nick) studied art history and painting and Rob comes from a photography background. Our working relationship began by Nicky painting on Rob’s photographs. The first artworks we created together were made in our dark room one sunny afternoon in 1998. We were stuck in the dark room creating abstract images with light on photographic paper. Once the images were processed Nicky applied paint to the prints. That evening a friend of ours Billy Brannigan came over for tea and bought our first three unique works, RN 1, 2 and 3 whilst they were still wet.
2) What’s your favourite piece so far?
For both of us our favourite works are from our Transforming series. The series was initially informed by the knowledge that museum visitors, on average look at a painting for a mere 5 seconds. In an attempt to inspire visitors to look for longer it became our ambition to create a body of work that rewarded viewers for the extra time spent looking, through the introduction of new and interesting elements. We want to slow the viewer down, draw them in, and make them re-examine the work.
Transforming Still Life Painting (2009-12), 3-Hour Looped Film, Computer, Frame | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
The series consists of 12 slow moving, looped films, which take Old Master works as their starting point. At one point each film resembles the original painting, drawing or photograph it is based on. For me (Nicky) my favourite artwork is the first work from this series, Transforming Still Life Painting, after Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573 – 1621).
Transforming Landscape Painting (2013-17), 2.5-Hour Looped Film, Monitor With Player, Frame | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
And for me (Rob) my favourite piece is Transforming Landscape Painting after John Constable (1776-1837). In both works every aspect of the paintings have been brought to life and the seamless loops take the painting scenes from dawn to dusk.
In Transforming Still Life Painting each flower has been informed by actual time-lapse footage of real flowers throughout the course of the day, making subtle shifts in bloom and direction as they turn to face the sun. Every few minutes the still life displays real-time activity, such as a caterpillar eating leaves. In Transforming Landscape Painting the landscape displays subtle shifts in colour and light as the clouds pass by, the sun moves in the sky and the stars and the moon emerge. Each blade of corn, each leaf on a tree and each ripple in the water has been informed by actual real time footage. It has been brought to life with over 7000 man- hours of digital animation.
3) What do you look to achieve from your art?
Our artwork has always been concerned with examining the boundaries between the traditional and the contemporary and the analogue and the digital. The mediums that we work in, whether it be photograms, CGI, or 3D printing, are driven by the desire to harness new technology, or reference historical processes, in a manner that wouldn’t have been previously possible.
Frida Kahlo, Robot Painting, Painting time: 49:17:16, Stroke count: 12,188 (8-18 March 2020), Acrylic On Wooden Board | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
Our most recent series of work is Dark Factory Portraits. Using AI and robotics we have taught a robotic arm to paint portraits. The series is the outcome of three years of advanced research and iterations developing the robot to paint in our desired style.
Andy Warhol, Robot Painting, Painting time: 38:56:00, Stroke count: 11,629 (29 February – 7 March 2020), Acrylic On Wooden Board | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
Portraits we have created include celebrated artists Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono. The robot is currently painting private portrait commissions.
Artists have always used tools at their disposal, we don’t see AI as any different than pop artists using found materials in their work in the 60s. We believe the use of robotics and AI will soon be another language within the realm of art. We are proud to be the first to paint with a robot in this way and look forward to seeing how other artists employ AI and robotics in their work.
4) Who is your work aimed at?
We wouldn’t say that our work was aimed at anyone in particular. As discussed with our Transforming series our aim is to slow any viewer down and make them look at works of art for longer. By using Old Masterworks as the starting point for this series we wanted audiences to re-engage with this genre and celebrate the original artworks. We hope that our artwork appeals to many generations.
Paint Pigment Photograph, Dioxazine Violet (2012), Cibachrome print, Diasec face mounted | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
Children have cloud spotted from our Paint Pigment Photographs and we have found that they comprehend the Transforming films easily as they are more accustomed to CGI. Other generations have been caught off guard, which has resulted in such enthusiasm for the works. In 2018 we showed all twelve Transforming artworks together at Masterpiece London. One lady thought she was looking at the original Still Life with Candle, Walnuts and a Mouse by Willem van Aelst until the mouse moved and she new something was a miss!
5) What’s it like working as an artist couple?
By working together we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other meaning our ideas are continually being refined. This feels like a very instinctive process for us so any critique or evaluations are integral to the progression of our artworks or concepts.
Paint Pigment Photograph, Zanderin Golden (2012), Cibachrome print, Diasec face mounted | Image courtesy of Rob and Nick Carter
6) How did you meet?
We met at school.
7) Favourite date?
A very long lunch!
8) What is the one thing that makes you both laugh the most?
Our daughters are very funny and make us smile all the time.
9) Which galleries have you worked with?
The Fine Art Society.
Ben Brown Fine Arts.
The Frick Museum. New York.
10) Can you tell about some of the projects exhibited?
We worked with the Fine Art Society for 10 years and held five exhibitions there with different bodies of work. We recently exhibited our Dark Factory Portraits with Ben Brown Fine Arts in Mayfair. This show has sadly now closed due to Covid 19. We were part of an exhibition Treasures from the Mauritshuis in 2012 to 2013 at The Frick Museum in New York launching our Transforming Still Life Painting.
11) Tips for aspiring artists?
Work hard, go to the studio every day if you can—as ideas come out of work, and always be nice to people.