Carolita Cantrell: Spirited Vision
Growing up in Atlanta, GA, Carolita Cantrell recounts that when she was very young she had to take a nap every day. She asked if she had to sleep or if she could draw instead. A young Carolita told her father that she wanted to be a doctor and her father told her that women could not be doctors (how times have changed!) she then said well, if I can’t be a doctor, I want to be an artist to which her father replied that she wouldn’t make much money. She has been making art ever since in a variety of media: paint, sculpture, wax, pastel and watercolor. It is the creative process and not necessarily the end result that excites her. Cantrell, formally Harvin, lived in Sumter for many years raising her family of four. She remarried Frank Cantrell in the mid-‘80s, living in Columbia and then Banner Elk, NC before moving to Nevis, West Indies where she lived for 11 years before returning to Sumter in 2017.
In Nevis, the island environment and the local population indelibly influenced her work. It was there that she began to explore abstraction, which she is still exploring. Cantrell notes, “There was a lot of mysticism on the island, an almost dreamlike state.” This sense of mysticism has been incorporated in her recent work.
These days, Cantrell rises, goes to her studio, turns on the NPR classical music station (two of her favorites are Chopin and Beethoven), and paints. She paints exclusively in oils, preferring the intensity of the color, although some earlier paintings included in the exhibition are acrylic. Cantrell is difficult to categorize. She moves effortlessly from one medium to another, from one style to another. She is an artist confident in her abilities and vision and also wise enough not to sweat the details. On her walls hang grand, formal mosaics constructed of cereal and snack boxes (Cantrell cut and assembled all the “tiles” herself and says she found the process meditative), sublime self-portraits and bright, enigmatic abstracts. Her work draws resemblance to art historical movements such as Surrealism, Expressionism and early Byzantine iconography while existing in a space entirely of its own.
When she is not painting, Cantrell enjoys a healthy social life with fellow artist Deane Ackerman and a cadre of formidable Sumter women: Barbara Burchstead, Sister Wimberly, and Mary Shaw. She is also an active grandmother, “Muv” and great grandmother to her extended Sumter/Charleston/New Orleans family.
Cantrell studied art at the New York Academy of Art under Bruce Dorfman, the University of South Carolina and the Atlanta Art Institute. At University of SC she studied under Boyd Saunders, Philip Mullen, and J. Bardin who told Cantrell “don’t try to be different for the sake of being different, be good and that will be different enough”.
She has been in many solo and group exhibitions including a solo exhibitions of her silks at the Sumter County Gallery of Art in 2008. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s she won many competitive awards in exhibitions including a Best in Show and two Purchase awards.
Making art is all I’ve ever done. Since the age of three when I was given permission to draw instead of nap, I have been doing it ever since in some form: paint, dye, sculpture, wax, pastel, water color and any other thing I could get my hands on in order to convey an image. I am in love with the creative process, no matter what form it takes and I hope my love for this kind of creative adventure shows in my work. Art for me is like breathing. I cannot imagine not doing it. I’ve worked in many forms through the years: portraits, three dimensional, published maps, murals, rug design, etc. I have also taught art. My work keeps evolving – it a living thing. When I paint now, I proceed much like the novelist who says he/she starts with an inspiration, but soon the characters take on a life of their own and go another way. The same is with me. Soon after I begin the painting starts telling me where it wants to go and I just get out of the way of letting the work find its own voice and speak for itself.