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Press Release

Release Date: August 08, 2018
by Gene Lehmann

NORMAN, Okla. – Larry Carter’s niche in the Native American art scene is expanding and he hopes to influence contemporary art shows in the future.

Framed prints of paintings by Carter, a Chickasaw citizen, were presented to Indian Health Service (IHS) professionals at a recent awards ceremony hosted at Riverwind Casino near Norman.

His art will be displayed at many IHS facilities throughout Indian Country, a fact that pleases Carter immensely.

“I am learning and pushing myself to improve and engage viewers,” the Noble resident said. He is experimenting. He is taking a weekly three-house course where a model poses for artists, and he has linked up with Leslie Pate, owner of Tribes 131, a Native-exclusive art gallery in Norman. He is hoping to expand his art exhibits in more contemporary settings as well.

Carter’s unique, brilliantly colored, textured abstract art – with hidden images no two individuals discern completely alike – is evolving.

The longtime University of Oklahoma employee still brings a fascinating color palate to many of his paintings; more subdued images to others and has incorporated images instantly recognized by art lovers.

The background in Carter’s recent “Black Hills Gold” remains true to his abstractionist lilt, yet yields to realism with two tepee lodges on the sun-drenched, windy South Dakota plains, where Oglala and Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arikara have dwelled for centuries.

“Chickasaw Hunter” harkens back to Carter’s signature work. An archer, blended within hundreds of fantastic colors, prepares to pierce his quarry in a setting that will differ in the mind’s eye of each individual art admirer.


At 53, Carter has been painting a number of years, but only dedicated himself to abstract genres approximately four years ago. Before 2014, his paintings reflected what he believed was “accepted” art; landscapes or deer cautiously leaving the woodlands to graze in a grassy meadow.

Now, his work is evolving into a mixture of abstraction coupled with realism.

“I never know where a painting is going to go,” he said with a wide smile. “I have a vision of what the painting will be but it can turn out to be something completely out of left field before it is finished,” he said.

Another joyous element of his art is when art patrons discover an “image” in his paintings he did not know was there.

Tribes 131 accepted his work in January for exhibit. Two art shows have followed. Leslie Pate recognized Carter’s talent and was lured by the hidden images – or perceived images – in his paintings. She encouraged him to expand his repertoire, as did his wife of more than 30 years, T.J., a Montana-born Oklahoma transplant.

“My wife is my best friend and my personal art critic and supporter. T.J. has a critical eye. Her suggestions are gems. I am so glad she is at my side as I embark on new challenges to step up to a new level,” he said.

With the critical eye of T.J. and Pate’s support in the gallery, Larry Carter paintings are selling at a pace “greater than ever before,” he said. Pate is advancing his work to art patrons and to organizations, such as the IHS awards ceremony, to promote his talent, vision and efforts. In fact, several of his accepted works for IHS were purchased by attendees at the awards ceremony.

“Leslie is responsible for prints of my paintings being awarded to Indian health professionals,” he said. “I am thrilled and may have the opportunity to do it again next year.”

The Carter Brand

“I guess since the first painting I completed won an award, I have wanted to get my name out there among Native artists … well, all artists really,” he explained. “My art has improved. I can see it and so can T.J. Honing skills takes a lot of time. I’ve learned a lot from other artists just by looking at their finished paintings and by visiting with them when the opportunity arises,” he said.

When Pate agreed to represent him and exhibit his art in her gallery, Carter was “short” on exhibit-quality material. “I think I completed 30 paintings in two months to flesh out my gallery presence,” he said. “Many of the works I did during that time are being given as awards. One (painting) was purchased by the Chickasaw Nation recently,” he added. The painting of an eagle in full flight was titled “Toward the Rising Sun.” A print of it was given to IHS award-winners.

He also credits a feature story in the Chickasaw Times with fostering his brand among Chickasaw art lovers. Carter exhibited paintings in the Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center off Interstate 35 for several months in 2016. “It went very well and I was pleased my art was introduced to thousands of people,” Carter said.

A painting titled “Native American” – an abstract of a Native with an American flag draped across his upper torso – intuitively spoke to all who viewed it. So powerful was the message, Carter put it on T-shirts. The shirt was a best-seller at art shows, the original painting was purchased at the IHS awards ceremony.

“War Bonnet” and “Signing of the Treaty” are emotionally stirring abstracts as well.

The Flatlands

But Carter’s exploration of himself, his art, his tribe and his Chickasaw heritage have taken him to an unusual place – the Great Plains.

Chickasaws are not indigenous to the Plains. The tribe is a southeastern woodland tribe, one of the first to encounter European explorers in 14th century Mississippi.

“The historical experience of Native Americans and Europeans has a common thread. It may differ from tribe to tribe but the consequential outcome is the same,” the artist said.

Carter’s foreboding abstract “Cimarron Trial” brings the viewer to a branch of the Santa Fe Trail particularly harsh. The trail began in Independence, Missouri, moved through Kansas into the mesa of the Oklahoma panhandle and ended in Santa Fe, New Mexico, some 770 miles total.

After wagon trains and trekkers passed the Arkansas River (near present-day Fort Dodge, Kansas), little water lay ahead. In drought, there would be no water. That explains the beast of burden skull that dominates Carter’s painting. A traveler, hat low on his brow, illustrates hardships of the trek.

A recently completed abstract titled “When Ponies Ruled the Plains” pays homage to the importance of horses to American Plains Indians. Two tepees and three steeds are illustrated in the painting. It allows the viewer to image any story they wish to imagine.

Chickasaw historian Towana Spivey has said horses were largely unavailable to Native Americans until the 1680 Pueblo Revolt where hundreds of Spaniards were sent fleeing or killed when the Pueblo and Apache tribes attacked them.

Horses – so vital to Plains tribes for travel and hunting – became common among the southwestern tribes following the battle.

Two paintings, “Red Dirt Riders” and “Painted Horse” honor the importance of the animal in Indian culture. In the first, a group of Natives ride along a ridge somewhere in the Oklahoma flatlands. In the other, the respect Natives had for horses – painting them before important events – is central to Carter’s theme. Natives did not trade horses. They were far too valuable to tribes for hunting and in war and peace.

Carter spent a few years working in Montana, where he met his wife. The American Indian presence in Montana is large and those years have influenced Carter, especially as he broadens his artistic undertakings.

“I am a proud Chickasaw artist,” he said. “The culture and lifestyle of all tribes interest me. I think the Native American history is American history. That opens the door to lots of paintings and I am anxious to explore them all,” he said.

A self-taught painter, Carter said his emphasis on abstract art came to be through a realization his realism works could not compete with artists who do it for a living. “I am never going to be the most talented artist in realism, but I can be the most interesting and the talented with abstracts. I want my paintings to reach out and grab a viewer. There isn’t a better feeling than when someone finds something in my painting that I didn’t see. My paintings are for you to decide what is included in the work,” he added.

His work is available to purchase at Tribes 131, located at 313 24th Avenue NW. Art lovers can enjoy many artistic endeavors by following him at Big Sky Sooner Art on Facebook and can communicate with Carter via Facebook Messenger.