Call & Response

A Q&A with Basalt-Based Artist Richard Carter

For the Bauhaus centennial, the prolific painter looks back on his career-defining experience as an apprentice to design luminary Herbert Bayer.

By As Told to Andrew Travers February 19, 2019 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Painter Richard Carter and some of his artwork


Image: Karl Wolfgang

Aspen Sojourner: How did you become Herbert Bayer’s assistant as a 26-year-old in 1972?
Richard Carter: It was completely by accident. I came here to make art in 1971 and got a job doing concrete and labor work. We couldn’t work one day; it was raining. I ran into a writer from the Aspen Times who said, “You know, Herbert Bayer is looking for an assistant.” I said, “Who is Herbert Bayer?” So I went to the library and looked in the books and thought, “Holy shit, that’s Bauhaus! Fantastic!” My work at the time was extremely geometric. He interviewed me twice, and I got the job. He said, “You will learn by doing.” Typical Bauhaus.

What were your workdays like?
I’d drive up to his studio on Red Mountain—this fabulous little Bauhaus house. He’d show up to work dressed quite nattily. Then he’d put on his apron and stand at his easel or sit at his desk. He was very tidy. He had this beautiful glass studio with a fire pit and seating area and big glass walls looking out at the mountains. The house was full of fantastic art that he’d collected. 

Bayer worked hard even when he was in his seventies. 
That was great to see as a young artist. It’s not all just romance. That was a valuable lesson.

What was he like as a boss?
He was very nice, but he was never the type of guy that was going to go have a beer with me after work at the Red Onion.

What type of projects did you assist on?
He worked on everything, which had a great effect on my work, because I work on everything, too. Painting was the main thing for him. He’d give me a small acrylic sketch—12 by 12 or 14 by 14—and then he’d say, “Let’s do this 80 inches by 80 inches.” I’d sketch the canvas, prime it, paint it, and, of course, change it. We also did architectural models, cartoons for tapestries, maquettes, a lot of silk-screen work. And a lot of the environmental things—I didn’t work on the [grass] mounds at the Aspen Institute; those were before my time—but he was working on drawings for those types of things. 

Your career has taken a similar trajectory; you work as a fine-art painter but have also done commercial-art projects and Hollywood film production design.
The important thing for me was Bayer’s multidisciplinary approach. That has totally influenced my work.  He was adventurous in all the things he did. A lot of it was corporate, because [oil tycoon and philanthropist] R.O. Anderson had hired him to be the design consultant for Atlantic Richfield. The biggest project I worked on was the Atlantic Richfield Tower in Los Angeles. They built these two granite towers downtown, and in the big plaza between them, there’s a giant, red Bayer spiral sculpture in a pool. And we did carpets, tapestries, furniture for all 51 stories.

It sounds like it was a true old-school apprenticeship.
It was. Bayer also had an enormous library, and he let me borrow color-theory books. When I look back, it’s just tremendous that I was able to somehow be involved. 

And you stayed with Bayer for seven years?
The last two years [I worked for him] he was in Montecito, California. He had to move for his health, because of the altitude [in Aspen]. I went back and forth for a while to help him get his studio set up in Santa Barbara.

In the decades since then, do you feel like people in Aspen today still understand and appreciate Bayer and the Bauhaus?
If you stood on a street corner and asked people who live here, if they’re under 50, I’d bet only 1 out of 10 would know who Herbert Bayer is. And maybe 1 in 25 would know what the Bauhaus is. But both are so responsible for the modern look of everything—it’s in typography, graphics, furniture, interiors.

The yearlong Bauhaus 100 celebration in Aspen may change that. As part of it, you have a Bauhaus-themed show at the Launchpad in Carbondale opening in June. 
I dug up a bunch of paintings that were in storage and with friends. They’re called the Radial Series, because they use this circle motif. They’re all paintings that were done in 1972, 1973. I’m the last living genetic thread of Bauhaus in Aspen. 

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