In a fantastical cornucopia of color, form, and gesture, Nathan Carter presents the story of a fictional punk rock band who call themselves The DRAMASTICS. The band, and the world Carter created for them, are the focus of his first video titled The DRAMASTICS are Loud (2016), which tells the story of the group’s rise to stardom in a series of vignettes, starting with The DRAMASTICS’ formation at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas and ending incredibly with a world tour finale in Paris.
The band, and the world Carter would create for them, invaded the artist’s imagination in 2014 when he began a series of figurative drawings depicting pirates, scoundrels, and heroines wearing radical party dresses, exaggerated capes, and lethal stiletto heels set in surreal theatrical scenes. With a desire to further animate these characters, Carter cut out 10-inch paper figures, mounted them to wire, and gave them names, personalities, and backstories as amateur musicians who form a punk rock & roll band. He then developed a narrative around the brief but incendiary career of the band, led by star vocalist Molly Blowout together with the scholarly electric guitarist Crimson Ivy, bass player Melancholly, and the foul-mouthed Amazonian drummer, Calamity. The characters come alive in Carter’s short film, The DRAMASTICS are Loud (2016), with a script the artist wrote in collaboration with real-life women closer in age to their fictional counterparts. He also wrote and recorded music for the film, taking as inspiration such all-female punk rock and roll groups as The Slits, L7, and Le Tigre, and the musicians Exene Cervenka, Teri Gender Bender, Joan Jett, Louise Post, and Poly Styrene. Throughout the film, The DRAMASTICS inhabit dioramas Carter built out of plywood, plastic, and painted paper that represent places a touring band might visit, which the artist describes as: “a steamy, malodorous rehearsal space, and an intimidating recording studio, and various exotic locations to perform live, including the Saigon City Roller Discotek, a High Desert generator party, and a full-scale model of Paris, France for the film’s final scene.”
Throughout production of The DRAMASTICS are Loud, Carter was also making a group of parallel objects that reflect his longtime engagement with abstraction. This series, titled Always Good Looks, comprises life-size paper party dresses, painted crepe de chine silk scarves, hand-painted skirts, squad jackets, capes, jewelry, and most importantly for Carter, Fascinators—colorful geometric reliefs that are reminiscent of Matisse paper cutouts, which the artist occasionally enlarges with found aluminum he then paints and collages together. The series Always Good Looks emerged from Carter’s desire to create festive, eye-catching costumes for his paper characters, but instead became life-size manifestations of the world he was creating for The DRAMASTICS. Bringing to mind the work of such modernists as Joan Miró and Alexander Calder and comprising film, music, performance, dioramas, and an amalgam of textiles, collages, and works on paper, playfully engages both abstraction and figuration, painting and sculpture.
In his own words, the artist explains:
In the spring of 2014, a surprise first-time occurrence unfolded in my studio: I made a series of drawings depicting human figures. The characters looked like pirates in theatrical scenes. They were wearing long dresses and capes and they had very long, wavy hair and carried weapons. I put myself in the drawings; I wore a blue mini dress with red lining, light blue thigh-high tights, and red peep-toes. I had a handlebar mustache and carried a torch.
I wanted to activate these figures by giving them a story, so I decided to write and direct a video about a punk rock band who call themselves The DRAMASTICS. The story begins on the roof of the Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, Texas, where lead vocalist Molly Blowout and her electric guitar-playing friend Crimson Ivy make big plans to start a band, write songs, make posters and costumes, and go on a world tour along with Melancholly (their terminally anxious bass player), and Calamity (a 7-foot-tall, foul-mouthed street tough drummer from Detroit Rock City).
I made sure to listen to voices closer to the ages of the women in the band. I tried to pick up their coded language and made careful notes when I heard someone say something exciting. I spent days walking around the city, listening to music, and occasionally stopping to write down all of the stories and humorous vignettes I could remember about my own experiences trying to make music in a high school band. With the help of a close friend who is an actor and a playwright, my notes on language and anecdotes began to take the form of a script.
I developed the four band members by constructing 10-inchtall, handmade figures out of paper, glue, aluminum wire, and paint. I gave each band member a distinct look and personality. Next, I made dioramas using found plywood, plastic, and painted paper background scenes for the character to inhabit. The dioramas look like places a touring band might visit: a steamy, malodorous rehearsal space, and not an intimidating recording studio, and various exotic locations to perform live, including the Saigon City Roller Discotek, a High Desert generator party, and a full-scale model of Paris, France for the film’s final scene.
The activity of world-building felt like inventing and playing with punk dolls in their punk dollhouse. The entire process, of improvising and building and recording and filming, was like making a DIY basement recording. All of it looked and sounded immediate, fast, loose, and loud. Meticulous craft took a backseat to enthusiasm.
By the winter of 2016, the accumulation of sculptures, drawings, sets, and lights made it physically hard to move around my studio. I was writing and recording the music in one corner and recording the characters’ voices in another. A small group of friends became the film crew. They operated the figures in the dioramas while I moved the camera around. In an unspoken exchange, my studio became their dance hall, fueled by a steady supply of fresh guacamole, quesadillas, handles of Tito’s, Parliaments, weed, and 50,000 watts of sound system bangers and anthems. It was like a gang of rabid peacocks invaded my studio and started a weekly party, leaving their colorful feathers behind and cigarette burns everywhere. The feathers were eventually repurposed for part of the final scene in Paris.
Nathan Carter was born in Dallas, Texas in 1970. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and earned his master of fine art from Yale University in 1999. He has had solo exhibitions at such venues as MURA: Museo de Arte Raul Anguiano, Guadalajara (2009); Onestar Press, Paris (2010); Blaffer Art Museum, Houston, TX (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2016). He has also participated in a number of group exhibitions, including Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy, Orange County Contemporary Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA (traveled to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX) (2011-12); The Map as Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO (2012-13); 2013 Annual Summer Exhibition, The Fields Sculpture Park, Omi International Arts Center, Ghent, NY (2013); Art from Elsewhere: International Contemporary Art from UK Galleries, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (2014); and Art from Elsewhere: International Contemporary Art from UK Galleries, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol (2016). Carter lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of Casey Kaplan and Esther Schipper. Film screening and live performance in collaboration with the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Family SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival.