During the past 15 years, artist Bill Carman has grown accustomed to Idaho's quiet lifestyle and accessibility to fishing holes. But Carman's recent success on the national art market has limited his presence in Boise. Now, after a three-year hiatus from local gallery walls, Carman isn't sure what to expect ahead of his new solo exhibition, which debuts Saturday, March 16, at Brumfield's Gallery in Hyde Park.
"This is the first time in years that I've had a show here," said Carman, lamenting his absence on the local art scene. "I wanted to maintain a presence here, you know, and I've sort of failed at that a little bit."
That's in part because the past few years have been hectic for Carman. He received gold and silver medals from the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators, and his work has regularly graced the walls at Nucleus in east Los Angeles and AFA in New York City.
Carman's upcoming show will be his first at gallery owner Jane Brumfield's new spot in Hyde Park, a spacious, open storefront she called "much brighter and more functional" than the Basement Gallery, which she used to own. Brumfield said an artist's hiatus can be a good thing for art fans, but you don't want to push it by staying away for too long.
"I actually really do think that once an artist is very well known in an area, [it's good to] give a nice healthy gap between shows--and I think the ideal gap's about 18 months,"she said. "So, like I say, this is longer than I would have liked it."
Brumfield has been planning the show since the end of Carman's 2010 exhibition at the Basement Gallery.
"The dates kind of kept sliding and changing because of his other commitments until it got to a point where I think he felt embarrassed at sliding the dates any further," explained Brumfield. "And I don't let go of a bone, I will just carry on, and kind of say, 'So when's the show? So when's the show?'"
Fans are drawn to Carman's work for his dark imagination. He produces magical creatures, like pearlescent narwhals and mysterious monocle-wearing characters, which he translates to the page with a technical skill honed over decades.
"3 Wishes" is one of two dozen pieces that will be part of his Boise show. It features ivory-horned characters swathed in baby blue paint. In the middle, a white-haired girl stands resolute, despite approaching beasts.
"He's extraordinary. He's got a wild and kind of macabre, humorous, amazing mind. He's really twisted, and delightfully so," said Heidi Leigh, director at New York City's AFA gallery.
Carman has also made some fans on the West Coast. Los Angeles' Nucleus has shown Carman's work in eight different exhibits in the past few years. In fact, Carman's piece "Octoplasty," featuring a tentacled creature clad in a suit, was featured in the show The Animal Kingdom at Nucleus last month.
While a lot of artists have devoted years to training and polishing their craft, Nucleus co-owner and art director Wade Buchanan said Carman is in a class apart.
"His technical skill is just above par, by far," Buchanan said.
Though Carman's work sells well at larger galleries in bigger cities, he's adamant that he has no plans to move from Boise now or in the future.
"There's no reason to leave, really, for me," said Carmen. "I'm started, I don't need to do that kind of a thing now."
This will be Carman's most recent gallery show in Boise, but he also provided illustrations for the creatures featured in Boise Contemporary Theater's A Nighttime Survival Guide, which ran through March 2.
"I'm curious, more than anything, to see if people remember me," he said. "My shows were always really well-attended, and they sold a lot of work. My prices have gone up unfortunately--because, you know you start to sell in New York and L.A. and then I can't bring them way down here, because it's unfair to my other galleries in the market and people who own work."
Despite the hiatus, Brumfield is positive the show will draw a good crowd. To create the core of the exhibit, the gallery paid up-front for Carman's work--something they only do when they're confident it will sell.
Brumfield assembled a range of Carman's work that runs from $200 to $3,500 to create more price points for Boise patrons. She also put to bed any notion that Boise audiences had forgotten about the artist. She mentioned the 2012 Boise Weekly cover art auction, where his "To Be a Milker of Giant Bees One Must Be Well Armored" went for $1,500.
But if Boiseans prove reluctant to buy, Brumfield will look to out-of-state collectors. She also has her eye on a few pieces for herself.
"I've already picked out the ones that I'm going to take home if they don't sell," Brumfield laughed. "I do have to try to sell them to other people, my husband keeps telling me that."
But setting aside sales and the demands of the national art market, Carman said it's important for him to continue showing work in his hometown.
"Having shows was always that thing I wanted to do here, and keep doing," he said. "I think it's important to be a part of the local community even if you're doing things in other places."