RHS senior wins Scholastic gold medal

Economics and art don’t have much in common, but a Ridgefield High School senior has blended them together in his paintings.

Will Carpenter creates abstract paintings that touch upon real subjects, such as white collar crime.

“I’ve painted about insider trading, embezzlement, blackmail, extortion,” he said, “the underbelly of business.”

But he doesn’t go for the obvious.

“I try to make it more abstract than just a realistic representation,” said the Princeton-bound student, “a little more thought-provoking than someone taking money from somebody else. I don’t expect someone to look at that and say, ‘Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about.’ I just want them to get the feel of my concentration.”

Carpenter told The Press this week he gets his inspiration from masters of surrealism, such as van Gogh, and Edwardian portraitists, like John Singer Sargent.

He has produced several award-winning paintings — one of which, Union Inc., received a national gold medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition.

The awards are the nation’s longest-running, and most prestigious, recognition program for creative teens in seventh through 12th grade.

This year more than 330,000 works of art and writing were submitted to the Scholastic competition. Fewer than 1% were recognized at the national level.

“I was thrilled to win the award, it was awesome,” Carpenter said.

“I knew I had some chance, but I wasn’t really waiting on it with that much optimism. I didn’t really know, the odds were very small.”

Class and leisure

The high school senior is almost finished with his white collar crime series — an assignment of 12 paintings for his AP studio art class.

He’s taken art courses throughout his time at RHS, but aside from a few workshops with his sister when he was 8, he’s never had training outside of what’s offered at school.

He also paints for himself.

A few months ago, Carpenter found an old typewriter that he’s been using to make portraits of his family, friends, and even some famous faces, like Frank Sinatra and Emma Watson.

One painting can take him two to three weeks, he said.

He uses acrylic paint, which doesn’t take long to dry. A typewriter portrait can take him six hours.

Going digital

Some of his paintings, including the award-winning Union Inc., are created on the computer using Photoshop.

“I use Photoshop as a canvas, not like a tool to manipulate my pieces,” Carpenter said. “I just basically draw on top of a white JPEG,” a format for compressing image files.

Even though he appreciates the immediacy of digital painting, he still prefers the old-fashioned method.

“Digital art is a great tool for your tool box,” he said. “But I like painting because of its realistic quality of just being able to get away from my computer a little bit.“

Union Inc.

Carpenter first started developing Union Inc. in his sophomore year at RHS.

“I just drew this picture of Abe [Lincoln] with some tattoos standing there with his arms crossed,” he said.

A year later, he realized the picture could represent much more.

“I started to realize I had more power to change stuff,” he said. “I thought this would be a cool one to color and change stuff toward a larger theme of identity.”

He changed the tattoos around, colored it in, and made a point.

“I want the viewer to think about the gray area of warfare,” he said.

“I want them to think about the underlying interests when it comes to national events.”

Inspiration

Subject matter doesn’t always come easily, especially with something as specific as a painting series on white collar crime.

“It’s hard to find an artist that’s done something like that before,” he said.

“I like to look at artists for their styles and techniques, like John Singer Sargent.”

Carpenter said he takes in the work of other artists — their color and composition — and thinks about how to apply it to his pieces, giving it his own unique spin.

“I’ll sit with my dad or my friend and I’ll talk to them and come up with an idea,” he said, “but then it’s a matter of how I’m going to make it more attractive.”

He’ll ask himself questions to further develop the concept.

“How am I going to make my figures look realistic, or convincing? Or the exact opposite? What am I going to do for the background? What colors am I going to use to make my theme come across?” he said, explaining the creation process, which includes staying away from literal representations.

Balance

With school, sports, and his social calendar — Carpenter is on the high school’s track, football and baseball teams — he dedicates his weekends to his artistic pursuits and leaves the week for everything else.

He said art is where all his passions come together but he likes to keep a balance.

“I don’t necessarily bring any of it together,” he said. “Art is the only place where it all kind of collides.”

As for sports, they’re just a way for him to interact with friends and stay in shape, he told The Press.

“My sports career is essentially over,” he said.

Future plans

Carpenter doesn’t know what the future holds for his artistic passion but he plans to pursue his two interests at Princeton — majoring in economics and minoring in the arts.

He said he doesn’t see a gallery exhibition as a determinant of success.

“I just think a lot of people visualize making art and putting it in a gallery as the ultimate of being an artist,” Carpenter said, “but it’s harder to do now what people have done in the past, and there are other paths.”

He doesn’t paint for recognition.

It feels good, but it’s not his drive.

“Having a little recognition doesn’t really motivate me,” he said.

“What inspires me the most is having a great idea, something I’m interested to work on.”