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Arts & Culture

Idaho Artist Bill Carman's Paintings Create Flights Of Fancy

Idaho artist Bill Carman is never at a loss for ideas. They come to him at all hours. So he keeps a sketch book with him during the day and a pad of paper on his night stand. “Ideas come to me right before I fall asleep so I have to write them down,” he says. “And hopefully I can read them in the morning. More often than not I can’t.”

Credit Sadie Babits / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Bill Carman's latest work can be seen at Brumfield's Gallery in Boise's historic Hyde Park through Sunday.

The Boise State professor turns the ideas that he can remember into paintings and drawings. And in Carman’s latest show at Brumfield’s Gallery in Boise, his imagination is on full display.  

Take his painting Snake Eyes with a girl’s face surrounded by a pile of snake coils.  A tiny monocle dangles from a fine thread in front of her eye.

This piece, like much of Carman’s work, is meticulous in detail. But he says the process is anything but.  “And some of these don’t start with a drawing at all or an idea. Some of these little things that I’ve done were just brain farts… they just happened.”

A 3 x 5 painting on copper is an example. It’s a side profile of a pale faced woman. Her hair with bluebirds tucked in is whipped back in the wind. One of the birds appears to have flown into a window because all you see are tiny feathers floating in the air.

“There’s something about the narratives in them that I just find really appealing,” explains Jane Brumfield. She owns Brumfield’s Gallery in Boise’s historic Hyde Park. That’s where Carman’s work currently hangs through Sunday. 

"Ideas come to me right before I fall asleep so I have to write them down," explains Bill Carman.

“And I think it’s because they [Carman’s paintings] are so ambiguous that it just let’s you look and decide where you want to take the meaning of the work.”

Carman says that sometimes when he paints, he’ll build a story in his head “and the story develops as I go and sometimes that won’t happen until the end.”

Those stories take you on adventures through strange science fiction like worlds where you meet creatures that are part human part machine. Some of Carman’s work, though, is more main stream like one of his newest paintings. It’s of an elderly woman walking away from a flock of red birds. The birds are on fire and she’s getting ready to stamp one into the ground.

“I play in the fantasy sci fi world,” Carman says. “I play in the main stream world. I don’t have a real home but I play in lots of little playgrounds.”

Carman started to sketch when he was a kid growing up in California.  He grew up playing in a band and singing in his LDS church choir.  Carman says he kept going with his music and art when most high school graduates were thinking about college and getting a degree. “I didn’t want a job,” he laughs. “I wanted to have a life.”

It was the Allman Brother’s Eat a Peach album that triggered something for Carman. “If you open up the album there’s an illustration that fills the inside of it and my friend and I would look at that for hours and I would copy things and it pricked something in my head that ‘Oh, people do this kind of a thing.’”  

Carman learned to paint and hone his illustration skills at Brigham Young University.  After he got his graduate degree, he showed his work in obscure galleries.  He even worked at one of George Lucas’ companies in California drawing theme parks.  Carman says he got a boost through exhibits designed around movies and themes like super heroes.

Today Jane Brumfield says Carman’s reputation as a fine artist is growing nationally. But she says he’s had the biggest impact on the local art scene and young artists. That’s in part she says because he teaches at Boise State.  

“But also because he does always try to keep a representation of work locally so that his students can see his work in exhibition,” she says.

Carman says it’s important for his students to see their professor at work - to know they too, can make a career out of doing something they love.  

Bill Carman’s show continues through Sunday at the Brumfield’s Gallery in Boise’s historic Hyde Park.