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His words are works of art

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Artist-author James Carse at McCuskers Market where his sculptures featuring newspapers are on display. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Artist-author James Carse at McCuskers Market where his sculptures featuring newspapers are on display. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds
  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Artist-author James Carse at McCuskers Market where his sculptures featuring newspapers are on display. Photo by Beth Reynolds
  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds
  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds
  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds
  • SHELBURNE FALLS, MA - November 15, 2012. Detail from art by James Carse on display at McCuskers Market. Photo by Beth Reynolds

First it was a book. And now it’s a work of art.

In 1986, religious scholar James P. Carse wrote “Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility.”

But 25 years later, he’s produced a series of graphic-artworks, consisting of only of newspaper papier-mache, paint, fiberboard, and quotes from his philosophical tome.

Carse, who has owned a home in Rowe for 45 years, spent most of his life in New York City, where he taught religion and history at New York University. He also wrote a few books, including “Finite Games” and “Breakfast at the Victory” and “The Religious Case Against Belief.”

But it wasn’t until his retirement in Rowe that Carse rekindled his childhood delight in making art, at age 70.

Carse’s first artworks, about 10 years ago, were to create three-dimensional “wall sculptures” of classic New England houses and barns, using fiberboard, acrylic paints and papier mache “bricks” and “shingles” made from his old New York Times newspapers.

The barns and houses were exhibited at McCusker’s, where another exhibit of his most recent work ended Nov. 30, Carse says the market’s restaurant seating area is the only place, besides his home, where his artwork has been shown.

One of the images that was in the recent show, called “House 11,” was modeled after the historic house on the Academy of Charlemont campus. However, Carse’s image suggested a house made of granite, because the bricks are a white gray. But every window sill and window frame, the four chimneys and the seemingly slate roof all jutted out slightly from the frame. Carse said he was drawn to replicating the kinds of houses and barns “that are disappearing” from the New England landscape.

Carse said the first objects he created with mache were objects from nature: course tree bark and broken tree limbs — items that show up, in some places, as “frames” for the quotes in some of the wall hangings.

“I was always interested in conceptual art,” says Carse, who will soon turn 80.
“It struck me that most conceptual art that involves words and combinations of words doesn’t really include context. They’re just words, and some suggest ideas, but they don’t come through very well.”

“So I thought I would take some real ideas from this particular book,” he explained. “The book has a kind of aphoristic style that I thought I could use for this kind of work.”

“There is but one infinite game” is the last line of his book, and the companion artwork has a pictorial infinity of its own. That single sentence is repeated countless times, in a black “ribbon” of white-and-blue words that are jumbled like a ball of tangled yarn. The seemingly endless repetition of the words reminded this observer of that sense of mulling some thought to yourself, over and over.

Also, you don’t really know where the sentence begins or ends.

In the book, Carse defines “finite games” as those with a beginning and an end, a definite winner, and rules and boundaries that all players agree to respect. But “infinite games” are those in which the player is unaware of the beginning, and is in it simply to keep playing. The players of infinite games often change the rules mid-game, or change boundaries, if that’s what it takes for them to keep “playing.”

Carse says the letters of the words are cut out from posterboard and painted. Their backgrounds are tree bark, bramble, pebbles, all created from the old newspapers.

One of the remarkable “word sculptures” doesn’t quote from the book. It is called “Flushable Words: 1,283 ways to avoid thinking.” It’s a urinal, which, for the exhibit, was situated near McCusker’s rest room, and it’s covered with cliched phrases, such as “dodge the bullet,” “from wrack to ruin,” “hollow promise” and “party pooper.”

Along with the word sculptures, there are a few nonverbal images: a swirl of green fish, and an M.C. Escher-esque flock of black-and white birds, with just a hint of blue sky beyond.

Carse said he enjoyed painting up until the age of 14, when sports became his passion, but has had no formal art training of any kind.

When asked why he started creating in this unusual medium, he replied, “One thing just led to another. That’s why the Greeks invented the muses: They had no way of explaining the origin of creative activities.”

“Basically, I’m a writer of books.”

Currently, Carse is doing a final revision of a thriller he has written, about the killing of 10 professors over the academic school year. He said each one is announced by a published word puzzle every month. The book title is: “PhDeath: The Puzzler Murders.” (Imagine the artistic possibilities there.)

In an introduction displayed with his art recently at McCusker’s Market, Carse described his artwork as “neoprimitivism, insofar as it makes use of easily available materials ... I mix materials and textures as they accidentally occur — usually whatever is in reach — oblivious (unintentionally) to prevailing aesthetic conventions,” Carse says. “This can have surprising results — most of them disastrous.”

When asked how long each takes to make, Carse says he has no idea. “I have ten things under way now,” he said, “and I throw away a lot.”

But some of the parts of the discarded works get saved for later. When asked how many sculptures and wall hangings he’s made, Carse replies “dozens.”

When asked if the items are for sale, Carse says they are, “but they are not inexpensive.”

For more information about Carse, go to:

www.jamescarse.com

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbronc@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 277.

Beth Reynolds is a photographer and educator. She runs Base Camp Photo Community Center in Greenfield. She can be reached at
beth@basecampphoto.com

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