Crickets for Carleton
Remembering artist Carleton Wing
BY JOHN LACKEY
Fishermen light their lanterns in the charcoal predawn and head out into blue mist of what will hopefully be a productive day. They fight the currents of lethargy and indifference, searching for seams of sustenance, providence, life Itself, writhing, spinning, evasive, possible.
In those moments when they return to civilization and must feed, they gather with other salty old dogs, to break their bread and tell their tales. They share advice on tools of the trade, sometimes they share the tools themselves.
They will talk in hushed tones of storied fishing holes where the wily beasts jump right over the prow and land at your feet, oily scales heaving with their last, shiny exertions. Fishermen have a shorthand when they talk, they understand each other. So it is with artists.
Carleton began showing up at our little luncheons not long after he returned from Florida, chagrined by life’s ill humor, a poster child for resilience. He didn’t seem tremendously humbled by his experience, but he didn’t seem arrogant either. He seemed happy. Happy like a precocious child. He was quiet some days, though he was never morose. Occasionally he would share new work he had recently finished. It was always solid, balanced, joyful, with deep, saturated color, but still retained a dignity of style, and seemed to capture a telling slice of someone’s story, like good fiction will, the small cadre of characters cut from the cloth of our real lives, Frankenstein’s little monsters, made up of all of just the right parts. Angels to look over us.
I don’t really know if Carleton went digital with his collage work out of curiosity or out of necessity, as I noticed he had a slight tremor in one hand, which makes knife work more interesting, if less accurate, but he certainly hit the ground running and made the most out of the medium, leaving sny limitations lying in the dust.
His work was very strong, and getting stronger every day.
At the meetings of the VIA Creative Board hosted by Mary Rezny at her lovely gallery, when progress would get bogged down in tangents or technical talk, I could let my eyes scan the walls for all the juicy color of her stable of artists —chief among these Carleton — his characters staring back at me, or interacting with each other, there seemed to be no end to the warm cavalcade of dramatis personae waiting in the Wing.
I feel robbed of seeing where Carleton’s evolution would take him next. He set a good example for us. He grew. He was tough.
He was a survivor.
He was a student of himself.
He was a student of the world.
He brought people together, with his art, with his gallery and dinners, with his drum circles and his smile.
Carleton loved his pepperoni pizza. He loved getting the potato chips that came with the hoagie. It was a quandary every time. Until our sweet waitress Dottie asked if he wanted a slice of pie with a side of chips. Eureka! Art is about problem solving. Carleton smiled, as he so often did. It was a joy to make him laugh.
We broke bread many times at Puccini’s, at his house, at my house, Susie Bell’s.
Steve Armstrong said that Carleton’s spirit was so strong, and these times are so weird, that he would not be very surprised to see Carleton walk in the door right now, and I concur.
Male crickets rub their leathery wings together to make their music, their mating call, in an ancient process called
stridulation. Carleton would love that word, since it sounds like a collage of other words, and is not a bad metaphor for the making of art, utilizing what is at hand, be it bones, or teeth, turtle shells, skulls or computers. Or just the modest span of a cricket’s Wing, singing his heart out in the undulating meadow.
On Wednesday March 25, Lexington artist Carleton Wing shared the news with friends that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was experiencing mild symptoms.
He died a week later on Thursday April 2, 2020. A delayed memorial was held in June at St. Peter Claver.
Wing had been a lifelong IBM (and then Lexmark) man, retiring in 1999 after 40 years, into a second act as a widely respected and prolific artist in collage and assemblage.
In 2000, he opened Wingspan Gallery at the corner of Second and Jefferson, where he and his beloved dog Ginger resided upstairs and quickly became neighborhood fixtures.
He later met New York native Livia Theodoli at a Lexington Philharmonic fundraiser and art exhibit, Horsetails. When the two married, they added a commercial kitchen at the gallery, and began hosting the popular weekly Wingspan dinner series on Thursday evenings. The menus were inspired by Livia’s catering background and her childhood growing up in Italy.
In 2012, the couple relocated to Florida so that Carleton could undergo a bone marrow transplant for leukemia (AML).
Carleton and Livia were eventually able to return to Lexington after his successful treatment, and his most recent exhibit was “Altered Egos and Guardian Angels” in Spring 2019 at M.S. Rezny Studio and Gallery.
Fellow artist John Lackey spoke at this summer’s memorial, where friends, family, and fellow artists gathered to give “Carleton a proper sendoff, socially distanced and masked, following his passing on the second of April from Covid-19. The lunch group we shared asked me to say something so this is what I wrote….”
This article also appears on page 8 of the August 2020 print edition of Ace Weekly.
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