Painting instructor Todd Carpenter did not take the typical route to become an artist. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA in Psychobiology and a Master’s degree from UC San Diego in Neuroscience. After college, he spent seven years as a product engineer and head of R&D at a medical products company in San Diego.

But in 2004, having saved some money, he turned to art, pursuing painting, photography and sculpture full time. And he’s been very successful at it – his works have been displayed in dozens of solo and group exhibitions throughout the world and he has been featured in nearly 20 publications, frequently garnering high critical praise for his work.

For example, Visual Art Source recently lauded him for his “Shadows Discarnate” show of paintings at KP Projects in Los Angeles: “If one dreamt in black and white, Todd Carpenter’s ‘Shadows Discarnate’ offers a perfectly realized noir reverie. So precise and delicately rendered as to appear photographic, Carpenter’s exquisite black, white and grey oil on board works have an inward glow of pre-dawn light, a captured, dusky-moment. These neutral toned works are poetic images of a hauntingly real Los Angeles.”

“I think I’ve always been interested in science and art,” Carpenter says, noting that his parents and grandparents had various artistic interests.

“I’m still interested in science but what I eventually turned away from was the lack of creativity in science,” he adds, saying that his original plan was to get a doctorate in science and seek a career in academia.

Indeed, Carpenter takes a scientific approach to his art and to teaching art and he is interested in the connections between art and science, in particular Neuroaesthetics, the biology underlying the creation and appreciation of art.

The connections are complicated, he says, and many questions are still unanswered – for example, why does an individual like one piece of art but not another or why are visual things connected to emotion? His paintings – which are rendered mostly in black and white and which convey the depth and mood of landscapes through the careful portrayal of light – often explore the mechanisms of perception. They examine, among other things, how the depiction of light can impart realism to paintings.

Like his paintings that connect art and science, Carpenter’s career has similarly straddled the two fields, and he has taught classes in subjects as diverse as neuroscience, environmental science and photography.

A Koreatown resident who is married to Hee-Kyung, Carpenter has been teaching painting classes at SMC Community Ed since Fall 2016.

What do you like about teaching?

  1. That it makes me examine a subject more deeply. I probably learn more as a teacher than as a student. 2. When a student surprises me with a new or unexpected idea, painting style, etc.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Possibly the times I turned away from a secure career path – first when I left neuroscience research and second when I quit being a product engineer. In both cases the outcome was worth the risk – as with many crazy things.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
For me a perfect day would have to have something of the unknown, and therefore would be unknowable now, so I don’t know the answer to this question. It is always out there, ahead.

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

To circle around that question, when it comes to my paintings I like it when occasionally someone compliments me on one of my weirder or less-typical pieces, as I feel such viewers may be thinking more deeply about my work.

What was the last picture you took with your phone?

I often have a camera on me, so I don’t take many photos with my phone. The last picture I took with my phone was probably something practical, such as a map posted at a hiking trailhead.

What book(s) are on your nightstand now?

“Art and Physics,” by Leonard Shlain and “The Consul’s File,” by Paul Theroux. Both most likely came from a thrift store.

Anything you would like to add?

The real answer to #2 – the craziest things I have done – probably happened during my travels, but I won’t go into those.

Carpenter will teach “Experimenting with Oil Paint” in the Winter Session, beginning Jan. 2

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