Waltz into any Target, look at the gift card display and you will unknowingly be looking at Tad Carpenter’s work. Carpenter has designed, illustrated and created artwork that has become household images all over the United States. On Friday, Feb. 19, Cal Poly opened an exhibit featuring his unique, “retro-pop, mid-century” style. Before the gallery opening, students and faculty had the opportunity to hear Carpenter talk about everything from his art to the overwhelming pride he has for his hometown of Kansas City, Mo.
Tad Carpenter is a graphic designer and illustrator with a large collection ranging from posters and children’s books to brand logos and prints. He’s also been a teacher at the University of Kansas since 2009. Dressed in a denim jacket with a dress shirt and tie, the artist bounced around the room as he talked of his inspirations and his process.
“I love waking up knowing we get to make things,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter’s talk centered around the idea that people must embrace the power of play, take risks, tell stories and have passion in what they do. He cited both his father and the area he grew up in as inspiration.
“The backbone of Kansas City is in art,” Carpenter said. “We have people like Thomas Hart Benton and Walt Disney who have come from Kansas City.”
Carpenter’s artistic career evolved from doing editorials and spot illustrations to designing and branding, working for high profile companies like Ray-Ban and Target. He has also designed his own home and studio and is currently designing an interactive museum for a brewery. Along with his long list of clientele, Carpenter made a point to talk about his true artistic passion; the art that he did not necessarily have to make for anyone besides himself. It was these pieces that motivated him the most.
Carpenter mentioned the educational children’s books and 175+ posters he created as “passion projects” which may lead to larger-scale art. Much of what Carpenter has achieved, he said, had been thanks to his “passion projects” and taking chances with doing the things that he loves.
Those attending the talk drew inspiration from Carpenter’s words. Students like graphic design juniors Jessica Ferguson and Ellen Fabini, who said they were very familiar with Carpenter’s work, attended the talk and enjoyed hearing about his process, but also that he put such an importance on having fun with what you are doing.
History freshman Kyla Grant hadn’t heard of Carpenter, but immediately recognized his designs, having seen them around town and back home.
“They are just really happy and cute,” Grant said. “I love the fact they are cartoony.”
Many others who had attended the talk and the gallery opening saw that Carpenter and his work is fun and lighthearted. University Art Gallery Coordinator Garet Zook was happy to display Carpenter’ art because of how easy his artwork is to understand and attain, due to its simplicity as well as intricate illustrations. In viewing his art, Carpenter features bold shapes and colors that have a very cartoon essence.
The Tad Carpenter exhibit is open to the public until March 18. The University Art Gallery is free and open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.