The Pony Tale

"The Pony Tale" - Carraher 2022

The Pony Tale
2022.  Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I frankly scorn cheesy play-on-words titles, but this title occurred halfway through the piece and wouldn’t go away.  So I accepted it.  Gotta say this painting really pleases me.  I liked the strength and simplicity of the initial gesture, which was done with a flat brush rather than the round I’d usually use for this purpose.  And I’m also quite happy with the muted gray-green ground over the texturing contrasting with the range of reds.

But mostly I like the ambiguity between abstract and narrative here.  It almost seems like there is a “tale”, but then again not really.  It fits inside the crevice between.  I feel no compulsion to figure out which it is; it seems quite complete as is, with no need to be one or the other.  I like that place.

The New Look

"Harlequin" - Carraher 2021

Harlequin
2021.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Well, I finally did get some photographs of the new work.  This was one of the earlier pieces, from December, and it delights me.  This is the inside of my mind while listening to jazz, people.  Here you see what I’m really made of.  It’s like an x-ray of my synapses.

How it happened:  I drew with willow charcoal of two different diameters over a canvas texturized with my trusty Golden Light Modeling Paste.  I sprayed the charcoal with a workable fixative, and when the canvas was dry I stained it with a very diluted quinacridone gold acrylic paint, then brushed over in areas with more quin gold lightened with titanium white.

The collaged pieces are all deli paper painted with acrylic, and in this case I limited myself to bits I’d created specifically with the palette I’d chosen for this piece:  quin gold, quinacridone red, phthalo blue, and a little cadmium yellow. The more opaque paint bits had been applied to the deli paper with a palette knife; the translucent were more dilute and were brushed on.

This technique is basically what I’ve been using for most of the current works, of which I’ll share photos in the coming weeks.  On this one I put a lot of work into retaining the original feathery edges of the pigment on the collage paper; I think I’m getting better at that.  The earlier collages were rougher.

I get a lot of joy working with these shapes of pure color and combining them with a very textured colored surface and gestural line.  When the arrangement of these elements reaches a certain relationship the work springs to life for me and achieves a sense of inevitability.  Color me happy.

In the Lateness of the Afternoon

"Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon" - Carraher 2019

Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon
2019.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

Well, true to form I got to a certain point with the still lifes and then totally ran off in another direction.  I started doing some collaging with translucent paper and have just been in a trance ever since.  I’m working hour after hour with full concentration and a kind of bliss, intensely satisfied with both the process and the results.  So much so that I have not stopped to photograph anything, so I can’t show you any of it yet.  I hope to attend to that this next week; we’ll see.

But in the meantime:  It’s a new year!  And I am of an age where these passages are as much about sums of the past as about the future.  And so I thought about this acrylic work I painted in 2019:  Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon.  I was stimulated, perhaps, by recently reading about Matisse, which inevitably brings one to think of the legendary connections and contrasts between those two titanic contemporaries, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Ultimately respectful if not always friendly rivals, they were fierce observers of one another’s work over their long careers.  “All things considered, there is only Matisse,” Picasso once said, and Matisse responded, “Only one person has the right to criticize me. It’s Picasso.”

Pablo and Henri both spent the twilight of their lives at work on the French Riviera.  Matisse passed his final years in the Regina Hotel in Nice, quite near what was to become the Matisse Museum.  Many years ago I visited there, my companion and I riding a local bus up the long hill to where the historic villa housing the museum commands a view of the bay.  At that time the museum only occupied the upper floor and did not have a large collection of works, but it did have some key pieces of the artist’s props easily recalled from his paintings – fabrics, chairs, vases.  Seeing them displayed in the Mediterranean light streaming through the big windows brought a true shock of recognition, a shock both pleasurable and complex.  That sense of recognition extended through our long winding walk down the hill, with the views over Nice and the sea that Matisse made so familiar.

Perhaps 20 years later I took the train to the coastal town of Antibes to visit the small Musee Picasso.  It is housed right on the water in the medieval Chateau Grimaldi, itself built upon the ruins of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis.  Picasso used the chateau as his studio for 6 months in 1946 during a very prolific period, and ultimately donated all of the work that he had done there back to the chateau on the condition that it remain displayed to the public.  The collection when I was there included many of his most ebullient ceramics, a revelation in that ancient setting.  I also  vividly remember viewing the large, striking La Joie de Vivre, painted right at that location, its centaurs, satyrs, and pipe-players seemingly called up straight out of the Mediterranean earth beneath it.

Both of these experiences were a long time ago and I’ve forgotten most of the details, but the impression made on me was deep – of the art, the artists, and the elements all connected.  Over time I learned more about the connection between the two painters, their parallel careers, and their almost life-long arms-length relationship intimate mainly through their art.

Picasso occasionally visited Matisse during those last years when Matisse was mostly confined by ill health to his bed, from where he continued to work including on his last great innovations, his cut-outs.  Matisse told Picasso’s mistress Françoise Gilot at the time, “We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things that the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else.”

The losses of later life deepen and expand the significance of long relationships, of conversations that have lasted over many years, and their meaning and preciousness come to feel incalculable no matter how circumscribed they may have been.  I felt the mysteries of these connections – for you, for me – while painting of Pablo and Henri sharing their separate, lonely intimacy uniquely with one another as they painted their way into the eternal Mediterranean sun.

Slow Burner, Lots On It

Snapshot of work in progress.

Snapshot of work in progress.

So the mandarins have left behind the clock and the vodka and are now commanding their own solo investigation, as you can see in this snapshot.  Very sketchy, I know, but I tend to get happy with “sketchy” so we’ll see if anything more happens with this study.  In the meantime, though, I’m developing a similar sketch further with some blocks of color.  Of note, this sketch is on a 20-by-10-inch canvas and is entirely acrylic applied with a brush; the pastel has dropped out again.

The clock and the vodka are hanging on, meanwhile, in some new sketches as their own line of inquiry evolves.  Some striped wallpaper and a table may be appearing.

I’m spending a lot of studio time looking and thinking right now.  I’m pursuing several of the same lines that I was before Art Tours (and, indeed, for years in some cases), but I’m really taking it slow.  It’s time to stop stumbling down the same path and instead consider whether that path is leading me where I want to go, or if I now have the tools to sharpen my navigation and better visualize a route to a new destination.

I’m certainly spending much more time with this still-life subject than has been my habit in the past.  I’m really boring in, determined to find the connection of my impulse to render still-lifes to my personal vision and preferred methods of working.  Thus the repeated pots of mandarins and extended meditations!  It helps, though, to be doing some abstracts at the same time.  Having several items on the burner keeps everything moving along, with less chance of feeling stuck.

The truth is, I’m super happy to be back to work and may not be taking part in shows for a while.  Don’t want the distraction or the sense of a deadline.  Got plenty enough percolating right here in the studio.

Adventure

Snapshot of work in progress

snapshot of work in progress

You think you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t.  You’ve seen an earlier study of the same subject – what I’m thinking of as Time, Vodka, Mandarins.  Again, acrylic and pastel on paper.  If you saw it in real life you’d see it was stapled to a piece of foamboard and bordered with white tape.  There’s a few more changes I want to make to this; we’ll see if I actually get to them.  I’m already working on a third study.  

I’ve been pondering why I’m so averse to portraying form, as in three-dimensional perspective.   I’m quite capable of doing it; in fact, I have to work to not do it. Instead, I like a flattened surface that, if it has depth, it is only depth created with texture or such design elements as color or temperature or scale.  Abstraction and the deconstruction of perspective are other ways to avoid it, as in how I handled the homestead cabins in the Additional Dimensions series.  

Every time a piece veers towards modeling I quickly get irritated – literally hot under the collar – and bored.  Resentful, even.  The feeling that happens is that of a shift to the other part of my brain – the part that analyzes and makes calculations.  There’s a time and a place for that, of course, but it feels like work.  And I’m not painting to feel like I have a job.  I’m painting to have an adventure.  

On another note:  I hung some paintings today at the one-and-only Glass Outhouse Art Gallery in Wonder Valley as part of “Buh-Bye to 2021“, a group show curated by Suzanne Ross.  The show runs Dec 1-26 (including Christmas Day), with opening reception this Saturday 1-5 pm.  For the display I elected to bring several of my Bell Poems.  I thought they might be a quiet spot in the blizzard of works on view, not to mention the general chaotic conditions of this year soon ending. 

End of the Millennium

Snapshot of "End of the Millennium with Star"

Snapshot of End of the Millennium with Star

I wrote in my last post about my habit of returning to simple still-life set-ups after a prolonged interruption in the studio in order to regain my stride, and then quickly passing on to something looser.  Here’s another example, demonstrating that this practice goes quite a ways back.

At the turn of the millennium – more than 20 years ago now – we had a small party on my property with a very big bonfire.  When I acquired my five acres in 1999 there was quite a bit of debris, and I gathered this over months into a big pile.  That night we burned all the contents over many hours, ending up with the pile gone and a deep pit of cherry red coals.  It was pretty spectacular.

Anyway, one of the guests gave me a special bottle of wine and a yellow winter squash, curvy and heavy and lovely in that almost fleshly way winter squashes have.  Too lovely to cook, really, and so we didn’t.  After everyone was gone and the mess cleaned up, I staged the two items in a box and started painting them.  It began quite conventionally, like this:

Snapshot of "End of the Millenium"

This is pastel on a heavy watercolor paper.  It’s quite small, maybe 4 or 5 inches.  It got a name:  End of the Millennium.  (These are all just snapshots, by the way.)

Then I began playing a bit more:

Snapshot of "Millenium" study

I think this study is on sandpaper, and brought in some vine charcoal.  Again, just a few inches tall.

I liked what was happening, so I worked it up further, a little larger, again on sandpaper, with result as seen in the snapshot at the top of this post:  End of the Millennium with Star.  That final version is in the scribbling, layered style I was using at the time, before I began taking a brush to the pastels.

This cascade of deconstruction always ends up happening in these return-to-the still-life scenarios.  And then I’m done with still-lifes and on to something else.  Perhaps I’ve gotten the re-grounding, re-centering I need.  But I think more likely I just get reminded that I find conventional still-lifes profoundly boring to do, and in reaction I head towards something more exciting and then I’m back off and running.  There is something seductive in the prospect of the still life, but I’m still searching for the more direct route to the part that matters to me.

Back in the Saddle

Snapshot of work in progress - Carraher 2021

snapshot of work in progress

I’m finally back to real work in the studio.  I hate long interludes where I can’t paint; I really lose my stride and it’s hard to regain it.  On the other hand, I’ve been wanting to explore some new directions, and this recent break in continuity certainly provides that opportunity.  This tends to happen every few years, due to one thing or another.  And I’ve found my common first step to get back in the saddle is a still life – usually a conventional approach to start with, followed by lively disintegration into directions I’m more interested in.

Thus the acrylic and pastel in progress pictured above.  Of course, the big news here is the re-introduction of pastel, after my focus on acrylics the last few years.  I still feel more comfortable with a pastel rather than with a brush in my hand.  And it feels a little awkward, trying to work in both at the same time.  Even how to lay out my tools on the table is not obvious to me.  I’m really stumbling around, which is the opposite of what I’m seeking.  But it will get better.

There’s a set-up out there somewhere, a set of tools and an approach, that will let me just flow.  I can feel it.  I know it’s possible.  I’m getting closer.

The Blue Pot

"The Blue Pot" - Carraher 2019

The Blue Pot
2019.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

I have a heavy (very heavy) blue ceramic pot that I picked up second-hand a few years ago.  It’s square in shape but with the sides slightly rounded and an unusual, wavy, multi-level lip around the top edge.  I’ve actually never planted anything in it, although plants get temporarily placed in it sometimes.  It’s pretty groovy.

I wanted to make a painting with it, and did some sketches a couple years ago.  It was tricky finding an approach that caught the aspects of it that interested me.  But I found this close-cropped, straight-on angle satisfying.  I was also at the time particularly interested in how Matisse handled pattern, and how often it showed up in his work.  So a little patterning got added to the sketch.  The palette was very simple, just raw sienna, phthalo blue, and a yellow, probably cadmium.  The drawing was brushed on the canvas very loosely, and my main interest was the intensity and weight of the blue.  I was not quite satisfied with the block of raw sienna in the upper right, and added the blue discs.

I liked the painting well enough but didn’t see where it fit in with the rest of my work.  I didn’t expect to show it at Open Studio Art Tours.  But on a whim I hung it up to replace another work that had sold, and it was quickly bought by a younger fellow who was furnishing his Mid-Century Modern mobile home.  He showed me some photos of the trailer and I must say it was pretty cool.  I was intrigued at the idea of this work in there.

When he and his friends were leaving they spotted the original blue pot on top of a low wall in my yard.  They were pretty excited to see it.  I’m kind of surprised they recognized it from this painting.  Says something, I guess.

Granite and the National Park Art Expo

snapshot of Granite VIII framed

snapshot of Granite VIII in new frame

When I dropped off my painting at the 29 Palms Art Gallery yesterday, more entries were arriving by the moment to join those already leaning against the wall.  They’ll be hung before next Thursday, when the 9th Annual Joshua Tree National Park Juried Art Exhibition officially opens.  I must say, I was impressed by the other entries (now viewable on-line at the JTNPArts website).  Some really inspired works this year, from all over California and the nation.  I am honored to be showing among them. 

You can see in the snapshot above what my entry looks like in its frame.  I happened to already have this frame in the studio, and I thought that it went well with the painting.  Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may recognize this piece from the Granite series I was working on last year.  I set it aside as I thought it might be a good fit for the JTNP show, and I was really pleased when it was accepted.    

But now my attention is back on P-A-I-N-T-I-N-G.  Finally!  Open Studio Art Tours was a major interruption in my work process, and I can’t wait to get back to it.  (I’m not nearly as nice a person when I can’t work, let me tell you!)  Yesterday I finished turning the studio back into a studio, instead of a gallery, and life feels normal again.  So look for more new work soon!  🙂 

Bond

"Carbon 7" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 7
2021. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

It’s interesting to witness someone bonding with a piece of art.  As the creator of the work, it can be very exciting to watch the viewer see in the work something that you put in there.  It may not be exactly what most excites you about the work; the response always relies to some degree on what the viewer themselves bring to it.  But in the best situations, the two of you connect through something in the work that you both share, something you both can see and feel and may never have had another way to express.  A connection that the artwork allows you, together, to discover. 

The Open Studio Art Tours gives me a unique opportunity to witness that bond develop, right in my studio, in my world, where I create it.  There are no intermediaries.  No distance.  No separation. 

The above work, Carbon 7, marked a departure in the Carbon series in that I introduced graphite as well as a deliberate gray shape.  Because of that, it took me a while to decide if it belonged in the collection.  I made another piece around the same time that included graphite, and ultimately I excluded that one from the series.  But Carbon 7 made it in.  I liked the expansion it signaled.  It felt right. 

The person who bought it has purchased my work in the past and, as with this one, seems invariably drawn to the slight outlier, the work that in its difference reveals the heart of a collection.  She sees something that I see.  It is a wonderful, and very special, connection.