The Restless Lotus

The Restless Lotus
2022. Acrylic and collage on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

I have a mixed regard for this piece.  I see its weaknesses.  It was set aside multiple times.  I called it finished/gave up on it multiple times.  It was a long hard time a-birthin’.  I never liked the green, obviously a problem since the green dominates the piece.  I really disliked the original gesture, which you can tell because of how little of it is left.

But during one of the periods of its abandonment, I opened a large suitcase of artworks created a very long time ago by my friend who passed away while I was working on this Green Monster.  And finally, the painting began to come together.

My late friend spent a lot of his boyhood in the local library, where the librarian kept him fascinated with literature and music and books of art.  The Modernists, especially.  It’s here, I believe, where he first experienced Kandinskys and Pollacks and Picassos, the Fauvists and the German Expressionists.  And so it was that his own artwork, later, was heavily flavored with Modernist influence.  That, and the comics, frankly.  No, not Marvel superheroes:  the Sunday funnies.  It all added up to a strong, direct, sure-handed graphic style that was all his own.  He turned out reams of drawings and paintings, on paper or cardboard, in quiet hours at the end of the day.  Never thinking of himself as an artist but nonetheless sometimes tacking them to the wall, and stacking them without comment on a shelf or in a box.  He saw himself as a writer, and later an activist, not as a visual artist.  But he held on to the works.  They had some totemic significance for him, I think.  Very clear expressions of his complex mind and vision.

And when last year I unpacked that suitcase of his aged but still strong works, I realized how much his style had surreptitiously influenced me, since all the way back in those old early days of careless, delighted play.  When we would sit around the table and just…do stuff.

His spirit definitely surfaced in the late process of this work.  The flat picture plane.  The symbolic shapes that in his own pieces were often actually labeled, but in other cases left mysteriously to wonder.  The restlessness.  And the lotus, of ever-unfolding creation. I have no idea how this painting will strike anyone else.  But the spirit is in it for me.


"Forest" - Carraher 2022

2022. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

The forests of California have not had an easy time of it in recent years, have they?  Fire, drought, blight, flood, mudslides.  Encroachment by humans.  Centuries of overlogging.

But forests were not in my mind when I began this piece.  It was a canvas I’d prepared with a light texture some time in the past and had sitting around, and I decided to try a new variation on the collage style in which I’ve been working.  I stained the canvas with cadmium yellow light, then rubbed on a random pattern of transparent blue-green  with a sponge.

And I think it was that ground preparation that, more than anything, pulled the image in the direction of a naturalistic dimensionality, hinting at the depth of a landscape.  Which is not, generally, something I’m going for.

The works in collage over this last year have challenged my preferences of pictorial depth and subject matter.  The early collages were generally fully nonobjective or at least highly abstracted, with a flat picture plane:  all shapes and elements on or near the surface, with no or little illusion of depth or form.  And they were largely without “subject” beyond the purely poetic.  (See, for instance, here, here, and here.)

But as I’ve worked with this collage technique I’ve found – and accepted – paintings that venture beyond these preferences.  I’ve at times been perplexed by the diversity of the collection as a whole, while slowly coming to a deeper understanding of what holds them together.  And I’ll be posting more on that, with examples, in the future.

So, you see, I did not try very hard to avoid the landscape or scenic dimensionality of “Forest”.  I’m cool with what feels right, categories be damned.  And I liked the charcoal/burnt tree trunks, the could-be-wire could-be-foliage curly lines, the big blue-green transparent boulder-pond, or however you personally see any of it.  And most of all I liked the little ghostly mushroom, which I found I could not live without.  Despite the stresses, our forests are not terminally discouraged, after all.

With Philippos in Knossos

"With Philippos in Knossos" - Carraher 2022

With Philippos in Knossos
2022.  Acrylic and collage on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

The colors stuck with me, apparently, though I’d never consciously registered them when I’d see photographs of the ruins of Knossos, the magical Bronze-Age palace of the Minoans near Heraklion on the island of Crete.

We had a series of small cheap glossy prints we’d picked up somewhere, the kind that would be sold in a sheaf to tourists in the pre-digital age, with color and contrast exaggerated but luscious to the eye.  And the colors at Knossos were already suspect, the result of a controversial restoration a hundred years ago.  But…so lovely!  The frescos and painted reliefs, the architectural elements, and the giant pithos, ceramic storage jars as tall as you or me.  Plus the natural golden earthiness of the ancient stones and the overall Mediterranean airiness of exposed ruins.  Enjoy some similarly saturated images on this site.

Even if the art were not extraordinary, the legends that surround Knossos lift it fully to the divine:  King Minos, his bull-besotted wife Pasiphae, and her son the half-man half-bull Minotaur who was slain in the Labyrinth by Theseus following the thread of Ariadne. And it was from the Labyrinth that Daedalus and and his son Icarus escaped on wings of wax and feathers, an enterprise with a spectacular bad end.

Bulls are found throughout the art at Knossos, including this fabulous bull-leaping fresco:

Colorful fresco of a figure somersaulting backward on a bulls back, with two figures on either side of the bull.

“The famous Bull-leaping fresco, from the palace at Knossos, depicts a critical moment in the event. Two female figures (in white) are positioned at each end of the bull, while a male figure (in brown) throws himself into a somersault off of the bull’s back. Although this fresco has been reconstructed—the darker fragments are the recovered pieces—the sport or ritual of bull-leaping is clearly depicted. The fresco dates to the Final Palace period, ca. 1450–1400 BC.” – Bulls and Bull-leaping in the Minoan World

And there was something about the bull-leaping that played subliminally in the back of my mind with that arcing gesture on my canvas.  I was quite taken with it.  I’d begun this work back in 2020 with a process that presaged the way I work now, with a lightly textured canvas, free gesture, and several coats of a staining acrylic. But there I bogged down.  I had no idea how to move towards what I was feeling in the piece.  Into the incubation box it went, but I continued to take it out and consider it every so often, pondering how to proceed with no avail.

And so it was that the canvas was out at the time I learned of the passing of my beloved friend Philippos.  By that time I’d begun working with the deli paper collage, so when I first returned to the studio in the wake of that terrible event the pieces began to fall into place.   The eggplant, the terracotta, the pinks and violets and blues.  And Knossos, the Knossos of mythos, the Knossos I shared with Philippos, came clear to my mind.

But, in truth, we actually never were in Knossos.  We did spend a winter on the Peloponnesus, harvesting oranges with other young vagabonds, trying to save money and scheming to get to Egypt though we never made it there, either.  Crete was a hazy option out on the sea, and other ex-pats staying in Nafplio had harvested there, raking olives from the trees.  But when the opportunity came to join the orange harvest in Spain we chose that instead.  And so we never made it to Knossos.

But the Knossos of this painting is not the Knossos one can visit if one takes a boat to Crete, anyway.  It is the Knossos of myth and imagination, of great magical leaps, of the divine colors of a dream. The Knossos of a mythos we shared, Philippos and me.  And this I learned as I worked on the painting, as I grieved and came to a new understanding of the creative dream-space that was ours, a mythos that could perhaps outlast our mutual living of it.


"Ancestor" - C. Carraher 2022

2022.  Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

My ancestors feel very present these days.  Like they’re all still living, right now.  But in the next room, not where I can hear or see them.  And they’re not concerned with me.  They’re concerned with their own affairs.  I can’t guess what those might be.  But the rooms are filling up, as my contemporaries die and join them.  They all become my ancestors then. 

This “figure” was not where I originally was headed, but once it started developing it was compelling for me.  The piece started as another experiment with an underlying painted “grid”, and again without texture. The deep blue is actually one big piece of translucent paper painted and glued on, which was a bit challenging.  It’s very thin, and it was hard to keep it from stretching out of shape and wrinkling more than is acceptable to me. I’m very particular about placement. Millimeters matter. They’re every one charged with meaning. The distance between elements describes relationship.  I put a lot of labor into getting placement exactly right, but in truth it’s rarely exactly right with the glued paper.  My technique is improving, but often I have to settle with just the best I can do.

In the Coral Garden

In the Coral Garden - Carraher 2022

In the Coral Garden
2022.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

My beloved friend whom we lost last year worked, as a youth, in a nursery, learning about plants and how to care for them from the old Japanese man there.  Every day he was taught a new plant, and what it needed to grow.  The old man also taught him about bonsai, of which the nursery had an outstanding collection and indeed had already had for many years, despite the interruption of the World War.  It is remarkable to me that I was utterly unaware, until recently, that the family that ran the nursery had spent the war in an internment camp, their nursery lost to them for the interval.  How could I not have known that?  When the war was over the family resurrected the nursery across the street from the original location, and they’ve recently celebrated their 100th anniversary as a business.  They still maintain an impressive collection of bonsai.

My friend always worked in gardens after that, throughout his life – professionally, personally, or for friends.  His relationship with plants was tactile, physical, but also of the spirit.  They were living art for him.

We happened to visit the nursery soon after he passed, to purchase some memorial specimens.  His own youthful stint there was now beyond the memory of those working at the nursery on the day of our visit.  But the scents, the colors, the shapes and sap and vitality, all spoke of him still.

The nursery, the old Japanese man and his lessons, the lifelong affair with root and bud that my friend had cultivated during his time there, kept surging through my process while developing this collage.  But so too did the ocean, and my friend’s love of water – swimming, diving, exploring the deep.  While working on the painting I had a dream of the ocean, of swimming in San Francisco Bay, but the water there surprisingly was not dangerous and powerful but benevolent, safe, even playful.  It was clear and sparkled golden, full of colorful and companionable creatures, the waves warm and embracing.  I came to rest on some welcoming wooden shoal, smiling and awaiting my friend.  We’d swum and snorkeled and rafted in so many waters.

And the interplay of the garden and the ocean culminated in this collage, together in my mind somehow.  I quit trying to sort them out or put one above the other.  It’s all together in life, after all, growing and waving and glowing, in the coral garden.

A word about the photo image:  I’m very dissatisfied with the quality of the photos I’ve been able to achieve with these highly textured collages – so much so that I’ve considered just not posting about these pieces, to avoid these poor representations of my work.  But I’ve decided not to be that precious about it.  Hopefully sometime soon you’ll be able to see them in real life.  We’ll just limp along until then.  In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s a second (but still not satisfactory) version of “In the Coral Garden”:

"In the Coral Garden" - C. Carraher 2022

Three Kings

Three Kings - Carraher 2022
Three Kings
Acrylic, ink, paper collage on canvas. 11″h x 14″w.

I started this post weeks ago, but then a big dumb much-resented interruption came along and blew up my life for six weeks.  So let me begin again.

Not sure what motivated me to pull this then-unfinished canvas out of the incubation box last year.  Originally it’d gotten some blocks and stripes in phthalo blue, cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, and raw umber, and a few marks in black acrylic and ink.  I’d added just a few other shapes, leaving a lot of white space.  And that’s where it had stalled.  Lovely color, but no heart, no muscle.

On seeing it again I immediately had impulse to collage it.  I think it was when I pulled out that middle blue-and-black shape — it definitely felt it belonged. But the big gold flattened disc on the lower left got glued down first.  Then the blue shape found its position, followed by the big brick-colored shape over the gold disc.  On the right side, many many things happened before the final configuration was found.  (And I will note, this is the first time I used rice paper, which added interesting texture and dimension to some of the white areas.)

The feeling of a procession grew steadily.  I think it started with that blue-and-black shape, which when lined up along the bottom had strong forward direction.  The composition took on a kind of Mardi Gras feel for me.  Like a line of glorious empty suits in a parade.  Led by the oversized brick-colored shape with its blocky vermilion head, looking like it’s running off stage left.  And the part that took the longest to resolve, the candle-like figure on the right seeming wrapped in a glowing mantle and topped by a cross between a bishop’s miter and a flame.

They quite gripped me, this procession.  Whether they are mocking or sincere, the figures seem a great deal more about the power of their vestments and vestitures than they are any obligation that comes with these trappings.  Rather than the emperor that has no clothes, these are the clothes, perhaps, that have no emperor.

Anyway, the complexity and personality of the piece were compelling for me, and satisfying.  Some of it was the underlying structure of horizontals and verticals created with the original stripes and blocks – not something I usually work with though I’m very attracted to them.  Since this piece was completed I’ve been exploring more grid structure in my collages, learning about what’s actually attracting me.  Also at play:  saturated colors contrasted with muted, sending shapes forward and back, and creating a scene without losing the flatness of the picture plane.

FInal note:  I have a piece in the Mid-Mod show at Desert Art Center for Modernism Week, if you happen to be in Palm Springs for the fun!  Feb 17-28, 10 am-4 pm.

Out of the Canyon

"Out of the Canyon" - Carraher 2022

Out of the Canyon
2022.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Hello, dear art friends.  I did not go away forever, as you can see.  I knew I’d be back, when the time was right.

I last posted in April, at the time of the group show Wonder Valley Friends at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.  The show went quite well, with satisfying response and sales.  But that month I lost someone very dear to me, suddenly, in an especially difficult and life-changing way. The repercussions have been many, with the uncoilings of lifetimes.

So I will re-start today with this:  Out of the Canyon, a collage on canvas completed last July.

I hiked in and out of many a canyon with my departed friend.  Our walks in the natural world had no beginning and no end; they were a continuum, always picking up where we’d left off on our floating journey, a magical swim through an amniotic wild.  We were both comfortable, in our natural element, and at the same time utterly transported.

A few months ago, when October was at its most golden, sublime brilliance, I hiked alone and realized that our walks together had never failed to bring the precious combination that now seems harder to achieve:  transcendence, challenge, and sharing.

Were these thoughts conscious in my mind as I started work on this painting?  No, but these feelings, as well as more complicated ones, began to surface as the title of the work emerged, quietly, during the process.

The technique carried it all along, a technique typical of the way I had begun working just over a year ago:  translucent paper collage over acrylic and, in this case, charcoal, on roughly textured canvas.

All the new works I’d exhibited in the April 2022 show used this same technique and I’ve continued working this way, though some changes are starting to leak in.  More about that to come.  Right now, I’m just happy to be back.  I missed you.

Good Vibes

"Louise with Vibes" - Carraher 2022

Louise with Vibes
2022. Acrylic and collage on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

The Wonder Valley Friends show is now hung and waiting to open on Thursday at the 29 Palms Art Gallery, with reception on Saturday from 5-7.   There were five of us there but the process went smoothly; too many cooks did not spoil the broth, I’m happy to say.  The task was to integrate work from six different artists in one not overly large gallery, and we ended up mixing everything in together rather than creating sections for each artist.  The room is idiosyncratic, as it is the old adobe section of the historic gallery and has a fireplace and several niche-like alcoves that must be worked around.  But using group “spontaneous insight”, as organizer Joe Chaplain likes to put it, it all came together quite nicely.

It’s always a particularly arresting moment when your work comes out of the studio and is hung out in public for the first time.  The new context can cause its lifeforce to suddenly expand or even contract.  And I felt these small, brightly colored pieces gained dimension next to large abstracts by Adrian Field and Olive Toscani, gleaming photographs on metal by Perry Hoffman, a whimsical armchair by Doug Smith, and deeply subtle photographs by Joe Chaplain.  Joe also created a bottle tree sculpture, a sophisticated and artful version of a typical desert yard decoration.  The bottles were beautifully colored, and he decoupaged each with a “label” that was a modified photo of the various “friends” participating in the show.

Louise with Vibes is the largest of these collages that I’ve done so far.  The base color is a transparent iron oxide yellow.  I was not expecting to bring in primaries with the earth tones and neutrals, but that’s what the painting wanted.  So that’s what it got.  It’s one of seven collages that will be in the show.

Eve Swings

"Eve Swings" - Carraher 2022

Eve Swings
2022. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Got the paintings back from the framers, and I’m very happy with them.  No surprise there; Plaza always does a super job.  So I just need to make some labels and they’ll be ready for hanging the show on Monday.  Relieved!  That’s one thing I can check off the list.

And I can’t complain, the studio is very close to checking off, as well.  The painter will finish tomorrow and, gotta say, it looks nice!  It may not have looked this good even when it was new – and that was a very, very long time ago.  What it’s lost in vintage authenticity and ramshackle charm it’s made up in simple, clean freshness.  It looks veritably sprightly!  I did use shingles that are in line with the original look, and a slightly cool gray color not far off from where the cabin started.  So, in sum, it looks almost like a dream version of the old cabin, renewed. A few minor items remain but those may be completed over the weekend, we’ll see.  Tomorrow I start taking old shingles and other debris to the dump.

The above painting, Eve Swings, had a twisting (okay, tortured) path to completion.  I loved the big olive-y green shape with the pink base color, the torn white piece, and the smaller red square-ish, but things went through a lot of changes from there.  There were a couple more pieces intended, but once I got this far I changed my mind and left it in this simpler state.  The orange and red rod shapes retained their edges, conveying the halo effect I noted in my last post.  I don’t think this photograph gives the colors their due; their cool but juicy interplay in the original is a big part of the “swing”.  LOVE reds; the infinity of reds gives me an infinity of pleasures.


"For Juana" - Carraher 2022

For Juana
2022.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

Life has been generous with the curveballs lately, and I’m a little stressed out with trying to both keep up and keep from getting hit.  I think the only reason I’m able to settle down and write a post today is that yesterday I finally got my paintings safely deposited with the framer and feel secure they will be ready for the “Wonder Valley Friends” exhibition opening two weeks from today at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.  When last I posted I had expected I would be getting them in to the framers the next day, and I was much surprised on that visit to learn my venerable long-time framers don’t deal in the particular frames I wanted to use.  Yikes!  Not what I expected to hear!  So then the scramble was on, the mad details of which I’ll spare you, but I did eventually find what I wanted on-line, the two suppliers were surprisingly prompt and well-packaged in their shipping, and yesterday the batch of seven paintings and their intended frames were delivered for assembly to my regular framers.

But that little drama pales beside the larger disruptions, the greatest of which is the construction happening on my studio.  It’s needed re-siding since…well, since before I even bought the place, but I loved the original look and didn’t want to change it.  But my property insurer was less enamored of the vintage look and demanded I replace the ancient disintegrating shingles or lose coverage.  The journey from there has involved all the distresses familiar to our current climate such as shortage of skilled ready labor, shortage of supplies, lost materials, late deliveries, etc., plus some associated wild-card mishaps such as motorcycle accidents (not mine), failing septic systems, and vehicle breakdowns.  The last couple months have been an adventure, and not a fun one.

Be all that as it may, at this moment the old shingles are off the studio, new windows are installed, plywood sheathing and black paper wrap are in place, and half the new shingles are up. The yard is a jumble of materials and tools and the interior of the studio a mess, but progress is now swift and in a few weeks I believe all will be back to rights.  I can’t wait.

Above is another of the new collages, this one also featuring charcoal.  I got a similar speckled result from the main color layer that had also occurred on the preceding piece, “Karma”.  Once again, I rather liked it.  Notably in this painting I retained the translucent edges of the collage pieces rather than trimming them off.  The combination of slight reflectivity and cloudy translucence bestows a kind of aura around the shapes that appeals to me.  So this piece marks a distinct development in my handling of the edges of my collage bits, a development that has continued in following works.  Counting the days until I can get back in the studio and do some more.