Mandalas

"Mandala IV" - Carraher 2021

Mandala IV
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

So there’s 12 of them so far, these mandalas.  I’d been working on them in late winter and spring, then actually set them aside a number of weeks ago.  I needed some distance before assessing.  Looking at them now, I believe several need more work.  We’ll see how that turns out.  But I’m feeling reasonably confident now that I’m on a worthwhile track.

Obviously I’m not staying with what is more popularly understood as a mandala, a “geometric configuration of symbols”.  I’m eschewing symbols completely, and “geometry” would apply in only the loosest interpretation of the term.  The idea of an “aid to meditation and trance induction” is maybe closer to the mark.  Whatever, as usual my approach is more poetic than academic, and the discovery of the purpose of my projects often comes after they are begun, not before.

Anyway.  Color is the founding and guiding element of these mandalas, and this particular one goes further than most of them in use of color.  But I should warn you that it was a challenge to reproduce the original colors digitally and this result is frankly exaggerated.  The actual painting is a little more subdued.  Satisfying, though.

All Is Not Lost

"Yellow Cabin" - Carraher 2008

Yellow Cabin
2008.  Pastel on sandpaper.  9-5/8 x 10-1/2 in.

Saturday evening, after visiting the closing receptions at Gallery 62 and JTAG in Joshua Tree, we walked up the street to where a private reception was being held for Kim Stringfellow’s Jackrabbit Homestead installation at The Station.  The work was commissioned for Desert X 2021 and was trailered up the grade from Palm Desert when that site-specific exhibition closed last month.  The installation is a lovingly imagined recreation of the homestead of writer Catherine Venn Peterson, who wrote about her experience for Desert Magazine in 1950. 

Kim has done extensive photography, research, and publication on the small-tract homestead movement, including multiple exhibitions such as at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and her book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  (The book has finally been reissued and is available for purchase at The Station in Joshua Tree.)  

I met Kim sort of inevitably in the 2000’s as we were both deeply interested in the homestead cabins, their origins, and their effects in and upon the desert landscape.  Her work has been thoughtful, honest, and beautiful, and I’m proud to have been included in her JRHS project as, for example, part of the Jackrabbit Homestead audio tour and in this KCET Artbound segment, where I blithely blather in front of my studio on a witheringly hot afternoon where we had to take breaks to let the camera cool down.  

I myself did a lot of creative work back then on the topic of the homesteads, including co-direction of the one-and-only Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival in 2008 and a number of paintingsYellow Cabin above, from 2008, proved to be the last I was to do for quite a while.  But in 2015 I picked up sort of where I had left off, creating the deeply colored pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave using pencil sketches I had created at that time, in the mid-2000’s.  

It’s very possible those were the final works I’ll ever do of the homesteads.  The derelict cabins that fascinated me truly are disappearing now, along with the peculiar homestead community where I found my place to be for the last 30 years.  It took a very long time, but the great consuming maw of late-stage capitalism has found its way to even this blighty little edge-world. 

But, in the meantime, it was great to see Kim at the reception, for real and in person.  Over the covid time friends were in no way forgotten but did become unreal in a way.  Now, when we see them again it’s, like, wham!  They’re real, and alive!  No longer missing, I guess you could say.  A lot of things have been lost in the last year and a half, but not everything.  I’m so happy to find some things are still with us. 

Light

 

"Light" - Carraher 2021

Light
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

First, a couple brief housekeeping items:

One:  There will be a closing reception for Creativity During Quarantine at Gallery 62 this Saturday, May 29, 5-8 pm.  It’s a mark of how things have changed just in this last month that when the show opened on May 8 the gallery staff did not feel an opening reception was safe; now, just a few weeks later, they feel ready for such an event.  Hope to see you there!

Two:  If you want to receive new posts from this blog, there’re several easy ways to subscribe.  Scroll down the sidebar to enter your email address and hit the Follow button.  Or, below that is a button if you want to follow via WordPress, or, alternatively, another button if you’d rather add it to your RSS feed.

This painting, Light, is of the same lineage as Pause Point and Urchin but in the larger 18 x 18-in format I used with Genie and Jack (Steady at Sea).  But, like with Genie, rather than continuing with Mars black I stopped after the initial earth-tone gesture.   A very simple work, obviously.  But we can always use more light in this world.  

Maritime Constellation

"Maritime Constellation" - Carraher 2020

Maritime Constellation
2020.  Acrylic and china maker on wood panel. 9 x 12 in.

I did several of these in the later months of last year; this is the only one I’m happy with.

I began each of them with several coats of gesso, then rolled on two values of a single color with a brayer, overlapping.  The initial linear work was with black and white china makers.  I observed this one on and off for weeks, weighing options and potential, and finally added the blue line straight from the tube.   A lot of picky little minor manipulations followed until it felt right, smoothing curves, bringing them forwards or backwards, letting some bits fade and strengthening others.  As is often the case, the title was clear to me before finishing.

None of the works went at all where I thought I was going when I started the series, and I finally accepted that the original idea just wasn’t going to pan out.  But I did get at least this one thing out of it that I like.  And I like it pretty swell.

Pruning, and What Remains

In the studio 2000

Magicgroove studio, circa 2000

Last January I posted about cleaning and reorganizing in my studio.  Turns out that was just the prelude.  I find myself eager to go much deeper, more than ready to discard, update, improve in both major and minor ways.  I’ve finally installed thermal curtains to help stave off the heat entering through the twin 60-year-old 5×6-foot windows on the southwest side.  I’ll be replacing some pieces of hand-me-down furniture with rolling wire shelving.  I’m revamping my storage options for everything from blank canvases to old project records.  

But not everything is going.  In this old photo I am sitting in a swiveling armchair, the single piece I salvaged from the original owner’s overstuffed living room set.  It’s upholstered in a blinding giant brown-and-orange plaid but is otherwise perfect for silent, slightly swingy cogitation, so I threw a sheet over it and to this day do all my most useful contemplation in it.  Also seen here and for sitting:  one of a pair of sturdy yellow linoleum chairs that had already seen their best days when the previous owner left them, but are still some of the most useful items in the studio.  And next to it a thrift-shop rolling chair that has since moved on, but the shirt over its back is still with me, now on the shoulders of a modern drafting chair.  It’s a vintage roomy twill women’s overshirt from the ’40s, a  pale brown with colored flowers block-printed on each of the two big patch pockets.  And it came with its own paint stains; clearly it had been used as a studio shirt by someone before me.  I suspect it will remain as a talisman in the studio as long as I am still working in there. 

In the far corner is a dress form that belonged to the late mother of a friend.  She did dress designing, mostly for herself, late at night when the children were asleep.  It’s the old professional kind, made of fabric and hanging from a rolling metal stand.  I do use it on the occasions when I still sew; mostly it just wears items that are meaningful to me, often those of friends who have departed. 

Somewhat difficult to see in the shadows against the back wall, barely visible between the linoleum and rolling chairs, is an open trunk that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  It had traveled with her to California from Pittsburg in the ’20s, when she came with her daughter and my father when he was still quite small.  It has her name painted on the side, and I guess I can’t get rid of it although it’s pretty beaten up and not the most practical item.  It was holding props at the time this picture was taken; it’s still holding props — “props” being a euphemism for items that fascinate me and that I think I might draw someday but mostly don’t.  

And finally there are a few paintings and drawings on the wall, including this one of which I made two versions – this was the first:

"Ocotillo No. 1" - Carraher 2000

Ocotillo No. 1
2000.  Pastel on paper, 20 x 17 in. 

 

Work this month at Gallery 62

"Jack (Steady at Sea)" - Carraher 2021

Jack (Steady at Sea)
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

The local galleries continue to reopen (with social distancing protocols still in place, of course)!  Gallery 62 in Joshua Tree presents Creativity During Quarantine:  “Our first members’ exhibition in 2021 is a large group show themed around how our artist members used this time at home to traverse new roads in their artistic output. Some artists were more creative, tried new techniques and/or shifted their subject matter as a result of the stay-at-home order. Instead of focusing on the year lost to Covid-19 let’s celebrate the new work created during this time.”

I think artists are very interested in showing or talking about that new work; I certainly am.  I had two recent pieces accepted in the show, Bell Poems No. 7 and No. 11, and when the gallery requested a few lines on how we experimented with our art practice during quarantine, I submitted the following:

The pandemic year has shaped both the content and the process of my work.  It coincided with a move from the pastel medium to acrylics, a plunge which was accelerated with the increased studio time.  Uninterrupted focus allowed me to explore further, deeper, broader – for better or for worse.  I was able, in the absence of external judgments and demands, to pursue each thread of inquiry fully, and multiple threads at a time.  All the while, an engagement with larger questions of human existence, tragedy, and hope was unavoidable.  Increasingly I found the work revealing a meditative space, a grounding place, a respite for the viewer from a world roiling with fear, chaos, and illusion.

The show also features Jen Shakti’s work in the Signature Room and will be on view May 8th through 30th, Saturdays 9-3:00 and Sundays 9 to noon.  At Gallery 62’s sister gallery, JTAG, venerable Wonder Valley artist and curator Suzanne Ross presents REGROUP: Wide and Narrow spaces, a group exhibition of large and small works.  A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at these galleries for keeping them alive through these challenging times, and a resounding Congratulations! at reopening to the live public.

The work above – Jack (Steady at Sea) – was finished last month after the prepped canvas had sat around quite a while.  Sometimes one gets anxious at the prospect of committing.  But ultimately I did set upon it with brush in hand, and I was not disappointed.  Again a little larger, like Genie.  For my father.

Lighthearted

"Lighthearted" - Carraher 2021

Lighthearted
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

This actually did start out as black and white, but it certainly didn’t stay that way!  It’s one of four pieces I began months ago. only finally finishing in the last couple weeks.  They all started with black improvisations brushed on a plain white ground, although two of them had been textured first with Golden Light Molding Paste, including this one. 

I liked the black drawing, but I really disliked the cold white over the texturing.  It did not inspire me.  So, after a few weeks of staring at it, I stained it with quinacridone red to a pale rose. 

really hated the rose.  I mean, really hated it.  Like gnashing my teeth when I’d look at it.  So, once again, it sat around for weeks but this time with me not staring at it.  Just avoiding it.  

Finally I’d had enough.  I chose my palette (the original quinacridone red, cadmium yellow light, and cerulean blue) and sailed in with abandon, starting with the orange and progressing to the green.  I’d always known I was going to have that blue stripe, and opposite was going to be a white stripe, but I didn’t like that after all and covered it with the yellow.  Came together pretty fast, once I finally got to it. 

This is a different way of handling the paint than I’ve used heretofore.  It helps to feel one has nothing to lose.  It specifically helped to have the textured and tinted surface that I just wanted to mess up; I am so easily enslaved by the beauty of a pure white surface, I get too careful.  This painting turned out to have no visible white in it at all – quite unusual for me.  I’m really glad I got over it, because I quite like the texture in it.  It truly adds a third dimension. 

Anyway, in the end it felt good and I like how it turned out.  Different for me, at least in a paint medium (as opposed to pastels).  It’s got a hint of a Matissean feel to it, in terms of the saturated color, loose drawing, and joyous mood.  I like that direction.  Glad I stuck it out. 

Correction: Date Change Open Studios Art Tour 2021

"Mar12/20" - Carraher 2020

Mar12/20
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 8 x 10 in.

For anyone who just got an essentially text-less version of this post, my apologies:  I don’t believe I hit “Publish”, but I guess I must have.  So that went out by mistake, premature.  Grumble.

What I intended to write was that the dates I’ll be participating in the 2021 Open Studio Art Tours in October have changed.  Instead of the 2nd and 3rd weekends, I’ll be doing the 1st and 2nd weekends.  That’s October 9/10 and 16/17.

That’s still a ways off, of course.  But in the meantime, I’ve just put a couple more pieces in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery for the month of May, including the work above.  Featured artists this month include John Henson, Jennifer Grandi, and Denise Tanguay.  Reception will be this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7:00.

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes

"Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes" - Carraher 2000

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes
2000.  Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper.  8-3/4 x 6-3/4 in.

We finally took this small painting in for framing last week.  It’s been sitting in a drawer, carefully wrapped in glassine, for 20 years.  I’m very patient with these things; having created it is the primary source of satisfaction, and I don’t need to look at it all the time after that.  And I knew I would never agree to sell it; it’s a key piece of my work, plus I dearly love it.  My partner, who loves it also, is not as patient as I am, and she had found a frame that was suitable.  She wants it on the wall.

I drew the original charcoal sketch out behind the house I was living in at the time, about half a mile from where I am now.  It’s the view facing north, with a creosote bush, the distant Bullion Mountains on the Marine base, and some ground-squirrel dens amid the swells of sand and dried grasses.

I liked the swingy gestural feel of the large sketch, and some time later I reduced it with the scanner and transferred it to a piece of Ersta sandpaper.  The pastel technique I was using at the time involved building up layers of color and value with scribbly line, which can give a lot of depth and complexity but also breathing space while still retaining the sparkle and intensity of the pigments.  Recreating the charcoal line was a challenge, a kind of task I had plenty of opportunity to practice over many more years of drawing and painting in pastel.

This would have been around the time I acquired my studio, when I was working mainly with Rembrandt pastels.  Soon after I would have bought my full set of Senneliers, which are much softer, and eventually began working the surface with my brush technique and left this scribbly style behind.  But the fact is I miss it and often think I need to pick it up again.  It has its own unique potential and satisfactions.  Someday.

Genie

"Genie" - Carraher 2021

Genie
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

I post this image aware that no one may perceive its charm besides myself. The painting began in the vein of Pause Point and Urchin, with an earth pigment gestured on a white-on-dark ground and the intention of following this up with Mars black.  I did come back in with white, several times, to remove some areas of umber I didn’t need; you can see the ghosts of the strokes in the upper portion.  But when I got to this stage, I just wouldn’t go further.  This painting sat in the studio for months as I waited for permission to continue.  But I never got it.  I simply was satisfied with this “Genie” (the name came to me almost immediately).  I debated with myself about the messiness in those upper areas, which are not clean or well-painted, frankly.  But repeatedly I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to change them.  I liked the messiness, for perverse reasons.  I like all the grubby ghosts in there.  

This canvas is larger, 18 by 18 inches.  Once again I was re-purposing an old painting, done maybe a year ago but that had never felt quite right.  It was good that it kicked me into the larger format.  I have several going at this size now.  I like the physical impact as the format scales up.  And I like the physical feel of painting it.  Fits me better.