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.

3-1/4 Views of Fukushima

"3-1/4 Views of Fukushima" - Carraher 2021

3-1/4 Views of Fukushima
February 2021.  Acrylic on wood panel. 12 x 9 in.

Hard to get a good scan of this painting, but basically it’s just two colors, ultramarine blue and pyrrole red, rolled on a wood panel with a soft brayer.

Ten years on, the several related events involved with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including the earthquake and tsunami as well as the spread of radioactive debris in the ocean, still cause uneasiness and even nightmares for people on the West Coast.  The Pacific Ocean is a big unsteady bowl on the edges of which Japan and the Western states all sit.  Our toes are all wet with the same water.  We are neighbors, and share the same dreads.  My heart still feels for the people of Japan and all they suffered in this multifaceted disaster.

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Picture

"Carbon 2" - Carraher 2020

Carbon 2
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

Things have moved to a new level in the studio the last few months.  A subtle graduation has occurred.  I seem to have gained my footing with the acrylics.  I have enough skills now that I am better able to achieve what I’m trying to do, to match the execution to the vision and the impulse.  And when I encounter a challenge, I’m more likely to know a solution, or at least in which direction to turn.  And because of this, I am more patient.  I’m willing to set a work aside for months, if need be, and feel confident that the solution or direction will become apparent to me with time.  The flailing has lessened; the Hail Mary passes are fewer.  And I’m less likely to fall into an abyss of hopelessness and self-condemnation when several works in a row seem unsuccessful. 

I’m also fully focused now on several series of works and have lost patience with my long-time practice of giving myself “assignments” to help me learn.  There’s a growing pile of such pieces that I’ve simply lost interest in.  And I’ve become better at distinguishing between works on which I’m just unsure how to proceed, and those that just actually don’t mean anything to me.  This is a change from the past.  The curiosity of trying to learn something or the challenge of solving them technically is not enough to carry me through to completion.  I keep wandering off to the works that compel me.  

This is a good thing.   

The works I’m doing now may or may not be “good” – I’m not in the best position to judge – but they are what I want to be doing.  I’m achieving my visions, and through the prompts of the medium and process itself I’m discovering  new visions, visions that surprise me. 

“Carbon 2”, above, is from a small but growing series that surprises me, and keeps pulling me forward in an unhurried way.  There are four completed works now, and I know more are coming.  I posted the first here (it was an “Untitled” then, but I’ve since realized it was “Carbon 1”).   I’ve been working increasingly with black and white, or minor variations on B&W such as the grayed white in the Carbon paintings, or just small amounts of other hues as in Urchin and Pause Point.  And, for those who are curious about such things, the black pigment in the Carbon paintings is carbon black; it is Mars black in the other two just mentioned.   

OMG Showing Again!

"Untitled (10 19 18)" - Carraher 2018

Untitled (10 19 18)
2018.  Acrylic and charcoal on foamboard. 6.5 x 8.25 in.

Wow.  The drought has attenuated if not ended.  I WILL be showing work on walls again!

First, the 29 Palms Art Gallery reopened in March, and I will have a couple pieces in the Members Gallery for the month of April.  Featured artists are Khrysso Heart LeFey and Warner Graves, hours 11-3 Thursday through Sunday.  I will be docenting this Thursday April 1 if you want to stop by and say a socially distanced and masked hi!

Second, I have registered for Open Studio Art Tours in October!  I’ll be doing the second and third weekends (16-17 and 23-24), covid-goddess willing.  I’m very pleased.  I love showing my work in my own studio and really missed it last year.

Above is a little early acrylic work which was very important in my evolution with acrylics.  I suppose it counts as a “small Ways” piece as I was using up some leftover paint on a scrap of foamboard covered with clear gesso.  The linework with charcoal happened first, and the paint followed totally spontaneously.  I was very pleased with it, and it opened up a world of possibilities in my mind.  My work has progressed so much over the last three years, but I have yet to match some of those early, accidental pieces that hit me right in my sweet spot, like this one.  🙂

Man as Subject

Number 10, (1950) by Mark Rothko

Number 10, 1950 by Mark Rothko, 1950.
Oil on canvas, 90-3/8 x 57-1/8 in.
(Museum of Modern Art, New York)

I love drawing from life.  Perhaps my most revelatory art-making experience came in my first figure-drawing course, when we were introduced to gesture drawing, the super-short (like, 20-second) poses that force one to try to capture the essential energy of the stance in a simple, rapid action.  I quickly realized that I loved the bold attack that was required, and that it generated my best work – strong, fluid, fresh, honest.  I also learned that long poses bored me – often I’d said most of what I wanted to say in that first attack, and prolonged development did not usually improve on it.

But the human figure is rarely a subject in my work.  Nor is the drama and urge for story-making that accompanies it.  I experience almost a visceral rejection of narrative and drama as subject.  I view excising unnecessary drama from our lives as a step on the path to transcendence; portraying it in my art only reinforces it.

But is it necessary for the figure to be the subject for our work to be humanistic?  As we are ourselves human, cannot humanity help but be present in our work?

William C. Seitz, in his early classic Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, explores subject matter and content as used in the work of several fellow artists of the New York School, including the subject of “man”:

The subject of man, however, divides between an objective outer conception and inner expression.  God, in the traditional sense in which He was imaged on the Sistine ceiling, is seldom represented today.  Yet the personal quest for a transcendental reality, and for an absolute, has in no sense abated.  Recognition must be give to this all-important distinction between more or less objectively stated, often representational, subject matter and an inner existential, or transcendental, content. “

And further on:

A rationalized attempt to solve the dilemma of subject, means, and technique, if such it is, theoretically splits into two possible solutions:  first, and more conservative, a reciprocal modification of contemporary abstract form and the autonomy of the human body; second, the more daring solution which accepts the challenge of abstraction and seeks to contain and communicate human meaning without representation.  It is characteristic of the Abstract Expressionists to find plastic solutions in which contradiction is sustained.

…Let us direct our attention to the [first] solution.  In regarding the content we call “human” as synonymous with figuration, are we not in tacit agreement with the opponents of modern style?  Are we not committing ourselves to a philosophy of art which is, to say the least, a bit beefy?

The notably cantankerous Mark Rothko was achieving his classic style (as in “Number 10”, at the top of this post) in the early 1950s, the years when Seitz was interviewing him and observing his work.  But a decade and a half before his style was quite different:

Underground Fantasy, c.1940 - Mark Rothko

Subway (Subterranean Fantasy) by Mark Rothko, ca. 1936
Oil on canvas, 33-3/4 x 46 in.
(The Mark Rothko Foundation, New York)

Seitz considers Rothko’s development “especially instructive” in his examination of man as subject:

[Rothko’s] compositions of the thirties represent human figures in rooms and subways and streets.  Some of the reasons for his change in forms may be reflected in later observations:  “But the solitary figure could not raise its limbs in a single gesture that might indicate its concern with the fact of mortality and an insatiable appetite for ubiquitous experience in the face of this fact.  Nor could the solitude be overcome.  It could gather on beaches and streets and in parks only through coincidence, and, with its companions, for a tableau vivant of human incommunicability.”  Seen in relation to his verbal statements and conversation, the abandonment of traditional figuration in Rothko’s work appears to have been a breakthrough from the hampering representation of everyday situations to meanings hidden behind compromises which, though they must make up practical living, mask the inner drives, desires, and fears which form the core of experience:  “The presentation of this drama in the familiar world was never possible . . . The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.”

This is the challenge that interests me.  Seitz’ second “possible solution”.

Technicolor

"Bell Poem No. 17" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 17
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

Whoa, color!  We’re not in black-and-white Kansas anymore here!  But is it still a Bell Poem?  Yes.  Began as always, with big black gesture on a white 20 x 10-inch canvas.  After that the technique is similar to what I used on The Furies:  saturated transparent acrylic color blended straight on the canvas with lots of gloss medium.  Blue-green, Indian yellow, cadmium red deep.  Plenty of aplomb and no place for hesitation or second-guessing. Wheee!!

Here’s No. 15, done not long before it but harkening back to methods I’ve used since early in the series:

"Bell Poem No. 15" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 15
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

This one started out straightforward enough but went awry early on.  After the gesture I stained the surface a bright yellow with a sponge, then applied another layer of stain with violet but went too weak, and instead of a vivid, vital surface of complementary contrast I ended up with a feeble gray.  Argh.  So I stained another layer with ultramarine blue, a little stronger this time, and ended up with this muted green.  Kind of liked it, but…eh.  I finished with another gesture in an opaque celadon.  Obviously a very different feel from technicolor No. 17, but I decided there was room for it also in the collection.  

I love doing these.  Always an adventure.  

Urchin

"Urchin" - Carraher 2021

Urchin
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

This work developed from a simple arch-like figure in raw umber and went through quite a bit to arrive in the final state you see here.  I began it similarly to Pause Point – prepping the canvas with a darker value undercoat then overpainting with white to leave a just-off-white surface slightly varied in temperature and value but not heavily textured. The initial improvised arch figure was interesting but…not that interesting.  I started building with both the raw umber and the black and, to my surprise, felt pulled to bring in the violet.  I knocked certain parts back with white, but left faint shadows of some of what had already transpired. 

I was quite happy with it in the end, but it wasn’t until the very end that I felt that way.  Most of the time it felt pretty awkward.  It helped when the title occurred to me, well into the process.  I then better understood the direction I was going.  Sometimes that’s just how it goes.