Monthly Archives: March 2021

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. 

Bell Poem No. 16

"Bell Poem No. 16" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 16
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

I’ve finally gotten more photographing done and will be posting some catch-ups.  This piece was completed in January.  It went off in yet another new direction for the Bell Poems, which I like.  Again, what they have in common is that they begin as a large-brush gesture in black acrylic on white, on a 20 x 10-inch canvas.  So a lot can end up coming out of that category.  This one is particularly pleasing to me.  Lyrical. 

Ollas

"Olla #7 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #7 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 8 in.

My sister spent years living and traveling in Mexico.  She was a dancer and musician especially focused on fandango and son jarocho, the folk forms of the Veracruz region.  Mexican arts and culture were central to her life.   She collected artisanal works as she traveled, both because of her personal love of the historical forms and also as a way to support and promote indigenous artists.

When she died, my brother and I sorted through her belongings which included many ceramics, especially those of that ancient form, the round, humble olla,  She had examples of the colorful colonial talavera style, as well as a range of black or earth-colored pots of more Native origin.

Some of these ollas made their way home with me.

Around this same time I started experimenting with acrylics.

"Olla #4" - Carraher 2018

Olla #4
2018.  Acrylic on foamboard. 8 x 6 in.

The ollas made a good, simple subject for still lifes, but I’m never able to stick with that form for long and after just a couple I was free-handing and abstracting them.  These two small studies were done on scraps of foamboard I had sitting around the studio, and involved palette knife as well as brush.

"Olla #5" = Carraher 2018

Olla #5
2018.  Acrylic on foamboard. 6 x 8 in.

A year after my sister’s passing I began a small series of ollas on canvas in her memory; the first of them is at the top of this post.  They all used essentially the same palette and technique.  After laying down an orange ground I made a loose free-hand drawing, surrounding it with the blue and incising with the back end of the brush.

"Olla #8 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #8 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas.  10 x 8 in.

While she was in hospice my brother and I took turns staying with her during the night, sleeping on the floor of her one room.  Above me the shelves were full of ceramics and books about the art and history of Mexico.  And next to me on the floor, her favorite jarana in its case and, in a basket, several other jaranas that she would lend to her students – all instruments made by compadres in Mexico.

She was silent that last week, in a morphine dream, far away, her body getting lighter and lighter.  The daffodils she had planted were blooming all around the garden, and I would bring them into the room.  The daffodil yellow found its way into the last of the ollas I painted, for the day after her leaving:

"Olla #11 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #11 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas.  10 x 8 in.

Vaya con dios, mi hermana.

A New Day

 

"Prayer Flag (Indigo)" - Carraher 2020

Prayer Flag (Indigo)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in. 

The approval of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act yesterday by the Senate virtually assures its final passage.  To me it feels like, finally, an embrace of the job that needed to be done a year ago – the essential duty that was shirked at best and actively opposed at worst by the last administration.   

In the interim, we lost half a million Americans to the pandemic.  Many of them, I am certain, would not have died if federal leadership had done their job last year. 

So today I post a Prayer Flag to remember those lost and to celebrate the new day and new direction that has begun.  May the vile dereliction that led me to create the Plague Faces never torture this nation again. 

Pause Point

"Pause Point" - Carraher 2021

Pause Point
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

This work also is painted over an old image, this time without a lot of texture but resulting in a faintly warm, unevenly white surface that has its own intrigue.  I began the figure improvisation with the burnt sienna, then the black, followed by a lot of looking and eventually revisions in black, or white, and more looking.  I’m very happy with its final balance and proportion, and the richness of the white flush with variations in value and temperature.  Very different than working on a perfect white surface.  All these different white surfaces have their attractions, but the distinctions among them carry increasing significance for me.

So much to learn.  Lifetimes’ worth.