Author Archives: magicgroove

About magicgroove

Chris Carraher, artist. Find me at www.magicgrove.net.

Carrying On

"Bell Poem No. 18" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 18
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

My spirit revived somewhat this week when my partner came out into the studio with me and we looked together at the work I’ve been doing, the situation in the studio, and the possibilities for a sane, safe, and satisfying participation in October’s Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours(Reminder:  I’ll be Studio No. 2 on the first and second weekends, Oct. 9-10 and 16-17.) 

The challenges of this summer (not to mention the last two years) have been frankly discouraging, and I’ve been on the cusp of withdrawing from the Tours.  (Did I mention that the power went out for 22 hours after a thunderstorm last week during triple-digit temps, and that there was a breakdown at the well and we were without water the weekend before?)  I’ve felt extremely unprepared despite my best efforts, covid continues to make public events fraught, isolation has led to a crisis of artistic confidence, and the Art Tours organizers have also suffered from the covid malaise in their preparations and promotions, leading to a less predictable and potentially less successful event.

But as my partner and I pulled out the artworks, considered possible hanging schemes, and addressed organizational challenges, my spirits rose.  Although I know this year may not be be as straightforward, convivial, and celebratory as past Tours, it really is possible that it will be rewarding in its own way.   I do believe in the work, and I do believe that viewing it here in this desert retreat may bring some folks solace in this stressful and alienating time.

It helped that my partner was so enamored of the works that she has commandeered several pieces for hanging in the house until next month, including Bell Poem No. 18 above and also Mandala II.  It is reassuring that she is so delighted by them; as I mentioned, the isolation of the last two years has left me in need of a reality check on the appeal of the work.  Of course, she is biased, but so is everyone, right?  Anyway, the next challenge will be getting them back away from her for display in the studio in October.

Texture

"Carbon 6" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 6
June 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

Now that the studio is comfortable to work in again, I spent most of last week doing multiple photo trials of my more textured paintings.  It’s a tricky enterprise:  When you light the work to capture more surface texture, you trade away some of the other important qualities of the painting such as layers and variation in value and opacity.  It’s hard to hit the right balance.  I want to indicate the dimensionality and textural feel but I don’t want the “skin” of the painting to grab a disproportionate amount of the attention.  Ultimately, my goal in a photographic reproduction is to convey as closely as I can the sense of standing in front of the painting and experiencing it fully, in person, in all aspects.

This was an enterprise that did not fascinate me.  I am not a photographer and I don’t want to be one.  I’m just trying to record the work as “accurately” as I can.  And I’m a pretty dogged person, so I worked through all the variables that were reasonably available to me, which took some time.  In the end I realized that there was no perfect version, but rather just the version best for the particular purpose at hand.

As the importance of texture and dimensionality has increased in my work, my antipathy toward digital reproduction has been foregrounded.  There are SO many digital images saturating our every day, leading to a constant visual chaos and cacophony.  Perhaps it’s different for you, but I am left with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion.  More and more, I prize the actual, real-life artwork.  An experience of shallowness versus an experience of depth.

This is a main reason why I’m not on Instagram, etc., and don’t seek out additional opportunities to post my work on-line.  This aversion obviously complicates my art career in the time of covid.  But apparently I don’t care.

Let’s get off the screens and smell the paint, people.  Time to reach out for what’s real.

Hi-Desert Milestones

"2020 Suite No. 2" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 2
2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The venerable Beatnik Lounge in Joshua Tree has reopened and is holding its first IRL show since March 2020.  For the “OOOF” show – “Olly Olly Oxen Free” – curator Deb Tobin had some guidelines that resonated fully in the desert this summer of 2021:

The call for the hide-and-seekers to come back to the base.
The cartoon sound of a punch to the gut.
The sound of being greeted by 110ºF Mojave desert salutations.
It should also be noted that 2021 is the year of the Metal Ox in the Chinese zodiac, so those oxen can come in free too.

As one can see in the virtual exhibition on the Beatnik website, the submissions run rather wild and unrestrained – no surprise.  Included is No. 2 from my 2020 Suite (see No. 1 here and No. 3 here).  

Joshua Tree happily supports a permanent floating population of a kind of beatnik strain, and there seems always to be a venue to fill their needs and house their productions.  It changes names, proprietors, and sometimes location, but defining boundaries across time are few.  Its current incarnation is the Beatnik Lounge which, in my version of local history, has its roots all the way back in the early or mid ’90s with Jeremy’s Cappucino Bar, a tiny coffee room in the strip mall between Sam’s Indian Pizza and the radio station.  Jeremy then moved it over to its current roomier location in more central JT, where, as I remember it, the words “Beatnik Lounge” got added to the name.  Due no doubt to its prehistoric age I find only one reference to Jeremy’s on line (a characteristic blues jam with JT musician Clive Wright), and it is probably from this second location.

At some point the sign changed and it became The Red Arrow Gallery, which is when the arrow (not as big as the original 15-footer in the gallery’s old location up the highway) appeared at the roof-line.  The Red Arrow put more emphasis on the gallery but retained the refreshment bar along with performances and readings, and many a memorable, free-wheeling event was had. 

And then, somewhere along the line, the name became Beatnik Lounge once again (Jeremy having many years since decamped Back East), and so the spirit continues in its eclectic, welcoming, opposite-of-uptight floating way.  Welcome back, Beatnik, and congratulations on making it through Covid Year. 

However, just down the block, Gallery 62, the flagship of the cooperative Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, will sadly close its doors at the end of October.  The collective show of the annual Open Studio Art Tours will be the final exhibition.  The Council and the Gallery have made it through the last tough year and a half, but the rent is just too much at this point.  They will retain JTAG gallery, though, so all is not lost.  And it appears that the Art Tours will be proceeding as planned this year, after being derailed in 2020 by everybody’s favorite pandemic. 

And if I may be allowed to note one final local and quite personal milestone:  cooling has returned to my studio.  Last weekend the unit fired up and ran perfectly, and I’m so grateful to say that peace, quiet, and moderate temperatures are now supporting my creative efforts.  I could not be happier.  In honor, I post the first of the Mandalas, subtitled “Nandi Wanders the Universe”.  

"Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)" - Carraher 2021

Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Mandala II

"Mandala II" - Carraher 2020

Mandala II
2021.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

I’ve been doing short photo shoots in the studio despite the heat, because with Open Studio Art Tours coming up in October I have to get going on this.  For lighting reasons I shoot after dark, so the worst of the heat is over for the day.  So I’ll have some newer paintings to post, including this one from my Mandala series.

When I posted about the new Mandala series before I mentioned that I felt several needed more work.  Mandala II was one I had doubts about.  It ended up with major modifications and I do not regret undertaking them.  It’s a much better piece now.

Mandala II is dynamic, not static, which doesn’t agree with everyone’s idea of a mandala.  And yet it is that acknowledgement of dynamism that gives me peace in an unstable world.  It is my hope that it helps bring more peace and compassion into a world that sorely needs it.

All things in their appointed time

"Homestead Losing Roof No 2" - Carraher2016

Homestead Losing Roof No. 2
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper.  11-1/8 x 13-7/8 in.
from Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave 

All things in their appointed time.  Cooling in the studio, apparently, is not appointed at this time.  Several more hurdles have been surmounted, the professional was out here this morning and everything with the new unit is good to go, but now we find that the 220 circuit we believed was in place was…not there, after all.

Have I ever posted on here about where I live?  It’s in the Mojave desert – the lower, dryer, harsher parts of the Mojave.  I live in an old homestead community, where most of the homes started out as “jackrabbit” kits that went up almost overnight (mine retailed for $4000 complete back in the day) and were made just as well as you would expect.  Many were then added onto by homeowners who may have been creative and resourceful but mostly were not experienced, certainly not professional; had little in the way of money; and had no interest in building codes.  Over the years desert conditions took these hopeful if unpromising starts and beat, wore on, and undermined them.  When repairs were needed those creative and resourceful homeowners, still with little in the way of money, kluged something together or paid a local neighbor (who may have more or less experience) to kluge something together for them.  The miracle is that things work as well as they do.  But every new repair or improvement is a voyage of discovery through layers of kluging and jerry-rigging that may have no resemblance to general building standards and practices.  

And so I find myself now, over two months since the effort began to replace the cooling in the studio, still without cooling.  This is in spite of heroic efforts on the part of my installer and today the ministrations and ultimate resounding thumbs-up of the HVAC pro.  So it is only now, with lift-off in sight, that this latest Wonder Valley electrical “creative construction” is discovered.  And the rocket remains limply on the launch-pad. 

We will now be digging a new circuit across the yard (and do not underestimate what digging means through layers of caliche and clay).  And then?  Perhaps I’ll have cooling.  But I suspect by then the easing temperatures of oncoming fall may render the matter moot.  Anyway.  One way or another, I will be back to full speed in the studio within a month, I dare to predict.  

Adventure

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait

Snapshot of pastel portrait study, 1997

Last week on my trip to the Central Coast I was walking with a friend along lovely Asilomar State Beach, south of Monterey, when I remembered that I’d been at the Asilomar Conference Center once many years ago, for a pastel figure-painting workshop. I’ve been feeling the tug of pastel again lately, so I dug into the archives and pulled up this snapshot of a portrait study I’d done that weekend.

This was the first and last fully developed pastel portrait I’ve done.  I should say “fully developed” in quotes because it’s really not quite finished.  As usual with representational work I was engaged so long as I was learning something new, but after a while it started to feel tedious and I lost interest.  I remember I didn’t like the puffy jacket the model was wearing and just kind of mentally wandered off at that point.  I actually do have some facility with realistic representation in that I have a fair eye and sense of proportion, but I find no adventure in it.  I’d rather use that facility to explore other dimensions of a subject.  So that’s why you won’t often see works like this posted on my blog.

I will say it’s a good likeness of this beautiful young man, who was a wonderful model and able to sit good-naturedly with this engaged expression for three hours.  I carefully followed the methods demonstrated by the instructor, the fine pastelist, esteemed teacher, and all around sweet soul the late Bob Gerbracht, and it’s a tribute to his teaching that I was able to wring something out of what at that time was my extremely limited pastel technique.  The handling of the medium is rough, to say the least, as you can see in this closer view.

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait 2

This was done on a light gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper, for folks who are interested in that kind of thing, and I was no doubt using my sturdy, dependable Rembrandts.

That workshop at Asilomar was a busy couple of days, without much time for beachcombing, but I got a lot out of it, maybe most importantly the confirmation, once again, that though I like drawing the figure, realism is just not my bag.  Too much like work, not enough like adventure.

Refreshed

"Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)" - Carraher 2015

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)
2015.  Pastel on sandpaper, 9-3/8 x 20-3/4 in.

I’ve been away – took a week to visit the coast and various friends and some sea creatures, and also to get away from the heat and the studio cooling problem which continues to resist solution.  After years of living in San Francisco I thought I’d had enough fog to last two lifetimes, but with the heat this summer my skin soaked up the seaside fog like a grateful sponge. 

We started in Ojai, that magical classic California valley of blossoms, oranges, and avocadoes.  We walked into the home of our friends there and the first thing to meet my eye was this painting , hanging in the entry.  I’d forgotten they’d bought it almost five years ago, and I was delighted to see it again!  It was my favorite among the 30 or so pieces in the Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave collection. 

I remembered then that they’d struggled to frame it.  It’s a high-key, delicately colored work with little value contrast, easy to overwhelm.  I didn’t envy them the challenge; I remember them asking at one point if I had any advice, and frankly I didn’t.  They’d finally gone with a mid-sized white mat and a wood frame painted a deep teal – really surprising!  And it looked great!  The teal picked up the faint outline color.  

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow) was based on a series of gestural sketches I’d done of local derelict desert homesteads.  This piece, one of the earliest from the collection, caught what I was after, with the dis-integration of the two walls; the porosity and overall melting, disappearing quality of the right-hand wall; the failing of architectural geometry; and the sense of organic reclamation.  I never created another quite as satisfying. 

We had a fine visit with our friends, meandering through their home and studio, viewing their own inspiring work, and feeling refreshed by its beauty and their creative, generous spirits.  The whole trip was like that.  So refreshing.  Even the fog!  There’s a time for everything. 

Cabin Overwhelmed

"Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun" - Carraher 2016

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper, 18-3/8 x 9-3/8 in.

The disappointing news?  The studio cooling installation has hit (yet another) snag.  This time expert reinforcements are required, and in a summer like this HVAC professionals can set their own schedules.  We will have to get in line and wait.  Again.  Still.

So the studio continues to run an interior average of 95 degrees, and to languish in the state of profound disarray the installation project has created.

What this means:  No painting.  No work on the promotions or ancillary products for October Open Studio Art Tours for which I need photos of the work, and to get those I need the use of the studio.  No preparing of the artworks or the space for display.  Canvases, mediums, and paints roasting at temperatures they were not made to withstand.

One thing I can say about pastels, in which I worked for years:  It’s a dry medium that is not bothered by heat, usually on a substrate of paper which is also not bothered by heat.  I didn’t realize how good I had it.

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun was part of my pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave , which arose from sketches I’d done over the years of derelict homesteads in my neighborhood.  My own studio cabin is not derelict; it is loved and cared for.  But it is most decidedly overwhelmed by the sun at the moment.  As am I.  This is a hellish summer.

We are all Mad Men now

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

As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be participating in the Morongo Basin Open Studio Art Tours this October.  In anticipation I’ve been doing a lot of reorganizing in my studio, discarding and updating.  That process is interrupted now due to the cooling problem (still with us, but very close to solved).  In the meantime, I’m working on some of the ancillary tasks, ones that I can do in the cool of my office, such as designing greeting cards that I will have for sale at Open Studio.

These cards will include several images from the Prayer Flag series that I completed in spring of last year, such as the Manganese Blue pictured above.  At that time I sold 10 of the 12 Prayer Flags through Facebook, in a very short time and without having intended to.  I’d never done any “marketing” through social media.  But of course, it was covid, galleries were shut down, and I had started posting my work more frequently in response.  Folks liked them and asked if they were available for purchase, and so that happened.

Marketing rules in America these digital days.  Rules all, pervades all.  Marketing of self, marketing of brand, marketing of product, marketing of cause…it never ends.  As soon as Americans got their hands on the technology, the all-consuming self-promotion began.  As an artist I’m supposed to be marketing…theoretically the work, but really, in the current style, myself.  Forget the artwork, I’m supposed to get you to like me, to relate to me, to…I don’t know, want to be like me?  Own a piece of me?  Self-promotion is an end in itself now, ubiquitous, weird…grotesque, frankly.  Rude to say it, I know, but seriously:  grotesque.  In my best moments I see it as sad but tenderly human.  But my more common reaction is a combination of nausea and fright.

And I’ve done it myself.  In the earlier days of the internet, and the earlier days of my career, I was pretty good at selling myself.  Ultimately, though, it made me recoil with a kind of loathing.  I felt trapped by my own “brand” and by the tyranny of the performance.  (Hence, my continual tiresome ambivalence towards this very blog you’re reading now.)

I don’t want to judge my fellow Americans just trying to survive in Late-Stage Capitalism.  We all gotta make a living.  But I think there’s a lot of self-selling these days that does not result in a living but at most reaps a kind of dumb fleeting attention and at worst results in being celebrated for one’s ability to self-promote and literally nothing else.  The celebrity, of course, being the apotheosis of this sad scramble.

The model is not a healthy one, my friends.  Not healthy for society, not healthy for individuals, not healthy for the earth and other living things.

This is not news, I know.  And it makes for a gloomy post.  But I’ve been wrestling with it, because I have to make decisions on how to promote my work at this stage in my career, at this stage in my life, and at this stage in American virtual culture.  I don’t like the array of options I see.  One longs to “opt out”. 

Consumerism has consumed itself.  Let’s see if there’s any place for the spirit in the vacuum that remains.

More Heat, But Cooling Ahead

Snapshot of "Chimney Rock" - Carraher 2021

Snapshot of “Chimney Rock
June 2021.  Acrylic, graphite, charcoal, ink on paper.  8 x 11 in.

It’s not news that we’re under another heat dome.  It’s actually hotter than the last one (118 yesterday, briefly hitting 119) but perhaps won’t be as sustained.  Once again hiding out in the house, shades drawn against the searing air.

But what IS news is that there is progress on getting cooling back in the studio!  The unit finally arrived after ridiculous and foul delays, and my installer has begun work.  However, the roaring temperatures are interfering with the next steps, notably laying a small concrete pad for the compressor; curing cement does not like these kinds of temperatures and will want to crack.  As well, he has had to take out a window and will need to do some work on the outside wall before proceeding with the inside installation, and, frankly, it’s just too dangerous to be working long in these conditions.  So, progress is hampered.  But we persist.

Once confronted with the reality of the unit in 3-D we unfortunately had to change  some of the plans.  Instead of placing the inside unit above the west window, we’re now removing the small northwest window and putting it there.  This window was the most expendable, being essentially the old original “bathroom” window, with the bottom half frosted and very leaky louvers that constantly sieved in drafts and dust.  But, on the other hand, it was a good source of ventilation in the west part of the room, and I will miss that.

Plus – sigh – I love my old cabin, and it distresses me to change any part of its humble, original self.    But the fact is, it’s suffered 60-plus years of desert brutalization and it needs upgrades to keep it standing and serving.  For example, the old asphalt shingles have had every possible modification to keep them operative but they are simply disintegrating right off the walls, and in the next year or two I will have to come up with a replacement plan for the siding.  Things have to change to survive, I guess.

So for now I’m trying to concentrate not on the losses but rather on how incredible it’s going to be to have modern, reliable cooling in there.  And, of course, on getting back to work.

The image above is another snapshot of a recent work on paper, from the same group as “Drought, 115 Degrees” that I posted before.  The palette again was just ultramarine blue, raw umber, black, and white. The photo is rather dingy but that’s just what we’ve got for the moment; I shot it on the floor with the phone under fluorescent light.   I look forward to getting a proper shot of it when the studio’s back to rights; right now it’s all in an uproar, of course, and will remain so until the cooler work is done.

I rather like this painting, which recalls to me the backroads of Utah and the wildness of the rock and the weather.  Younger days.  It was all so very exciting.