Author Archives: magicgroove

About magicgroove

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

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.

Scrambling

"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.

Karma

"Karma" - Carraher 2022

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

Karma.  One of the new collages I’ll be featuring in the “Wonder Valley Friends” group show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery in April.  I’ve been working on these steadily but just finally got some more photos last week.  I’ll be taking maybe half a dozen of the paintings to the framer’s on Wednesday, which should be fun.

The camera had a challenge capturing the finely spotted appearance of the phthalo turquoise pigment.  I’m not sure why the paint separated as it did.  Perhaps it was the airbrush medium I used to thin it, or perhaps it was the preparatory layers of fixative I sprayed on the charcoal causing the paint to kind of bead up.  Anyway, I liked it!  Chance, rather than control, governs the initial stages of these collages.

It’s not generally advisable to have a big bright red shape almost in the middle of your painting.  Common principles of composition oppose it.  But as soon as I placed this collage shape there, I accepted it.  That’s probably when the name – Karma – came to me, as well.  An asymmetrical wheel of life.

I haven’t been posting much lately.  It’s a combination of changing feelings about the work and a period of naturally arising silence.  Although, as always, my mind never stops, I don’t feel like sharing the insights.  They seem either depressing or inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things.  People don’t need more depressing thoughts just now, right?  And there are sooo many words and images drowning us every day, I recoil at the idea of adding more.

But nevertheless I continue working happily and steadily in the studio, fully engaged, and generally pleased with the results although not always, of course.  Experiments sometimes flat-out fail, or take us on a troublesome journey before resolving.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The nature of adventure.

Celestial Regatta

"Celestial Regatta" - Carraher 2021

Celestial Regatta
2021. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The earliest of the new collages.  Surprised me completely.  Still trying to get back in the swing after October’s Open Studio Art Tours, I’d prepared two canvases with texturing, a coat of titanium white, and then a gesture set in black acrylic with a round brush.  But I didn’t know where to go from there.  Both canvases sat around for a while, then I got a sense that I wanted to stain this one with a dilute phthalo blue.  I then went over parts of it with some more opaque blue, and while the paint was still wet got an impulse to draw into it with a narrow piece of willow charcoal.

I liked what was happening, but wasn’t sure of a next step and set it aside.  In the meantime, I was throwing some translucent collage pieces on a painting that I’d started early last year and that had come to a dead stop.  I picked up some of the collage pieces and started placing them on this blue painting.  Excitement!  It took a lot of fidgeting but eventually I got just the balance I wanted.

The colors felt like pennants hanging in the sky, which brought to mind Raoul Dufy and his many paintings of regattas in French harbors. But I saw this painting as purely celestial, in the heavens.

I finished the painting on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.  As she lay dying I saw her in a twilit world, without color.  But since then I feel her rocketing around the cosmos in a kind of super-sled, attending to business I can only imagine.  This painting is for her.

Three Jewels

"Three Jewels" - Carraher 2022

Three Jewels
2022.  Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

For those who like rosy pink.  Not everyone does, I realize.  But somebody’s gonna love this baby.  It’s like a bastard Pucci printed on elephant hide and run over by a tire.  Exactly a certain person’s cup of tea.  Might be a while until that certain person encounters the painting, but it will happen and it will be love.

Three Jewels started out the same as the current collage series, with a gesture in black on a textured canvas, followed by a dilute coat of acrylic color applied with a sponge.  But once I got that far – using a quinacridone red, in this case – the interior patterns were calling me.  This piece wanted a different treatment.  So I skipped the collage and sailed in directly with paint.

Though some of the patterns of color and value that I would use were apparent to me from the time I’d first applied that pink, there was nonetheless considerable shifting around as I continued, and it took a while to balance everything out to my satisfaction.  I can get really fussy in the later stages of a painting and spend the bulk of my time with the final fine-tuning.

It’s funny, I’d started a painting in exactly this manner before and when that initial layer of pink got on there I’d really hated it.  But I’d soldiered on and ultimately was quite fond of the result.  So when I got to the same stage with this one – same pink! – I did not waver but continued with the confidence that comes with experience.  Nice to feel that!

By the way, for anybody who cares about these things, the “three jewels” refers to the three tiny spots of full-strength, deep red.  I’d originally envisioned quite a bit more of that intense straight-from-the-tube red, but ultimately preferred this balance as it evolved.  The pink was enough!

The Pony Tale

"The Pony Tale" - Carraher 2022

The Pony Tale
2022.  Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I frankly scorn cheesy play-on-words titles, but this title occurred halfway through the piece and wouldn’t go away.  So I accepted it.  Gotta say this painting really pleases me.  I liked the strength and simplicity of the initial gesture, which was done with a flat brush rather than the round I’d usually use for this purpose.  And I’m also quite happy with the muted gray-green ground over the texturing contrasting with the range of reds.

But mostly I like the ambiguity between abstract and narrative here.  It almost seems like there is a “tale”, but then again not really.  It fits inside the crevice between.  I feel no compulsion to figure out which it is; it seems quite complete as is, with no need to be one or the other.  I like that place.

The New Look

"Harlequin" - Carraher 2021

Harlequin
2021.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Well, I finally did get some photographs of the new work.  This was one of the earlier pieces, from December, and it delights me.  This is the inside of my mind while listening to jazz, people.  Here you see what I’m really made of.  It’s like an x-ray of my synapses.

How it happened:  I drew with willow charcoal of two different diameters over a canvas texturized with my trusty Golden Light Modeling Paste.  I sprayed the charcoal with a workable fixative, and when the canvas was dry I stained it with a very diluted quinacridone gold acrylic paint, then brushed over in areas with more quin gold lightened with titanium white.

The collaged pieces are all deli paper painted with acrylic, and in this case I limited myself to bits I’d created specifically with the palette I’d chosen for this piece:  quin gold, quinacridone red, phthalo blue, and a little cadmium yellow. The more opaque paint bits had been applied to the deli paper with a palette knife; the translucent were more dilute and were brushed on.

This technique is basically what I’ve been using for most of the current works, of which I’ll share photos in the coming weeks.  On this one I put a lot of work into retaining the original feathery edges of the pigment on the collage paper; I think I’m getting better at that.  The earlier collages were rougher.

I get a lot of joy working with these shapes of pure color and combining them with a very textured colored surface and gestural line.  When the arrangement of these elements reaches a certain relationship the work springs to life for me and achieves a sense of inevitability.  Color me happy.

In the Lateness of the Afternoon

"Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon" - Carraher 2019

Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon
2019.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

Well, true to form I got to a certain point with the still lifes and then totally ran off in another direction.  I started doing some collaging with translucent paper and have just been in a trance ever since.  I’m working hour after hour with full concentration and a kind of bliss, intensely satisfied with both the process and the results.  So much so that I have not stopped to photograph anything, so I can’t show you any of it yet.  I hope to attend to that this next week; we’ll see.

But in the meantime:  It’s a new year!  And I am of an age where these passages are as much about sums of the past as about the future.  And so I thought about this acrylic work I painted in 2019:  Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon.  I was stimulated, perhaps, by recently reading about Matisse, which inevitably brings one to think of the legendary connections and contrasts between those two titanic contemporaries, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Ultimately respectful if not always friendly rivals, they were fierce observers of one another’s work over their long careers.  “All things considered, there is only Matisse,” Picasso once said, and Matisse responded, “Only one person has the right to criticize me. It’s Picasso.”

Pablo and Henri both spent the twilight of their lives at work on the French Riviera.  Matisse passed his final years in the Regina Hotel in Nice, quite near what was to become the Matisse Museum.  Many years ago I visited there, my companion and I riding a local bus up the long hill to where the historic villa housing the museum commands a view of the bay.  At that time the museum only occupied the upper floor and did not have a large collection of works, but it did have some key pieces of the artist’s props easily recalled from his paintings – fabrics, chairs, vases.  Seeing them displayed in the Mediterranean light streaming through the big windows brought a true shock of recognition, a shock both pleasurable and complex.  That sense of recognition extended through our long winding walk down the hill, with the views over Nice and the sea that Matisse made so familiar.

Perhaps 20 years later I took the train to the coastal town of Antibes to visit the small Musee Picasso.  It is housed right on the water in the medieval Chateau Grimaldi, itself built upon the ruins of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis.  Picasso used the chateau as his studio for 6 months in 1946 during a very prolific period, and ultimately donated all of the work that he had done there back to the chateau on the condition that it remain displayed to the public.  The collection when I was there included many of his most ebullient ceramics, a revelation in that ancient setting.  I also  vividly remember viewing the large, striking La Joie de Vivre, painted right at that location, its centaurs, satyrs, and pipe-players seemingly called up straight out of the Mediterranean earth beneath it.

Both of these experiences were a long time ago and I’ve forgotten most of the details, but the impression made on me was deep – of the art, the artists, and the elements all connected.  Over time I learned more about the connection between the two painters, their parallel careers, and their almost life-long arms-length relationship intimate mainly through their art.

Picasso occasionally visited Matisse during those last years when Matisse was mostly confined by ill health to his bed, from where he continued to work including on his last great innovations, his cut-outs.  Matisse told Picasso’s mistress Françoise Gilot at the time, “We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things that the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else.”

The losses of later life deepen and expand the significance of long relationships, of conversations that have lasted over many years, and their meaning and preciousness come to feel incalculable no matter how circumscribed they may have been.  I felt the mysteries of these connections – for you, for me – while painting of Pablo and Henri sharing their separate, lonely intimacy uniquely with one another as they painted their way into the eternal Mediterranean sun.

Slow Burner, Lots On It

Snapshot of work in progress.

Snapshot of work in progress.

So the mandarins have left behind the clock and the vodka and are now commanding their own solo investigation, as you can see in this snapshot.  Very sketchy, I know, but I tend to get happy with “sketchy” so we’ll see if anything more happens with this study.  In the meantime, though, I’m developing a similar sketch further with some blocks of color.  Of note, this sketch is on a 20-by-10-inch canvas and is entirely acrylic applied with a brush; the pastel has dropped out again.

The clock and the vodka are hanging on, meanwhile, in some new sketches as their own line of inquiry evolves.  Some striped wallpaper and a table may be appearing.

I’m spending a lot of studio time looking and thinking right now.  I’m pursuing several of the same lines that I was before Art Tours (and, indeed, for years in some cases), but I’m really taking it slow.  It’s time to stop stumbling down the same path and instead consider whether that path is leading me where I want to go, or if I now have the tools to sharpen my navigation and better visualize a route to a new destination.

I’m certainly spending much more time with this still-life subject than has been my habit in the past.  I’m really boring in, determined to find the connection of my impulse to render still-lifes to my personal vision and preferred methods of working.  Thus the repeated pots of mandarins and extended meditations!  It helps, though, to be doing some abstracts at the same time.  Having several items on the burner keeps everything moving along, with less chance of feeling stuck.

The truth is, I’m super happy to be back to work and may not be taking part in shows for a while.  Don’t want the distraction or the sense of a deadline.  Got plenty enough percolating right here in the studio.