Author Archives: magicgroove

About magicgroove

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

Faces

"Henri" - Carraher 2020

Henri
April 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 8 in.

I miss seeing people’s faces.  It’s a feeling that has reached a point of sadness.  I am 100% on-board with the necessary effort to universally mask until it is safe to once again reveal our full selves.  But I will be happy when that day comes.

So in the meantime I’m posting this rather cheerful countenance from last spring – painted in the first days of the pandemic, when masks were still novel, and home-made, and not yet a symbol of division.  Before faces became in short supply.

He’s created with alizarin crimson straight from the tube, on a canvas stained by a sponge with a mix of alizarin and raw umber.  He got the name Henri I think because I was reading about some fin-de-siecle Parisian artists, or their dealers – I no longer remember who – and he just came to life for me that way.

I miss your face.

The Furies

"The Furies" - Carraher 2020

The Furies
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

My mother, near the end of her life, was endowed by her illness with a truly awesome power of fury – a fury of which there had been little indication during her prior 90 years, and whose aura extended exponentially beyond her tiny frame.  At that time she was truly fearsome to those around her, no matter how young or how strong.

My own fury at the ongoing losses and injuries caused by a malevolent and incompetent Administration does not have near the power hers had to affect anything except myself, I fear.  But it does affect me, corrosively.

The Furies do not come to rest without leaving damage; it’s their job.  And they are loose in the world now.

Space

Magicgroove Studio 1999-2000 (Photo by Robert McClay)

Magicgroove Studio, circa 2000

This photo was taken at least 20 years ago by a commercial artist friend who was nearing retirement after a successful career.  The digital age was dawning, and he, trained in the old school, wanted little to do with it.  He took this photo with his analog camera and kindly gave me a print.  He wanted me to have a picture, he said, of what my studio was like when it was brand new, fresh, still empty.

His implication was plain soon enough, as the place filled up with every kind of instrument, property, and consequence of work, inspiration, and simply dreaming.  Drawers of pastels and pots of paint, bins of completed and half-completed projects, piles of failed canvases, bits of nature that have blown or rolled onto the property or simply come to the surface, a jar of BBs that makes a good weight, jugs of brushes, my  father’s homemade drafting table, racks and rolls of papers.  And all the dusty residue of precious, mere existence.

I spent the first few days of this new year shaking the place out and finding more room, organizing and condensing.  I hadn’t intended to start the year with such a cleansing, but I wanted to import a rolling cart from the house, a sturdy wooden cart that would be oh so useful but the addition of which simply ground the entire studio to a halt.  It was the proverbial straw.  I must make more space.  So a reordering was imperative.

But many of the items in this photo are still in the studio, such as the French half-easel and the cabinets inherited from a friend who just happened to be remodeling his kitchen at the time I was setting up.  And the heavy, sturdy, rustic table against which I am leaning, still the center of my activities, built inside the room by the former owner who used it to clean his guns.  Pinned to the wall are a couple pastel still-lifes I remember sketching, from arrangements that would have been set up on the old rusty stool that’s standing atop, yes, another rolling cart (still doing service, by the way).

The photographer, that day he came as the first visitor to my studio, also gave me a “housewarming” gift, a mason jar holding a colorful cloth bouquet.  It’s still here.

A Year

"Untitled (12 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 20)
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

I’ve starting painting over old paintings.  Not that they can be all that old, as I’ve only been working with paints (as opposed to pastels) for a couple years now.  But this past year – this strange year of time and solitude amid chaos and loss – has allowed me to paint, and paint, and paint, and make mistakes and learn lessons and create a lot of…well, bad work.  And now, especially after this year, I’m running out of room for it.

All of that time to paint has also moved me far and fast in the direction I apparently was always headed – a direction I think the new work above illustrates well.  I’d reached the end of possibilities with a canvas I’d beat to death, so I painted it over with titanium white although not thoroughly.  I allowed it to remain patchy, with the surface and color uneven.  The result was deeply inspiring to me, and I was immediately satisfied with this gesture in black. It feels quite different than the black gestures on plain untextured white canvases that I have been making these last few months (see here and here and here), with more dimension, a depth and a richness.

And this direction, long coming but this year accelerated, is clearly deeper and deeper into abstraction – yes, and expressive abstraction, that much reviled classic American style.  It is exciting to me, I celebrate it, and I celebrate this cursed year because, through it all, I’ve arrived at this.

I have so much to say on this – on all of it.  I had planned to include quite a bit more in this post – about this past year, and Time, and space.  So much percolating in my brain, almost painfully.  And perhaps those thoughts will show up in future posts.  But maybe not; I’ve lost the patience to write.  After all, I’m painting, not writing.  That’s the point.

Happy New Year.  We made it.

Late Eden

"Late Eden" - Carraher 2019

Late Eden
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

From almost exactly a year ago.  What doesn’t seem to change for me:  the interest in line, in pure color, in ambiguity, in the power of black on white.  And unrepentant faith in the spontaneous gesture.

Prodigals

"Untitled (12 2 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 2 20)
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

Some paintings do quite a bit of wandering before they come home.  This one started months ago as just a black gesture on white.  It felt unfinished and…kinda lost.  Didn’t know where to take it from there.  It sat around for quite a while, until I got tired of looking at it and attacked it with the red.  At that point I thought it was done.  I didn’t love it, but I kept thinking I should learn to love it.  I put it up on the studio wall with some others and it always felt lightweight, but I thought maybe it was just because it was…different.  I finally put it in the stack to sign, photograph, varnish, and put away.

But when the time came to take those last steps I suddenly grabbed it and came after it with a big brush full of titanium white, and – presto!  It found its weight, and its depth.  It’s quite at home with the others on the wall now, even though it is somewhat different in style.  It has made it home.

"Untitled (12 9 20)" - Carraher 2020

Lisa’s “Promenade”
December 2020.  Acrylic, ink, paper on panel. 10 x 8 in.

This piece, also, was one of the wandering stepsisters for a while.  It began as one of the Aquaria, but despite a lot of fussing it fell short (it was not alone in this failure).  The efforts to save it got more and more wild, including the cadmium yellow, until at a certain point all hope was lost and out came the brayer and opaque titanium white – time to wash clean.  If it wasn’t to be an Aquaria, then it could be anything.  That’s when things got fun again.  The final touch was the three phthalo green stripes.  They are actually deli paper painted, cut out, and collaged on.  I secretly love stripes and was easily convinced they would be just the right thing here – which, in the end, I believe they were.

It occurs to me I should include this post on the thread about line, because both these paintings started with black line on white though they went far afield from that.  But line starts so many of my paintings, that thread could start to become meaningless.  I might include it anyway, though.  Lines seem to be the heart of the matter.

Weight

Paintings in studio 12 19 2020

I will sometimes put several paintings up on the wall together in the studio to see if any of them stand out as unable to measure up to the group.  Comparing their…weights, shall we say.  Almost one could say their cosmic weights, as when Anubis places the heart of the deceased on the scale against Ma’at’s Feather of Truth.  Although the heart that is heavier than the feather is condemned and devoured, what I’m looking  to see is if any of the paintings stands out for its lightness, its lack of substance or gravity.  Or maybe truth is actually the word I’m looking for.  Even though I might be uncertain about a single work, it’s funny how easy it is for me to see what’s lacking when viewed in a group.    

In the above snapshot of the studio wall, all of the paintings, for me, can hold their own against one another.  Even the magenta.  These are quite new, and I’m pleased with them.  That’s Joyce in the Bardo on the right.  And a little bit of sunlight in the lower left corner. 

Heights and Depths

"Heights and Depths" - Carraher 2019

Heights and Depths
2019.  Acrylic and paper on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

There are paintings that feel to me like I made them in the greatest innocence.  Where I experience not a hint of a preconception, and every portion is an exploration of new territory.  In this case I was starting with an instrument new to me – a marker I’d filled with a high-flow black acrylic paint – and was just seeing what I might be able to do with it.  I then, in the lower right, used another tool somewhat new to me, a brayer, to roll on the gold color.  Still with no thought of where it might be going, I used a sponge to bring the viridian from the upper right to the lower left.  And slowly, after that, things started to take shape, but all still an experiment – all the way to the end.  The “fish” appearing, adding the pink, continuing to whiten the “birds” – it was all the free play of the child.  It still gives me pleasure.  I don’t know if anyone else would like it, but I do.

Joyce in the Bardo

"Joyce in the bardo" - Carraher 2020

Joyce in the bardo
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 14 in.

My mother is dying, on hospice now at home.  She was in the hospital for eight days, the first four in the ER because there were no beds available.  Because of the covid surge no visitors were allowed, and because of her condition it was almost impossible to reach her by phone or to know if she understood where she was, or why.

Now at least she is home, with those whom she knows and who care for her.  But how much of that she understands I don’t know, as she is in another bardo now, a twilit limbo of morphine.

Or perhaps it is me that is in the bardo.  I couldn’t reach her in the hospital; I can’t reach her now.  I can’t know what she wants, or feels, or needs.  I can’t know if she understands what is happening to her.

Or maybe it is all of us that are there, trapped by covid, incompetence, and craziness in a limbo life of no real contact and of dimmed connection, where true knowledge of one another cannot happen and action is not possible or means nothing.

I do not know if my mother has the will or desire to press past this state.  I know I do.  Our nation, despite nearly 300,000 dead, seems determined to remain in it.

Line Turns into Shape

"Crystal No 3" - Carraher 2000

Crystal Form No. 3
2000.  Pastel on sandpaper, 7 x 6-3/4 in.

My interest in the mutable relationship of line and shape goes way back – how a line, if it wanders long enough, often creates a shape.  And then can wander away again.  It’s a very basic phenomenon, but it’s slippery nature keeps me intrigued.  It’s one of the reasons I worked with pastels for years, I believe – after all, the pastel is both an instrument of drawing, and of painting – of line, and of shape.  The piece above is typical of the way I worked with pastel for years, as is this one:

"Crystal No 4" - Carraher 2000

Crystal Form No. 4
2000.  Pastel on sandpaper, 7 x 6-5/8 in.

At the time I would apply the pastel to the sandpaper by scumbling and then smoothing the powdered pigment to varying degrees with a brush.  The line itself, in these examples, was painstakingly recreated with pastel pencil or charcoal from an original pencil sketch.  The nuances of the surface I was able to create, as well as line-becoming-shape-becoming line, kept me beguiled.  Still does.  The works I do now look different, but the evidence of the fascination is still in there.