Category Archives: before

Conversation in Taormina

"Conversation in Taormina" - Carraher 2019

Conversation in Taormina
2019.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas.  18 x 18 in.

It was a lifetime ago that I was in Taormina, ancient city of the Greeks high above the Ionian Sea, in the shadow of Mt. Etna.  Did I have a conversation there?  I’m sure I did, as I was traveling with a companion of a lifetime with whom conversation has only ever been interrupted, never ceased.  While working on this piece the title formed itself in my mind, and so it was.  Conversation in Taormina.

I ruminated literally months over whether to add a sort of warm rose patch to the upper left, which I think would have been a becoming option, but in the final analysis it would not have fit this title.  That rose.  Too pretty.  Too rococo.  It would not have fit in that conversation.

So here it stopped.  With the gold shapes and Ionian blue dreams recovered from antiquity and the smeary charcoal lines swinging like jazz.

I wish a happy birthday to my companion from Taormina.  May the art of our conversation never be done.

Mid-November

"Astral Beauties" - Carraher 2019

Astral Beauties
2019.  Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 in.

These two paintings were completed almost exactly a year ago.  They were new in style and exciting to me.  I felt the hint of something I’d been looking for.  A lot of work was launched from this new direction. 

They both feature acrylic paint manipulated with brayer and brush, as well as china marker and ink pen.  They are both fully improvisational.  

"The Goldfish" - Carraher 2019

The Goldfish
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

I suppose I might say something about titles.  Titles are integral for me.  If they’re wrong for the work, they just don’t stick; I will hate the painting until the title is fixed.  If the painting is in some way unsuccessful or I don’t care about it, the title will be just as unsuccessful.  Most often, except for untitled works, the name arises to my mind sometime during the process and is then stuck like glue – even occasionally shaping the work itself, in the end.  It’s the poet in me, I guess.  Words matter.  Sound matters.  Rhythm and melody matter.  

Untitled works are usually not paintings for which I cannot find a title.  They are, rather, paintings that reject further comment.  I do not wish to contextualize their reception with words.

It actually means a lot to me.  Can’t live with wrong titles. 

What Is Behind, What is Ahead

"What Is Behind, What Is Ahead" - Carraher 2019

What Is Behind, What Is Ahead
2019.  Acrylic and paper on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I struggled a lot with this painting.  I felt completely lost over and over again, and abandoned it any number of times.  I kept coming back to it, convinced that at least I should be able to learn something from it.  There were several Hail Mary passes, including the white disks and the construction paper collage pieces.  And then there came a point where, suddenly, I loved it.  It expressed something I didn’t even know I felt.

That was about a year and a half ago.  I’m struggling with a similar sort of disaster in the studio right now – in fact, nothing is going quite right in there.  Pushing into new territory.  Can’t say it feels good.

Looking forward to joy returning.  Aren’t we all, right now?  When you’re deep in the struggle, joy seems so far away…

Pursued by Winter

"The Bear Pursued By Winter" - Carraher 2019

The Bear Pursued by Winter
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

The season is coming on slowly this autumn.  The temperatures are still warm, and the usual returning social celebrations that mark this season in the desert are muted in this covid year.  But at this time last fall, almost three years into this malignant Administration, the weather was already decidedly cooler, the days crisp and shortening.  The wildlife was noticeably changing their routine, and the vultures had already passed through on their annual migration to Baja.  I’m not sure why but I felt the impending winter keenly, a foreboding of darkness and potential loss.

And that’s when these two paintings happened, the one above and the other at the bottom of this post.   I showed them last winter in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.  They occasioned an interesting discussion with a musician couple from out of state, one afternoon while I was docenting.  The gentleman was particularly struck by their calligraphic character – a subject I can certainly hold forth on – and later he sent me images from a book about the evolutions connecting pictures, hieroglyphics, and alphabets.

But my interest goes beyond that, to the existence of line not as a sign, or in a literary, textual or narrative sense, but rather when line exists in a further dimension, as a manifestation in itself, of itself.  (See for example here and here and here.)  I’m most interested in what might be described as line’s abstract expressionist potential.

But then again, sometimes my line will indeed end up with that hieroglyphic or narrative quality, as might be seen in the images on this post.  Sometimes that happens, and I’m content with it.

Anyway.  Whatever my own thoughts or intentions with the work, in the end they bought the painting and I was glad they had it.  🙂

"Death Creeps In to Winter" - Carraher 2019

Death Creeps in to Winter
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

2020 Suite

"2020 Suite No. 1" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 1
2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

I’ve been working at a relatively rapid clip these last few months, with several pieces usually in process at once.  I’ve been frankly voracious in my need to make things happen in the studio, almost like needing a drug high – not surprising, I suppose, considering the sense of futility that drains so much of our lives at this time.

Having multiple pieces in progress contrasts with how I worked for many years in pastel.  In that medium I most often worked with the piece flat on the table, applylng the pastel with a brush, and due to the fragility of the surface I needed to keep a lot of clear space around.  So there wasn’t much room to have more than one thing going on at once.  These pieces also tended to take more time in the planning and preparation than the execution.  Here is an example from 2016, from the Additional Dimensions series which derived from gesture drawings of deteriorating homesteads in my neighborhood:

"Three Walls" - Carraher2016

Three Walls
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper, 12 x 22 in.

Clearly my work now often skips that planning and preparation stage, as I increasingly prize spontaneity directly on the substrate.  With pastels the spontaneity usually went into the informal gestural sketch from which the painting was developed.  I did draw directly with the pastels at times however – as in this homestead from 2007:

:Blue-Green Cabin" - Carraher 2007

Blue-Green Cabin
2007.  Pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in.

…or this one from the same year:

"Desert Gothic" - Carraher 2007

Desert Gothic
2007.  Pastel and charcoal on paper, 22-1/4 x 13-1/2 in.

Those seem like idyllic times, now, but of course they weren’t.  But they were easier.  They were easier.

The Path Forward

"Jul11" - Carraher 2019

Jul11
2019.  Acrylic and paper on panel, 14 x 11 in.

A favorite collage from last year.  It’s on a heavy wood panel and feels very stable and solid to me.  I guess I wanted that today.   The black and colored papers are from my cherished stash of ancient construction paper that I’ve had for many years.  The white/ecru bits are cartridge and typing papers, and there’s a slice of silver tissue paper, as well.

The design of the painted background is borrowed directly from a pastel I did at least 20 years ago that got damaged, but I’ve always liked the combination of colors and shapes.  So it showed up again here, in acrylic.

I love this piece.  It feels so stable and strong, I almost think I could stand on it.  A stepping stone into a better future.

The Charioteer

"The Charioteer" - Carraher 2019The Charioteer
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

An improvisation from 2019.  Reminding us to hold fast to our empowerment and to our hope.  To not let chaos overwhelm us but to push forward with our shared strength and the strength of our ancestors.   Stay strong, stay steady, my friends. 

Endurance

Cleopatra’s Complicated Flotilla
2019  Acrylic on paper, 9 x 12 in. 

So it’s complicated, Life.  These days.  Hard.  So let’s not talk about that, for just a moment. 

Instead, here’s a favorite painting that’s not hard.  Two winters ago I was trying out some new brushes on some cheap watercolor paper, and the results amused me.  Things just kept happening and in the end I was quite fond of it, so much so that it actually hangs in my studio.  Partly to remind me of things I can do when I’m stuck, and partly just because it makes me feel good, which is always handy when you’re working on stuff. 

In these cursed days of dread and sorrow let’s remember that the rich and powerful Cleopatra had her hard times, too, rather famously.  As has Egypt, though it still endures, after a fashion.  And, of course, the Nile is the very definition of endurance, Aswan Dam notwithstanding.  The long view is very helpful these days, I find.  It may not tell you better times are ahead, but at least it reminds you that bad times have always been part of the deal.  

Paradise in Flames

"November 2018" - Carraher 2018

November 2018 (Paradise)
2018.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

Unlike for so many in the far-western states right now, our air here in the Joshua Tree area today is clear, the skies blue, the mountains in view – all swept clean by a wind from the north last night.  The smoke from the El Dorado fire, which had made our air dark and thick the last few days, is now just visible on the horizon far to the west.  I don’t expect this to last.  But I’m grateful for it, and wish I could share it with so many around our states right now who are covered in smoke or running from fire, anxious at visions of the apocalypse.

The town of Paradise, California, has been evacuated again ahead of the North Complex fire in Butte County.  In November two years ago, during those days of shock, horror, and grief over the terrible Camp Fire that killed 85 people in Paradise, I created this work.  It was hard at that time not to feel a dread-filled presentiment about the future for all of us in California.  I am so grateful to our state, local, regional, and, yes, federal agencies that plan year-round and work so hard fighting fires to keep us safe.  The job gets tougher every season.