Category Archives: before

A Year

"Our Dangerous Spring" - Carraher 2020

Our Dangerous Spring
March 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 in.

Our Dangerous Spring.  This image topped the very first post of this blog, and I’m posting it again because:

  1. it’s been just about a year since that first post, and it’s time to mark the occasion; and
  2. I’m finally having the opportunity to exhibit the piece for the first time this month in the Members Show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery

I created this painting in March of 2020, right as viral reality was hitting us upside the head, and in light of its timeliness I planned to show it in the members’ room of the Gallery in April.  But of course…the April show never happened.  And the cascade of cancellations continued, month after month for most of a year.  But, finally, here we are:  our dangerous spring has come and gone, and life and hope have returned.  

And yes, it has been almost a year since I launched the Magicgroove: In the Studio blog (July 7, 2020), largely in reaction to the shutdown of opportunities to show and to interact with other artists and viewers.  My thoughts on this anniversary?  Well, I should tell you that in January, the half-year point, I drafted a post explaining why I was going to do away with it.  Obviously, I didn’t go through with that, but ambivalence has continued.  My patience with writing is not what it once was, and putting down the more complex thoughts that interest me simply demands more time and effort than I’m willing to invest.  A great deal that preoccupies me never finds its way onto these pages except in terms of the images.  Which is the point, after all. 

Yet I believe I will continue, in this rather quiet fashion.  I so appreciate those of you who follow along with me.  But truth told, I’d rather just have the conversation in person, you know what I mean?  At least that’s becoming possible again.  🙂

 

All Is Not Lost

"Yellow Cabin" - Carraher 2008

Yellow Cabin
2008.  Pastel on sandpaper.  9-5/8 x 10-1/2 in.

Saturday evening, after visiting the closing receptions at Gallery 62 and JTAG in Joshua Tree, we walked up the street to where a private reception was being held for Kim Stringfellow’s Jackrabbit Homestead installation at The Station.  The work was commissioned for Desert X 2021 and was trailered up the grade from Palm Desert when that site-specific exhibition closed last month.  The installation is a lovingly imagined recreation of the homestead of writer Catherine Venn Peterson, who wrote about her experience for Desert Magazine in 1950. 

Kim has done extensive photography, research, and publication on the small-tract homestead movement, including multiple exhibitions such as at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and her book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  (The book has finally been reissued and is available for purchase at The Station in Joshua Tree.)  

I met Kim sort of inevitably in the 2000’s as we were both deeply interested in the homestead cabins, their origins, and their effects in and upon the desert landscape.  Her work has been thoughtful, honest, and beautiful, and I’m proud to have been included in her JRHS project as, for example, part of the Jackrabbit Homestead audio tour and in this KCET Artbound segment, where I blithely blather in front of my studio on a witheringly hot afternoon where we had to take breaks to let the camera cool down.  

I myself did a lot of creative work back then on the topic of the homesteads, including co-direction of the one-and-only Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival in 2008 and a number of paintingsYellow Cabin above, from 2008, proved to be the last I was to do for quite a while.  But in 2015 I picked up sort of where I had left off, creating the deeply colored pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave using pencil sketches I had created at that time, in the mid-2000’s.  

It’s very possible those were the final works I’ll ever do of the homesteads.  The derelict cabins that fascinated me truly are disappearing now, along with the peculiar homestead community where I found my place to be for the last 30 years.  It took a very long time, but the great consuming maw of late-stage capitalism has found its way to even this blighty little edge-world. 

But, in the meantime, it was great to see Kim at the reception, for real and in person.  Over the covid time friends were in no way forgotten but did become unreal in a way.  Now, when we see them again it’s, like, wham!  They’re real, and alive!  No longer missing, I guess you could say.  A lot of things have been lost in the last year and a half, but not everything.  I’m so happy to find some things are still with us. 

Pruning, and What Remains

In the studio 2000

Magicgroove studio, circa 2000

Last January I posted about cleaning and reorganizing in my studio.  Turns out that was just the prelude.  I find myself eager to go much deeper, more than ready to discard, update, improve in both major and minor ways.  I’ve finally installed thermal curtains to help stave off the heat entering through the twin 60-year-old 5×6-foot windows on the southwest side.  I’ll be replacing some pieces of hand-me-down furniture with rolling wire shelving.  I’m revamping my storage options for everything from blank canvases to old project records.  

But not everything is going.  In this old photo I am sitting in a swiveling armchair, the single piece I salvaged from the original owner’s overstuffed living room set.  It’s upholstered in a blinding giant brown-and-orange plaid but is otherwise perfect for silent, slightly swingy cogitation, so I threw a sheet over it and to this day do all my most useful contemplation in it.  Also seen here and for sitting:  one of a pair of sturdy yellow linoleum chairs that had already seen their best days when the previous owner left them, but are still some of the most useful items in the studio.  And next to it a thrift-shop rolling chair that has since moved on, but the shirt over its back is still with me, now on the shoulders of a modern drafting chair.  It’s a vintage roomy twill women’s overshirt from the ’40s, a  pale brown with colored flowers block-printed on each of the two big patch pockets.  And it came with its own paint stains; clearly it had been used as a studio shirt by someone before me.  I suspect it will remain as a talisman in the studio as long as I am still working in there. 

In the far corner is a dress form that belonged to the late mother of a friend.  She did dress designing, mostly for herself, late at night when the children were asleep.  It’s the old professional kind, made of fabric and hanging from a rolling metal stand.  I do use it on the occasions when I still sew; mostly it just wears items that are meaningful to me, often those of friends who have departed. 

Somewhat difficult to see in the shadows against the back wall, barely visible between the linoleum and rolling chairs, is an open trunk that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  It had traveled with her to California from Pittsburg in the ’20s, when she came with her daughter and my father when he was still quite small.  It has her name painted on the side, and I guess I can’t get rid of it although it’s pretty beaten up and not the most practical item.  It was holding props at the time this picture was taken; it’s still holding props — “props” being a euphemism for items that fascinate me and that I think I might draw someday but mostly don’t.  

And finally there are a few paintings and drawings on the wall, including this one of which I made two versions – this was the first:

"Ocotillo No. 1" - Carraher 2000

Ocotillo No. 1
2000.  Pastel on paper, 20 x 17 in. 

 

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes

"Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes" - Carraher 2000

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes
2000.  Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper.  8-3/4 x 6-3/4 in.

We finally took this small painting in for framing last week.  It’s been sitting in a drawer, carefully wrapped in glassine, for 20 years.  I’m very patient with these things; having created it is the primary source of satisfaction, and I don’t need to look at it all the time after that.  And I knew I would never agree to sell it; it’s a key piece of my work, plus I dearly love it.  My partner, who loves it also, is not as patient as I am, and she had found a frame that was suitable.  She wants it on the wall.

I drew the original charcoal sketch out behind the house I was living in at the time, about half a mile from where I am now.  It’s the view facing north, with a creosote bush, the distant Bullion Mountains on the Marine base, and some ground-squirrel dens amid the swells of sand and dried grasses.

I liked the swingy gestural feel of the large sketch, and some time later I reduced it with the scanner and transferred it to a piece of Ersta sandpaper.  The pastel technique I was using at the time involved building up layers of color and value with scribbly line, which can give a lot of depth and complexity but also breathing space while still retaining the sparkle and intensity of the pigments.  Recreating the charcoal line was a challenge, a kind of task I had plenty of opportunity to practice over many more years of drawing and painting in pastel.

This would have been around the time I acquired my studio, when I was working mainly with Rembrandt pastels.  Soon after I would have bought my full set of Senneliers, which are much softer, and eventually began working the surface with my brush technique and left this scribbly style behind.  But the fact is I miss it and often think I need to pick it up again.  It has its own unique potential and satisfactions.  Someday.

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.  🙂

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 Collage

 

"Jul11" - Carraher 2019

Jul11
2019.  Acrylic and collage on wood panel. 12 x 12 in.

Haven’t been posting because I’ve been painting and not feeling like switching to the talking-about-it channel.  I have several new works but haven’t been able to settle down to signing and photographing them. 

This is a collage from 2019, done on a cradled wood panel.  The smoothness and solidity of wood panels are so different from canvas and provoke different moves from me.  The materials here include the green handmade paper, a bit of resume paper, the linear piece of my precious vintage construction paper in a dusty rose, and a disk of matte photo paper painted red.  The red netting is, indeed, plastic produce netting from the supermarket.  It was gratifyingly easy to shape and glue down. 

I enjoy making collages and always feel I’m about to make more, though I rarely actually do.  That may change someday.  I hope so, as they are a distinct channel with results I don’t get any other way.  I think perhaps because I usually base my paintings on line, but the collages are much more about shape. 

Anyway, I like this one. 

Axis

"Axis" - Carraher 2001

Axis
2001.  Pastel on sandpaper, 8 x 7-3/8 in.

Axis is a small work that has remained important to me.  It dates from many years ago, when I was still exploring what pastels could do.  The surface was much affected by the use of spray fixative – a substance that I eventually came to mostly avoid, but whose modifying properties I have also at times found to be intriguing.  The ultimate surface is difficult to accurately reproduce digitally, as is the color, which ranges from green to orange.

I’m not able to work in the studio for a few days or be focused on painting, but this piece has always been a touchstone for me.  I’m always able to reach it, even when I can’t reach much else.

Addition, Subtraction

"Once Around" - Carraher 2018

Once Around
2018.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas.  11 x 14 in.

I love working with charcoal, perhaps because I love working with line and a stick of charcoal makes line that is fast, direct, and highly expressive.  The less wonderful part is that it is messy and easily smeared, attributes I had more than enough of while working with pastels for decades.  The common remedy is spray fixative, which I used here and works well enough but I really don’t like it.

This painting is from early in my efforts with acrylic paint, and I learning a lot in working on it – lessons that have carried on into my work ever since.  It was liberating to find I could use subtraction with acrylic paint in a way I really couldn’t with pastels – meaning I could take away or beat back something I didn’t like or that was too strong, or create openings over something that had already been figured with pigment.  This allows me to work both forward and back, pushing and pulling, adding and subtracting, instead of every stroke being a largely irreversible commitment that I must work around.

In this case I used titanium white to paint over passages that I wanted to remove or sublimate/soften.  If this work had been in pastel I could only have pushed a passage back by covering it with thick impasto and always been in danger of being “locked out”, i.e., the tooth of the paper being filled with pigment and unable to hold more layers.

Anyway, the overall experience was liberating and the lesson one of the more profound I have discovered in my transition from pastel to acrylic paint.  Another lesson is…I still love working with charcoal.  A brush filled with paint will never be quite the same.

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.