Category Archives: before

"Jun25" - Carraher 2019

Jun25
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Line

"Untitled (April)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (April)
2020.  Acrylic on textured canvas. 14 x 11 in.

I have a great deal to say about line.  Line dominates much of my work.  A lot of the works start with line.  Some finish with line.  And some of the works are nothing BUT line.  

It took me a while to accept this piece as it was:  nothing but a single line, and not such a fancy one at that. But after quite a while of it hanging around, I accepted that it was finished.  It simply didn’t want anything else. 

So…alrighty then.  

I drew with burnt sienna straight from the tube, a technique I’ve found to be alarmingly satisfying.  So satisfying that I kind of dole it out, reluctant to indulge in it too often for fear it might lose its charm. 

It was applied to a canvas that had been textured with Golden’s light modeling paste, leaving some places smooth and some bits of canvas exposed.  I then rubbed on a thinned burnt sienna with a sponge. 

And that’s the beginning of what I have to say about line. 

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.