Category Archives: before

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.

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.