Category Archives: before

Adventure

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait

Snapshot of pastel portrait study, 1997

Last week on my trip to the Central Coast I was walking with a friend along lovely Asilomar State Beach, south of Monterey, when I remembered that I’d been at the Asilomar Conference Center once many years ago, for a pastel figure-painting workshop. I’ve been feeling the tug of pastel again lately, so I dug into the archives and pulled up this snapshot of a portrait study I’d done that weekend.

This was the first and last fully developed pastel portrait I’ve done.  I should say “fully developed” in quotes because it’s really not quite finished.  As usual with representational work I was engaged so long as I was learning something new, but after a while it started to feel tedious and I lost interest.  I remember I didn’t like the puffy jacket the model was wearing and just kind of mentally wandered off at that point.  I actually do have some facility with realistic representation in that I have a fair eye and sense of proportion, but I find no adventure in it.  I’d rather use that facility to explore other dimensions of a subject.  So that’s why you won’t often see works like this posted on my blog.

I will say it’s a good likeness of this beautiful young man, who was a wonderful model and able to sit good-naturedly with this engaged expression for three hours.  I carefully followed the methods demonstrated by the instructor, the fine pastelist, esteemed teacher, and all around sweet soul the late Bob Gerbracht, and it’s a tribute to his teaching that I was able to wring something out of what at that time was my extremely limited pastel technique.  The handling of the medium is rough, to say the least, as you can see in this closer view.

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait 2

This was done on a light gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper, for folks who are interested in that kind of thing, and I was no doubt using my sturdy, dependable Rembrandts.

That workshop at Asilomar was a busy couple of days, without much time for beachcombing, but I got a lot out of it, maybe most importantly the confirmation, once again, that though I like drawing the figure, realism is just not my bag.  Too much like work, not enough like adventure.

Refreshed

"Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)" - Carraher 2015

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)
2015.  Pastel on sandpaper, 9-3/8 x 20-3/4 in.

I’ve been away – took a week to visit the coast and various friends and some sea creatures, and also to get away from the heat and the studio cooling problem which continues to resist solution.  After years of living in San Francisco I thought I’d had enough fog to last two lifetimes, but with the heat this summer my skin soaked up the seaside fog like a grateful sponge. 

We started in Ojai, that magical classic California valley of blossoms, oranges, and avocadoes.  We walked into the home of our friends there and the first thing to meet my eye was this painting , hanging in the entry.  I’d forgotten they’d bought it almost five years ago, and I was delighted to see it again!  It was my favorite among the 30 or so pieces in the Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave collection. 

I remembered then that they’d struggled to frame it.  It’s a high-key, delicately colored work with little value contrast, easy to overwhelm.  I didn’t envy them the challenge; I remember them asking at one point if I had any advice, and frankly I didn’t.  They’d finally gone with a mid-sized white mat and a wood frame painted a deep teal – really surprising!  And it looked great!  The teal picked up the faint outline color.  

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow) was based on a series of gestural sketches I’d done of local derelict desert homesteads.  This piece, one of the earliest from the collection, caught what I was after, with the dis-integration of the two walls; the porosity and overall melting, disappearing quality of the right-hand wall; the failing of architectural geometry; and the sense of organic reclamation.  I never created another quite as satisfying. 

We had a fine visit with our friends, meandering through their home and studio, viewing their own inspiring work, and feeling refreshed by its beauty and their creative, generous spirits.  The whole trip was like that.  So refreshing.  Even the fog!  There’s a time for everything. 

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) first and second weekends (9-10 and 16-17), 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.