Category Archives: bell poems

Carrying On

"Bell Poem No. 18" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 18
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

My spirit revived somewhat this week when my partner came out into the studio with me and we looked together at the work I’ve been doing, the situation in the studio, and the possibilities for a sane, safe, and satisfying participation in October’s Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours(Reminder:  I’ll be Studio No. 2 on the first and second weekends, Oct. 9-10 and 16-17.) 

The challenges of this summer (not to mention the last two years) have been frankly discouraging, and I’ve been on the cusp of withdrawing from the Tours.  (Did I mention that the power went out for 22 hours after a thunderstorm last week during triple-digit temps, and that there was a breakdown at the well and we were without water the weekend before?)  I’ve felt extremely unprepared despite my best efforts, covid continues to make public events fraught, isolation has led to a crisis of artistic confidence, and the Art Tours organizers have also suffered from the covid malaise in their preparations and promotions, leading to a less predictable and potentially less successful event.

But as my partner and I pulled out the artworks, considered possible hanging schemes, and addressed organizational challenges, my spirits rose.  Although I know this year may not be be as straightforward, convivial, and celebratory as past Tours, it really is possible that it will be rewarding in its own way.   I do believe in the work, and I do believe that viewing it here in this desert retreat may bring some folks solace in this stressful and alienating time.

It helped that my partner was so enamored of the works that she has commandeered several pieces for hanging in the house until next month, including Bell Poem No. 18 above and also Mandala II.  It is reassuring that she is so delighted by them; as I mentioned, the isolation of the last two years has left me in need of a reality check on the appeal of the work.  Of course, she is biased, but so is everyone, right?  Anyway, the next challenge will be getting them back away from her for display in the studio in October.

Technicolor

 

"Bell Poem No. 17" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 17
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

Whoa, color!  We’re not in black-and-white Kansas anymore here!  But is it still a Bell Poem?  Yes.  Began as always, with big black gesture on a white 20 x 10-inch canvas.  After that the technique is similar to what I used on The Furies:  saturated transparent acrylic color blended straight on the canvas with lots of gloss medium.  Blue-green, Indian yellow, cadmium red deep.  Plenty of aplomb and no place for hesitation or second-guessing. Wheee!!

Here’s No. 15, done not long before it but harkening back to methods I’ve used since early in the series:

"Bell Poem No. 15" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 15
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

This one started out straightforward enough but went awry early on.  After the gesture I stained the surface a bright yellow with a sponge, then applied another layer of stain with violet but went too weak, and instead of a vivid, vital surface of complementary contrast I ended up with a feeble gray.  Argh.  So I stained another layer with ultramarine blue, a little stronger this time, and ended up with this muted green.  Kind of liked it, but…eh.  I finished with another gesture in an opaque celadon.  Obviously a very different feel from technicolor No. 17, but I decided there was room for it also in the collection.  

I love doing these.  Always an adventure.  

Bell Poem No. 16

"Bell Poem No. 16" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 16
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

I’ve finally gotten more photographing done and will be posting some catch-ups.  This piece was completed in January.  It went off in yet another new direction for the Bell Poems, which I like.  Again, what they have in common is that they begin as a large-brush gesture in black acrylic on white, on a 20 x 10-inch canvas.  So a lot can end up coming out of that category.  This one is particularly pleasing to me.  Lyrical. 

Bell Poems, Expanding

"Bell Poem No. 11" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 11
October 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

I haven’t posted about the Bell Poems in a while, but I haven’t stopped creating them.  I wasn’t sure when I began just where they were going, and if they were ultimately going to comprise a true body of work.  By early last fall I’d decided they were indeed all part of a collection that held together – if, through nothing else, that they all began with a large calligraphic gesture in black on white, on a canvas of 20 x 10 inches (or 10 x 20 – orientation is not a fixed attribute of this group).  Nonetheless, they’ve proved to be of flexible character beyond that common beginning.  Some, in truth, I did not designate as a bell poem at all at first, they just seemed too different.  But I’ve given up on that.  I think their origin dictates the class.  

No. 11 above is a bit of a throwback in style to an early example, Bell Poem No. 2.  In this case, though, I pushed further in not stopping with a single layer of colored stain, but rather went over the first layer of quinacridone rose with another layer of a medium green, which gives the surface vibrancy.  

But things are not stopping there.  A snapshot of the three latest on the studio wall: 

Bell Poems on wall

More detail on these to come, once I’m sure they’re finished and they’re properly photographed.  But, briefly, the furthest left followed an early course much like No. 11 above; the middle piece will probably remain black and white like several other of the poems; and the painting on the right goes off the regular course completely, about which more later.  But I think it belongs anyway.  And that feels right. 

I’m beginning to believe that this will go on for a while.  The elongated format and the large black brush work on white inspires me.  That just seems to be the fact. 

Orientation

"Bell Poem No. 6 (Pursuit of the Deep)" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 6 (Pursuit of the Deep)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 20 in.

Sometimes a painting works for me in more than one orientation.  Maybe I’m not supposed to admit that.  And usually I note no such ambiguity – there’s one way, and it’s the right way.  But sometimes, a work speaks one universe one way, and another universe another way, and I feel them both deeply.  So then there’s nothing to decide for me, and a painting, like this one, might sit in the studio for months before I make up my mind, sign it, varnish it, and put it away.  Or, like with this one, I may ultimately instead decide, fuck it, both orientations are meaningful to me, and I’m fine with the viewer deciding which they prefer.  Truly.  I’m fine with it. 

"Bell Poem No. 6 (Pursuit of the Deep)" - Carraher 2020

So…done.  I signed it with a small crescent mark I sometimes use that can survive any orientation, varnished it, and was able finally to put it away.

Same thing with this piece done around the same time:

Bell Poem No. 5
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

This vertical orientation still has the strongest appeal for me, but I just haven’t been able to shake my intrigue with the sort of metaphysical tablet that appears when it’s oriented horizontally:

I’m not sure anyone else would share my fascination, but…so be it.   Many things in life can be viewed from more than one direction, and still have meaning.  I’m at peace with it.

It Comes Down to This

"Bell Poem No. 10" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 10
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 20 in.

My paintings are getting simpler, simpler, simpler.  By which I mean stripped down to nothing but what I see as the only essential elements, even when that’s very few elements indeed.

I have my moments of unease about this, where I am subject to the siren song of cultural notions of what a painting ought to be.  I am of course not alone in this species of doubt; most artists at one time or another wrestle with their own variation on this question.  And if the gods are with them, they ultimately or perhaps repeatedly reject it and ride forward into the scary isolation of authentic work.

But most of the time, I just know when a work satisfies me.  And at that moment I’m done with the painting, and with the doubt.

So it comes down to this, Bell Poem No. 10, my offering on this most momentous day.

bell poems

 

"Bell Poem No. 7" - Carraherr 2020

Bell Poem No. 7
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 10 in.

So yes:  “bell poems”.  When I started creating these canvases a couple months ago I wasn’t sure where they were going, and I’m still not, but the thought of them as bell poems has persisted.  So now they have titles. 

What do they have in common?  They all start as big calligraphic gestures in black on white.  Some then gain another color, and maybe some more white or black.  All on 10 x 20-inch canvases – some horizontal, some vertical.  This was the first: 

"Bell Poem No. 1 (Headlong)" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 1 (Headlong)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 20 in. 

Pursuit of the Sun

"Pursuit of the Sun" - Carraher 2020Pursuit of the Sun
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 20 in.

From late July, before I went away.  Another of the “bell poems”.  I’ve developed several of these works now, but I’m still not sure if they constitute a collection.  At the same time I’m also working on some square canvases with the same large black calligraphic gestures, but those seem to be going in a different direction.  So…still in exploration mode.