Category Archives: black and white

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.

Texture

"Carbon 6" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 6
June 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

Now that the studio is comfortable to work in again, I spent most of last week doing multiple photo trials of my more textured paintings.  It’s a tricky enterprise:  When you light the work to capture more surface texture, you trade away some of the other important qualities of the painting such as layers and variation in value and opacity.  It’s hard to hit the right balance.  I want to indicate the dimensionality and textural feel but I don’t want the “skin” of the painting to grab a disproportionate amount of the attention.  Ultimately, my goal in a photographic reproduction is to convey as closely as I can the sense of standing in front of the painting and experiencing it fully, in person, in all aspects.

This was an enterprise that did not fascinate me.  I am not a photographer and I don’t want to be one.  I’m just trying to record the work as “accurately” as I can.  And I’m a pretty dogged person, so I worked through all the variables that were reasonably available to me, which took some time.  In the end I realized that there was no perfect version, but rather just the version best for the particular purpose at hand.

As the importance of texture and dimensionality has increased in my work, my antipathy toward digital reproduction has been foregrounded.  There are SO many digital images saturating our every day, leading to a constant visual chaos and cacophony.  Perhaps it’s different for you, but I am left with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion.  More and more, I prize the actual, real-life artwork.  An experience of shallowness versus an experience of depth.

This is a main reason why I’m not on Instagram, etc., and don’t seek out additional opportunities to post my work on-line.  This aversion obviously complicates my art career in the time of covid.  But apparently I don’t care.

Let’s get off the screens and smell the paint, people.  Time to reach out for what’s real.

Hi-Desert Milestones

"2020 Suite No. 2" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 2
2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The venerable Beatnik Lounge in Joshua Tree has reopened and is holding its first IRL show since March 2020.  For the “OOOF” show – “Olly Olly Oxen Free” – curator Deb Tobin had some guidelines that resonated fully in the desert this summer of 2021:

The call for the hide-and-seekers to come back to the base.
The cartoon sound of a punch to the gut.
The sound of being greeted by 110ºF Mojave desert salutations.
It should also be noted that 2021 is the year of the Metal Ox in the Chinese zodiac, so those oxen can come in free too.

As one can see in the virtual exhibition on the Beatnik website, the submissions run rather wild and unrestrained – no surprise.  Included is No. 2 from my 2020 Suite (see No. 1 here and No. 3 here).  

Joshua Tree happily supports a permanent floating population of a kind of beatnik strain, and there seems always to be a venue to fill their needs and house their productions.  It changes names, proprietors, and sometimes location, but defining boundaries across time are few.  Its current incarnation is the Beatnik Lounge which, in my version of local history, has its roots all the way back in the early or mid ’90s with Jeremy’s Cappucino Bar, a tiny coffee room in the strip mall between Sam’s Indian Pizza and the radio station.  Jeremy then moved it over to its current roomier location in more central JT, where, as I remember it, the words “Beatnik Lounge” got added to the name.  Due no doubt to its prehistoric age I find only one reference to Jeremy’s on line (a characteristic blues jam with JT musician Clive Wright), and it is probably from this second location.

At some point the sign changed and it became The Red Arrow Gallery, which is when the arrow (not as big as the original 15-footer in the gallery’s old location up the highway) appeared at the roof-line.  The Red Arrow put more emphasis on the gallery but retained the refreshment bar along with performances and readings, and many a memorable, free-wheeling event was had. 

And then, somewhere along the line, the name became Beatnik Lounge once again (Jeremy having many years since decamped Back East), and so the spirit continues in its eclectic, welcoming, opposite-of-uptight floating way.  Welcome back, Beatnik, and congratulations on making it through Covid Year. 

However, just down the block, Gallery 62, the flagship of the cooperative Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, will sadly close its doors at the end of October.  The collective show of the annual Open Studio Art Tours will be the final exhibition.  The Council and the Gallery have made it through the last tough year and a half, but the rent is just too much at this point.  They will retain JTAG gallery, though, so all is not lost.  And it appears that the Art Tours will be proceeding as planned this year, after being derailed in 2020 by everybody’s favorite pandemic. 

And if I may be allowed to note one final local and quite personal milestone:  cooling has returned to my studio.  Last weekend the unit fired up and ran perfectly, and I’m so grateful to say that peace, quiet, and moderate temperatures are now supporting my creative efforts.  I could not be happier.  In honor, I post the first of the Mandalas, subtitled “Nandi Wanders the Universe”.  

"Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)" - Carraher 2021

Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Rough Trade

"Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on several individual works in the Carbon series.  Some of the Carbons have come quickly; this one did not.  I started it late last year, and only declared it finished in May.  Over that time it changed almost completely; only some portions of the upper left remain from the beginning.  At one point it had a bright warm red figure – the result of a Hail Mary pass.  The remnants of red still glow beneath layers of white on the upper right.   I actually had decided that that version was the final, months ago, and set it in the stack for signing and varnishing.

But…no.

It made an interesting painting at that point, with the red; I even had a title and a sort of alternate life for it.  But it wasn’t a painting I cared about.  When push came to shove, I decided to press on.

I spent a LOT of time looking, putting it aside, then pulling it out and looking some more.  I repeatedly painted over passages that I liked because they weren’t right for what was developing.  After I’d covered over the red I felt a strong connection with this painting and knew I’d be pursuing it, whatever it took.  Slowly it came into focus, but the final refinements still took a long time and lots of consideration.

Why am I telling you all this?  Must not be very fascinating to read, I’m sure.  But I’m having this experience increasingly – not with all my paintings, but with more and more of them.  Especially the Carbon series.  I’ve had several of those sitting in the stew pot for months now.  I believe it’s because:

  • I have a clearer sense of what I want;
  • I have a clearer sense of what I can do;
  • I have a clearer sense of how to do it; and
  • I’m not willing to put up with less.

So that’s progress, I’d say.  It’s a slow-moving but important development.  It’s changed my tempo in the studio, the varieties of control available to me, the depth of satisfaction I feel.  My commitment is deepening.  Which is good, because not everybody is going to like the direction revealed by works like Rough Trade.  So be it.

Correction: Date Change Open Studios Art Tour 2021

"Mar12/20" - Carraher 2020

Mar12/20
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 8 x 10 in.

For anyone who just got an essentially text-less version of this post, my apologies:  I don’t believe I hit “Publish”, but I guess I must have.  So that went out by mistake, premature.  Grumble.

What I intended to write was that the dates I’ll be participating in the 2021 Open Studio Art Tours in October have changed.  Instead of the 2nd and 3rd weekends, I’ll be doing the 1st and 2nd weekends.  That’s October 9/10 and 16/17.

That’s still a ways off, of course.  But in the meantime, I’ve just put a couple more pieces in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery for the month of May, including the work above.  Featured artists this month include John Henson, Jennifer Grandi, and Denise Tanguay.  Reception will be this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7:00.

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Picture

"Carbon 2" - Carraher 2020

Carbon 2
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

Things have moved to a new level in the studio the last few months.  A subtle graduation has occurred.  I seem to have gained my footing with the acrylics.  I have enough skills now that I am better able to achieve what I’m trying to do, to match the execution to the vision and the impulse.  And when I encounter a challenge, I’m more likely to know a solution, or at least in which direction to turn.  And because of this, I am more patient.  I’m willing to set a work aside for months, if need be, and feel confident that the solution or direction will become apparent to me with time.  The flailing has lessened; the Hail Mary passes are fewer.  And I’m less likely to fall into an abyss of hopelessness and self-condemnation when several works in a row seem unsuccessful. 

I’m also fully focused now on several series of works and have lost patience with my long-time practice of giving myself “assignments” to help me learn.  There’s a growing pile of such pieces that I’ve simply lost interest in.  And I’ve become better at distinguishing between works on which I’m just unsure how to proceed, and those that just actually don’t mean anything to me.  This is a change from the past.  The curiosity of trying to learn something or the challenge of solving them technically is not enough to carry me through to completion.  I keep wandering off to the works that compel me.  

This is a good thing.   

The works I’m doing now may or may not be “good” – I’m not in the best position to judge – but they are what I want to be doing.  I’m achieving my visions, and through the prompts of the medium and process itself I’m discovering  new visions, visions that surprise me. 

“Carbon 2”, above, is from a small but growing series that surprises me, and keeps pulling me forward in an unhurried way.  There are four completed works now, and I know more are coming.  I posted the first here (it was an “Untitled” then, but I’ve since realized it was “Carbon 1”).   I’ve been working increasingly with black and white, or minor variations on B&W such as the grayed white in the Carbon paintings, or just small amounts of other hues as in Urchin and Pause Point.  And, for those who are curious about such things, the black pigment in the Carbon paintings is carbon black; it is Mars black in the other two just mentioned.   

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. 

Pause Point

"Pause Point" - Carraher 2021

Pause Point
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

This work also is painted over an old image, this time without a lot of texture but resulting in a faintly warm, unevenly white surface that has its own intrigue.  I began the figure improvisation with the burnt sienna, then the black, followed by a lot of looking and eventually revisions in black, or white, and more looking.  I’m very happy with its final balance and proportion, and the richness of the white flush with variations in value and temperature.  Very different than working on a perfect white surface.  All these different white surfaces have their attractions, but the distinctions among them carry increasing significance for me.

So much to learn.  Lifetimes’ worth.

A Year

"Carbon 1" - Carraher 2020

Carbon 1
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

I’ve starting painting over old paintings.  Not that they can be all that old, as I’ve only been working with paints (as opposed to pastels) for a couple years now.  But this past year – this strange year of time and solitude amid chaos and loss – has allowed me to paint, and paint, and paint, and make mistakes and learn lessons and create a lot of…well, bad work.  And now, especially after this year, I’m running out of room for it.

All of that time to paint has also moved me far and fast in the direction I apparently was always headed – a direction I think the new work above illustrates well.  I’d reached the end of possibilities with a canvas I’d beat to death, so I painted it over with titanium white although not thoroughly.  I allowed it to remain patchy, with the surface and color uneven.  The result was deeply inspiring to me, and I was immediately satisfied with this gesture in black. It feels quite different than the black gestures on plain untextured white canvases that I have been making these last few months (see here and here and here), with more dimension, a depth and a richness.

And this direction, long coming but this year accelerated, is clearly deeper and deeper into abstraction – yes, and expressive abstraction, that much reviled classic American style.  It is exciting to me, I celebrate it, and I celebrate this cursed year because, through it all, I’ve arrived at this.

I have so much to say on this – on all of it.  I had planned to include quite a bit more in this post – about this past year, and Time, and space.  So much percolating in my brain, almost painfully.  And perhaps those thoughts will show up in future posts.  But maybe not; I’ve lost the patience to write.  After all, I’m painting, not writing.  That’s the point.

Happy New Year.  We made it.

Joyce in the Bardo

"Joyce in the Bardo" - Carraher 2020

Joyce in the Bardo
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 14 in.

My mother is dying, on hospice now at home.  She was in the hospital for eight days, the first four in the ER because there were no beds available.  Because of the covid surge no visitors were allowed, and because of her condition it was almost impossible to reach her by phone or to know if she understood where she was, or why.

Now at least she is home, with those whom she knows and who care for her.  But how much of that she understands I don’t know, as she is in another bardo now, a twilit limbo of morphine.

Or perhaps it is me that is in the bardo.  I couldn’t reach her in the hospital; I can’t reach her now.  I can’t know what she wants, or feels, or needs.  I can’t know if she understands what is happening to her.

Or maybe it is all of us that are there, trapped by covid, incompetence, and craziness in a limbo life of no real contact and of dimmed connection, where true knowledge of one another cannot happen and action is not possible or means nothing.

I do not know if my mother has the will or desire to press past this state.  I know I do.  Our nation, despite nearly 300,000 dead, seems determined to remain in it.