Category Archives: black and white

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.

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.

2020 Suite No. 3

"2020 Suite No. 3" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 3

Acrylic and ink on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The final of the three paintings of the 2020 Suite.  The light value/temperature is really uneven in the photograph – I think a reflection of the unevenness inside and outside the studio these days.  The usual brilliance of October alternating with the smoke and haze of this very particular year.  The experience in the studio ranging between distracted and bleak.  The chaos just doesn’t quit, does it?  The dynamic will change eventually.  May it be soon.  And maybe then I’ll try re-photographing 2020 Suite No. 3.

Pursued by Winter

"The Bear Pursued By Winter" - Carraher 2019

The Bear Pursued by Winter
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

The season is coming on slowly this autumn.  The temperatures are still warm, and the usual returning social celebrations that mark this season in the desert are muted in this covid year.  But at this time last fall, almost three years into this malignant Administration, the weather was already decidedly cooler, the days crisp and shortening.  The wildlife was noticeably changing their routine, and the vultures had already passed through on their annual migration to Baja.  I’m not sure why but I felt the impending winter keenly, a foreboding of darkness and potential loss.

And that’s when these two paintings happened, the one above and the other at the bottom of this post.   I showed them last winter in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.  They occasioned an interesting discussion with a musician couple from out of state, one afternoon while I was docenting.  The gentleman was particularly struck by their calligraphic character – a subject I can certainly hold forth on – and later he sent me images from a book about the evolutions connecting pictures, hieroglyphics, and alphabets.

But my interest goes beyond that, to the existence of line not as a sign, or in a literary, textual or narrative sense, but rather when line exists in a further dimension, as a manifestation in itself, of itself.  (See for example here and here and here.)  I’m most interested in what might be described as line’s abstract expressionist potential.

But then again, sometimes my line will indeed end up with that hieroglyphic or narrative quality, as might be seen in the images on this post.  Sometimes that happens, and I’m content with it.

Anyway.  Whatever my own thoughts or intentions with the work, in the end they bought the painting and I was glad they had it.  🙂

"Death Creeps In to Winter" - Carraher 2019

Death Creeps in to Winter
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

2020 Suite

"2020 Suite No. 1" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 1
2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

I’ve been working at a relatively rapid clip these last few months, with several pieces usually in process at once.  I’ve been frankly voracious in my need to make things happen in the studio, almost like needing a drug high – not surprising, I suppose, considering the sense of futility that drains so much of our lives at this time.

Having multiple pieces in progress contrasts with how I worked for many years in pastel.  In that medium I most often worked with the piece flat on the table, applylng the pastel with a brush, and due to the fragility of the surface I needed to keep a lot of clear space around.  So there wasn’t much room to have more than one thing going on at once.  These pieces also tended to take more time in the planning and preparation than the execution.  Here is an example from 2016, from the Additional Dimensions series which derived from gesture drawings of deteriorating homesteads in my neighborhood:

"Three Walls" - Carraher2016

Three Walls
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper, 12 x 22 in.

Clearly my work now often skips that planning and preparation stage, as I increasingly prize spontaneity directly on the substrate.  With pastels the spontaneity usually went into the informal gestural sketch from which the painting was developed.  I did draw directly with the pastels at times however – as in this homestead from 2007:

:Blue-Green Cabin" - Carraher 2007

Blue-Green Cabin
2007.  Pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in.

…or this one from the same year:

"Desert Gothic" - Carraher 2007

Desert Gothic
2007.  Pastel and charcoal on paper, 22-1/4 x 13-1/2 in.

Those seem like idyllic times, now, but of course they weren’t.  But they were easier.  They were easier.

bell poems

"Bell Poem No. 7" - Carraher 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.