Category Archives: Carbon

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.

Snapshot

This morning I dropped a couple of pieces by Gallery 62 for showing in the Members Room through July and August.  Yes, we’re doing this again:  exhibiting artwork.  Feels natural, feels weird.  Anyway.  The gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays, and the main show is “Space Is the Place”, showcasing artwork that is inspired by outer space.  Just to be clear, my work is not part of that show and has nothing to do with outer space; inner space is enough for me at present.

I included for the gallery two acrylics from last winter, and you can see them in the above wobbly shot of my studio wall – the one farthest to the right and the uppermost.  I’ve posted each of these on the blog before:  Damastes here and Untitled (1 5 21) here.  They’re on the wall because I’d just put hanging wire on them.

The other pieces are all recent work/in progress that you haven’t seen because I’m still unable to set up a proper photo session due to the excessive heat.  The studio cooler problem continues, and the replacement plan has been stalled on the vendor’s end.  Hopefully we’ll be able to start putting in the new cooler late this week; my fingers are crossed.  In the meantime, snapshots are what we got.

It’s a motley group, I know.  But I believe in all of them, and they represent several different threads that I continue to pursue.  The two larger black-and-whites on the left are in the Carbon group.  I’ve started working a little larger with these, 14 x 18 in. in this case.

That can’t-miss-it red piece is a companion to The Heart in the Bardo, featuring my usual heavy black gesture but on saturated color rather than white or gray.  Makes for a very different animal.

And the final one on the bottom, in white, black, gray, and raw umber, is in the same vein as Urchin and Pause Point and has been much fussed over.  I’m determined to bring it in; I think it’s getting close.

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.

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.   

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.