Category Archives: here now

Cabin Overwhelmed

"Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun" - Carraher 2016

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper, 18-3/8 x 9-3/8 in.

The disappointing news?  The studio cooling installation has hit (yet another) snag.  This time expert reinforcements are required, and in a summer like this HVAC professionals can set their own schedules.  We will have to get in line and wait.  Again.  Still.

So the studio continues to run an interior average of 95 degrees, and to languish in the state of profound disarray the installation project has created.

What this means:  No painting.  No work on the promotions or ancillary products for October Open Studio Art Tours for which I need photos of the work, and to get those I need the use of the studio.  No preparing of the artworks or the space for display.  Canvases, mediums, and paints roasting at temperatures they were not made to withstand.

One thing I can say about pastels, in which I worked for years:  It’s a dry medium that is not bothered by heat, usually on a substrate of paper which is also not bothered by heat.  I didn’t realize how good I had it.

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun was part of my pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave , which arose from sketches I’d done over the years of derelict homesteads in my neighborhood.  My own studio cabin is not derelict; it is loved and cared for.  But it is most decidedly overwhelmed by the sun at the moment.  As am I.  This is a hellish summer.

More Heat, But Cooling Ahead

Snapshot of "Chimney Rock" - Carraher 2021

Snapshot of “Chimney Rock
June 2021.  Acrylic, graphite, charcoal, ink on paper.  8 x 11 in.

It’s not news that we’re under another heat dome.  It’s actually hotter than the last one (118 yesterday, briefly hitting 119) but perhaps won’t be as sustained.  Once again hiding out in the house, shades drawn against the searing air.

But what IS news is that there is progress on getting cooling back in the studio!  The unit finally arrived after ridiculous and foul delays, and my installer has begun work.  However, the roaring temperatures are interfering with the next steps, notably laying a small concrete pad for the compressor; curing cement does not like these kinds of temperatures and will want to crack.  As well, he has had to take out a window and will need to do some work on the outside wall before proceeding with the inside installation, and, frankly, it’s just too dangerous to be working long in these conditions.  So, progress is hampered.  But we persist.

Once confronted with the reality of the unit in 3-D we unfortunately had to change  some of the plans.  Instead of placing the inside unit above the west window, we’re now removing the small northwest window and putting it there.  This window was the most expendable, being essentially the old original “bathroom” window, with the bottom half frosted and very leaky louvers that constantly sieved in drafts and dust.  But, on the other hand, it was a good source of ventilation in the west part of the room, and I will miss that.

Plus – sigh – I love my old cabin, and it distresses me to change any part of its humble, original self.    But the fact is, it’s suffered 60-plus years of desert brutalization and it needs upgrades to keep it standing and serving.  For example, the old asphalt shingles have had every possible modification to keep them operative but they are simply disintegrating right off the walls, and in the next year or two I will have to come up with a replacement plan for the siding.  Things have to change to survive, I guess.

So for now I’m trying to concentrate not on the losses but rather on how incredible it’s going to be to have modern, reliable cooling in there.  And, of course, on getting back to work.

The image above is another snapshot of a recent work on paper, from the same group as “Drought, 115 Degrees” that I posted before.  The palette again was just ultramarine blue, raw umber, black, and white. The photo is rather dingy but that’s just what we’ve got for the moment; I shot it on the floor with the phone under fluorescent light.   I look forward to getting a proper shot of it when the studio’s back to rights; right now it’s all in an uproar, of course, and will remain so until the cooler work is done.

I rather like this painting, which recalls to me the backroads of Utah and the wildness of the rock and the weather.  Younger days.  It was all so very exciting.

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.

Drought, 115 Degrees

Snapshot of "Drought, 115 Degrees" - Carraher

Snapshot of “Drought, 115 Degrees”
June 2021.  Acrylic and graphite on paper, 8 x 11 in.

Yes.  It’s been hot here.  Dangerously so.  Five days straight of 115-plus, sealed up in the house, blinds closed, cooler running around the clock.  Outside, plants and wildlife scorching, wilting, hanging on for dear life or…not making it.  I’ve kept irrigation running at a low level to provide damp ground for cooling bodies and small puddles for drinking.  The bird feeder has hardly emptied; the finches can only manage an hour or two at it in the morning before self-preservation sends them to find what shelter they can.  It is very, very quiet in the yard.

The studio cooling has essentially failed.  This latest swamp cooler has never cooled well, and in this heat it’s barely this side of useless.  I can get in a few hours of work first thing in the morning, if I rise very early.  That’s it.  Very frustrating.  But at least I can go in the house and be reasonably comfortable; many creatures are not so lucky.

The conditions in the studio are why the image of this painting is just a snapshot taken with my phone instead of a properly lit and staged photograph.  I have a backlog of work needing to be photographed, but that will just have to wait until climatic sanity returns.

“Drought, 115 Degrees” is on paper.  I’ve mostly avoided using paper with the acrylic paints prior to this; getting away from all the problems of paper was one of the reasons I turned from pastels to acrylics in the first place.  But it’s time to give it a decent trial, if I can find a satisfactory product.  I’ve started experimenting with Strathmore acrylic paper, and so far it’s pleasing me with the several small studies I’ve attempted.  It’s 246 lb, so fairly sturdy and not prone to buckle with the light treatment I’ve been using so far.  It has a subtle linen texture on the “right” side; this particular painting is done on the smooth reverse.  I like the smooth textures I’ve been able to easily achieve; common canvas is so rough the texture can dominate at this small scale, which can be frustrating.

I’m happy to say it’s cooling off, very noticeable today at a high of 107.  The creatures who’ve made it this far have reason to hope.  The plants, though, have gone the last year-plus with almost no rain, and even the hardy desert natives can take only so much.  Let’s just hope the winds don’t come up.

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.

Mandalas

"Mandala IV" - Carraher 2021

Mandala IV
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

So there’s 12 of them so far, these mandalas.  I’d been working on them in late winter and spring, then actually set them aside a number of weeks ago.  I needed some distance before assessing.  Looking at them now, I believe several need more work.  We’ll see how that turns out.  But I’m feeling reasonably confident now that I’m on a worthwhile track.

Obviously I’m not staying with what is more popularly understood as a mandala, a “geometric configuration of symbols”.  I’m eschewing symbols completely, and “geometry” would apply in only the loosest interpretation of the term.  The idea of an “aid to meditation and trance induction” is maybe closer to the mark.  Whatever, as usual my approach is more poetic than academic, and the discovery of the purpose of my projects often comes after they are begun, not before.

Anyway.  Color is the founding and guiding element of these mandalas, and this particular one goes further than most of them in use of color.  But I should warn you that it was a challenge to reproduce the original colors digitally and this result is frankly exaggerated.  The actual painting is a little more subdued.  Satisfying, though.

Work this month at Gallery 62

"Jack (Steady at Sea)" - Carraher 2021

Jack (Steady at Sea)
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

The local galleries continue to reopen (with social distancing protocols still in place, of course)!  Gallery 62 in Joshua Tree presents Creativity During Quarantine:  “Our first members’ exhibition in 2021 is a large group show themed around how our artist members used this time at home to traverse new roads in their artistic output. Some artists were more creative, tried new techniques and/or shifted their subject matter as a result of the stay-at-home order. Instead of focusing on the year lost to Covid-19 let’s celebrate the new work created during this time.”

I think artists are very interested in showing or talking about that new work; I certainly am.  I had two recent pieces accepted in the show, Bell Poems No. 7 and No. 11, and when the gallery requested a few lines on how we experimented with our art practice during quarantine, I submitted the following:

The pandemic year has shaped both the content and the process of my work.  It coincided with a move from the pastel medium to acrylics, a plunge which was accelerated with the increased studio time.  Uninterrupted focus allowed me to explore further, deeper, broader – for better or for worse.  I was able, in the absence of external judgments and demands, to pursue each thread of inquiry fully, and multiple threads at a time.  All the while, an engagement with larger questions of human existence, tragedy, and hope was unavoidable.  Increasingly I found the work revealing a meditative space, a grounding place, a respite for the viewer from a world roiling with fear, chaos, and illusion.

The show also features Jen Shakti’s work in the Signature Room and will be on view May 8th through 30th, Saturdays 9-3:00 and Sundays 9 to noon.  At Gallery 62’s sister gallery, JTAG, venerable Wonder Valley artist and curator Suzanne Ross presents REGROUP: Wide and Narrow spaces, a group exhibition of large and small works.  A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at these galleries for keeping them alive through these challenging times, and a resounding Congratulations! at reopening to the live public.

The work above – Jack (Steady at Sea) – was finished last month after the prepped canvas had sat around quite a while.  Sometimes one gets anxious at the prospect of committing.  But ultimately I did set upon it with brush in hand, and I was not disappointed.  Again a little larger, like Genie.  For my father.

Lighthearted

"Lighthearted" - Carraher 2021

Lighthearted
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

This actually did start out as black and white, but it certainly didn’t stay that way!  It’s one of four pieces I began months ago. only finally finishing in the last couple weeks.  They all started with black improvisations brushed on a plain white ground, although two of them had been textured first with Golden Light Molding Paste, including this one. 

I liked the black drawing, but I really disliked the cold white over the texturing.  It did not inspire me.  So, after a few weeks of staring at it, I stained it with quinacridone red to a pale rose. 

really hated the rose.  I mean, really hated it.  Like gnashing my teeth when I’d look at it.  So, once again, it sat around for weeks but this time with me not staring at it.  Just avoiding it.  

Finally I’d had enough.  I chose my palette (the original quinacridone red, cadmium yellow light, and cerulean blue) and sailed in with abandon, starting with the orange and progressing to the green.  I’d always known I was going to have that blue stripe, and opposite was going to be a white stripe, but I didn’t like that after all and covered it with the yellow.  Came together pretty fast, once I finally got to it. 

This is a different way of handling the paint than I’ve used heretofore.  It helps to feel one has nothing to lose.  It specifically helped to have the textured and tinted surface that I just wanted to mess up; I am so easily enslaved by the beauty of a pure white surface, I get too careful.  This painting turned out to have no visible white in it at all – quite unusual for me.  I’m really glad I got over it, because I quite like the texture in it.  It truly adds a third dimension. 

Anyway, in the end it felt good and I like how it turned out.  Different for me, at least in a paint medium (as opposed to pastels).  It’s got a hint of a Matissean feel to it, in terms of the saturated color, loose drawing, and joyous mood.  I like that direction.  Glad I stuck it out. 

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.  

Urchin

"Urchin" - Carraher 2021

Urchin
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

This work developed from a simple arch-like figure in raw umber and went through quite a bit to arrive in the final state you see here.  I began it similarly to Pause Point – prepping the canvas with a darker value undercoat then overpainting with white to leave a just-off-white surface slightly varied in temperature and value but not heavily textured. The initial improvised arch figure was interesting but…not that interesting.  I started building with both the raw umber and the black and, to my surprise, felt pulled to bring in the violet.  I knocked certain parts back with white, but left faint shadows of some of what had already transpired. 

I was quite happy with it in the end, but it wasn’t until the very end that I felt that way.  Most of the time it felt pretty awkward.  It helped when the title occurred to me, well into the process.  I then better understood the direction I was going.  Sometimes that’s just how it goes.