Category Archives: here now

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. 

To respect the inquiry

"Untitled (9 5 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (9 5 20)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in. 

It’s been difficult to keep perspective in the studio lately.  Now that I have more time to work I’m producing a lot, and it’s dismaying how much of it is really not very good.  The piles of failed or misfired work jumbled everywhere has at times left me with a sense of actual nausea, almost a vertigo.  Today I had to remind myself that the inquiry  – the process of undertaking things I don’t know if I can do, journeys whose destination is unclear – is necessary and must be respected on its own terms.  I have to remind myself that it is the hunt into the unknown that matters — the only way to find what might be there, that which one can’t dream of yet but can only feel.  And of course, even when one fails to capture anything worthwhile, that quest is nevertheless how one learns, develops skills, understands what one has or has not mastered. 

The work above I feel good about.  It’s one of those that gave me subtle leads from the beginning about what step to take next, leads I had the sense to follow, and in the end it gives me a deep satisfaction.  It has that “complex of qualities whose feeling is just right…”.   For me, at least.  I really couldn’t guess if anyone else might find it worthwhile; it is a handicap not being able to show original work to others for extended periods, such as we’re trapped in now.  One more reason for the difficulty keeping perspective. 

From the Infinite Background of Feeling

Madame Curie
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10 in.

Small canvas finished last week.  Brushed black over rolled white and yellow ochre.

The renowned abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, whose work I much admire, was eloquent on the role of feeling in art:

The aesthetic is the sine qua non for art:  if a work is not aesthetic, it is not art by definition.  But in this stage of the creative process, the strictly aesthetic — which is the sensuous aspect of the world — ceases to be the chief end in view.  The function of the aesthetic instead becomes that of a medium, a means for getting at the infinite background of feeling in order to condense it into an object of perception.  We feel through the senses, and everyone knows that the content of art is feeling; it is the creation of an object for sensing that is the artist’s task; and it is the qualities of this object that constitute its felt content.  Feelings are just how things feel to us; in the old-fashioned sense of these words, feelings are neither “objective” nor “subjective,” but both, since all “objects” or “things” are the result of an interaction between the body-mind and the external world.  “Body-mind” and “external world” are themselves sharp concepts only for the purposes of critical discourse, and from the standpoint of a stone are perhaps valid but certainly unimportant distinctions.  It is natural to rearrange or invent in order to bring about states of feeling that we like, just as a new tenant refurnishes a house.

…[The artist’s] task is to find a complex of qualities whose feeling is just right — veering toward the unknown and chaos, yet ordered and related in order to be apprehended. — Beyond the Aesthetic (1946)

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.

New Work

New work:

Bell Poem Gold Carraher 2020

Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 10 in.  I’ve done several in this vein now.  They all start with a big calligraphic gesture in black on white.  This one stopped there:

Bell Poem B and W Carraher 2020

I’m thinking of them as “bell poems”.  But we’ll see.  Stay tuned.

Filling with Space

More fooling around with the granite sketch.  Studio shot of work in progress, acrylic and ink on canvas:

Carraher 2020

Completely different approach than the last posted, but it is in line with an enduring stylistic interest of mine that comes up every so often and never really goes away.  Witness this pastel from all the way back in 1999:

Pinto Mountains from Wonder Valley - CCJD 1999

Pinto Mountains from Wonder Valley
1999.  Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper, 14 x 10-1/8 in.

This is a view from my property, right after I acquired my studio.  I was just beginning to try out ways to encompass the enormity of what I was seeing – the enormity, the simplicity, the complexity.  And how it’s all happening at once, in one vast pulsating organism filled with space.  Still working on it.

 

More Granite

Granite VIII - Carraher 2020
Granite VIII
July 2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

Still interested in the shape of the granite boulders, but not so much in their texture here. Where I’m really (always) heading is toward simultaneity.  The interpenetrability of the substance and the ether.

This started with a quick contour sketch up near Stirrup Tank in Joshua Tree National Park.  The umber and ochre are applied with a brayer for randomness.

I’m continuing to work with the same sketch, using different approaches.  More to come.

Granite

Granite IIGranite II
June 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

I’m inching towards a subject that’s been calling me for a long time:  the stone of the Mojave Desert.  Yes, those boulders of the luscious shape and provocative surface.  So far it’s just those elements alone:  the shape and the surface.  I’m not interested in the form.  So I’ve been playing around a little bit.  Got a long way to go.

Granite VGranite V
June 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.