Category Archives: here now

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. 

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.

Re-routes

"Damastes" - Carraher 2020

Damastes
December 2020.  Acrylic and collage on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

From the three I started around the same time, last October.  I had quite a different idea in mind at first, and played around with some colored pieces with really unsatisfying results.  I ended up cutting them up and here they landed.  This was much more the feeling I was going for originally, but not through the route I was expecting.  The collage is deli paper painted with cadmium yellow medium acrylic, so it has a slight translucency which I liked.

I’m playing around with some similar ideas in the studio right now, and I have to say it’s not working out well.  Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.

Satisfactions

"Untitled (1 5 21)" - Carraher 2021

Untitled (1 5 21)
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

I really love this painting.  I finished it maybe five weeks ago, but I began it months before that, in 2020.  It started with just the scaffolding of the black line, as my pieces so often do, and that part went quickly.  But I looked at it for a long time before deciding on my next moves.  It then fell into place just click-click-click, with no fussing.

I actually started three canvases in almost the same way at that same time, and they all resolved quite differently; I’ll post the other two sometime soon.

Anyway, the straight-ahead orange and yellow with the pastel turquoise please me, as does the handling of the small yellow figure at the bottom right and its connection to its uncolored echo in the upper mid left.  Simple elements in balanced yet restless relation.  Altogether abstract and yet mysteriously familiar, pleasurably resonant of something that actually doesn’t exist.  This satisfies me.