Category Archives: how

"Jun25" - Carraher 2019

Jun25
2019.  Acrylic and collage on wood panel. 12 x 12 in.

Haven’t been posting because I’ve been painting and not feeling like switching to the talking-about-it channel.  I have several new works but haven’t been able to settle down to signing and photographing them. 

This is a collage from 2019, done on a cradled wood panel.  The smoothness and solidity of wood panels are so different from canvas and provoke different moves from me.  The materials here include the green handmade paper, a bit of resume paper, the linear piece of my precious vintage construction paper in a dusty rose, and a disk of matte photo paper painted red.  The red netting is, indeed, plastic produce netting from the supermarket.  It was gratifyingly easy to shape and glue down. 

I enjoy making collages and always feel I’m about to make more, though I rarely actually do.  That may change someday.  I hope so, as they are a distinct channel with results I don’t get any other way.  I think perhaps because I usually base my paintings on line, but the collages are much more about shape. 

Anyway, I like this one. 

Re-routes

"Untitled (12 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 20)
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.

Axis

"Axis" - Carraher 2001

Axis
2001.  Pastel on sandpaper, 8 x 7-3/8 in.

Axis is a small work that has remained important to me.  It dates from many years ago, when I was still exploring what pastels could do.  The surface was much affected by the use of spray fixative – a substance that I eventually came to mostly avoid, but whose modifying properties I have also at times found to be intriguing.  The ultimate surface is difficult to accurately reproduce digitally, as is the color, which ranges from green to orange.

I’m not able to work in the studio for a few days or be focused on painting, but this piece has always been a touchstone for me.  I’m always able to reach it, even when I can’t reach much else.

Bell Poems, Expanding

"Bell Poem No. 11" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 11
October 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

I haven’t posted about the Bell Poems in a while, but I haven’t stopped creating them.  I wasn’t sure when I began just where they were going, and if they were ultimately going to comprise a true body of work.  By early last fall I’d decided they were indeed all part of a collection that held together – if, through nothing else, that they all began with a large calligraphic gesture in black on white, on a canvas of 20 x 10 inches (or 10 x 20 – orientation is not a fixed attribute of this group).  Nonetheless, they’ve proved to be of flexible character beyond that common beginning.  Some, in truth, I did not designate as a bell poem at all at first, they just seemed too different.  But I’ve given up on that.  I think their origin dictates the class.  

No. 11 above is a bit of a throwback in style to an early example, Bell Poem No. 2.  In this case, though, I pushed further in not stopping with a single layer of colored stain, but rather went over the first layer of quinacridone rose with another layer of a medium green, which gives the surface vibrancy.  

But things are not stopping there.  A snapshot of the three latest on the studio wall: 

Bell Poems on wall

More detail on these to come, once I’m sure they’re finished and they’re properly photographed.  But, briefly, the furthest left followed an early course much like No. 11 above; the middle piece will probably remain black and white like several other of the poems; and the painting on the right goes off the regular course completely, about which more later.  But I think it belongs anyway.  And that feels right. 

I’m beginning to believe that this will go on for a while.  The elongated format and the large black brush work on white inspires me.  That just seems to be the fact. 

Addition, Subtraction

"Once Around" - Carraher 2018

Once Around
2018.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas.  11 x 14 in.

I love working with charcoal, perhaps because I love working with line and a stick of charcoal makes line that is fast, direct, and highly expressive.  The less wonderful part is that it is messy and easily smeared, attributes I had more than enough of while working with pastels for decades.  The common remedy is spray fixative, which I used here and works well enough but I really don’t like it.

This painting is from early in my efforts with acrylic paint, and I learning a lot in working on it – lessons that have carried on into my work ever since.  It was liberating to find I could use subtraction with acrylic paint in a way I really couldn’t with pastels – meaning I could take away or beat back something I didn’t like or that was too strong, or create openings over something that had already been figured with pigment.  This allows me to work both forward and back, pushing and pulling, adding and subtracting, instead of every stroke being a largely irreversible commitment that I must work around.

In this case I used titanium white to paint over passages that I wanted to remove or sublimate/soften.  If this work had been in pastel I could only have pushed a passage back by covering it with thick impasto and always been in danger of being “locked out”, i.e., the tooth of the paper being filled with pigment and unable to hold more layers.

Anyway, the overall experience was liberating and the lesson one of the more profound I have discovered in my transition from pastel to acrylic paint.  Another lesson is…I still love working with charcoal.  A brush filled with paint will never be quite the same.

Faces

"Henri" - Carraher 2020

Henri
April 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 8 in.

I miss seeing people’s faces.  It’s a feeling that has reached a point of sadness.  I am 100% on-board with the necessary effort to universally mask until it is safe to once again reveal our full selves.  But I will be happy when that day comes.

So in the meantime I’m posting this rather cheerful countenance from last spring – painted in the first days of the pandemic, when masks were still novel, and home-made, and not yet a symbol of division.  Before faces became in short supply.

He’s created with alizarin crimson straight from the tube, on a canvas stained by a sponge with a mix of alizarin and raw umber.  He got the name Henri I think because I was reading about some fin-de-siecle Parisian artists, or their dealers – I no longer remember who – and he just came to life for me that way.

I miss your face.

Space

Magicgroove Studio 1999-2000 (Photo by Robert McClay)

Magicgroove Studio, circa 2000

This photo was taken at least 20 years ago by a commercial artist friend who was nearing retirement after a successful career.  The digital age was dawning, and he, trained in the old school, wanted little to do with it.  He took this photo with his analog camera and kindly gave me a print.  He wanted me to have a picture, he said, of what my studio was like when it was brand new, fresh, still empty.

His implication was plain soon enough, as the place filled up with every kind of instrument, property, and consequence of work, inspiration, and simply dreaming.  Drawers of pastels and pots of paint, bins of completed and half-completed projects, piles of failed canvases, bits of nature that have blown or rolled onto the property or simply come to the surface, a jar of BBs that makes a good weight, jugs of brushes, my  father’s homemade drafting table, racks and rolls of papers.  And all the dusty residue of precious, mere existence.

I spent the first few days of this new year shaking the place out and finding more room, organizing and condensing.  I hadn’t intended to start the year with such a cleansing, but I wanted to import a rolling cart from the house, a sturdy wooden cart that would be oh so useful but the addition of which simply ground the entire studio to a halt.  It was the proverbial straw.  I must make more space.  So a reordering was imperative.

But many of the items in this photo are still in the studio, such as the French half-easel and the cabinets inherited from a friend who just happened to be remodeling his kitchen at the time I was setting up.  And the heavy, sturdy, rustic table against which I am leaning, still the center of my activities, built inside the room by the former owner who used it to clean his guns.  Pinned to the wall are a couple pastel still-lifes I remember sketching, from arrangements that would have been set up on the old rusty stool that’s standing atop, yes, another rolling cart (still doing service, by the way).

The photographer, that day he came as the first visitor to my studio, also gave me a “housewarming” gift, a mason jar holding a colorful cloth bouquet.  It’s still here.

A Year

"Untitled (12 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 20)
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.

Prodigals

"Untitled (12 2 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 2 20)
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

Some paintings do quite a bit of wandering before they come home.  This one started months ago as just a black gesture on white.  It felt unfinished and…kinda lost.  Didn’t know where to take it from there.  It sat around for quite a while, until I got tired of looking at it and attacked it with the red.  At that point I thought it was done.  I didn’t love it, but I kept thinking I should learn to love it.  I put it up on the studio wall with some others and it always felt lightweight, but I thought maybe it was just because it was…different.  I finally put it in the stack to sign, photograph, varnish, and put away.

But when the time came to take those last steps I suddenly grabbed it and came after it with a big brush full of titanium white, and – presto!  It found its weight, and its depth.  It’s quite at home with the others on the wall now, even though it is somewhat different in style.  It has made it home.

"Untitled (12 9 20)" - Carraher 2020

Lisa’s “Promenade”
December 2020.  Acrylic, ink, paper on panel. 10 x 8 in.

This piece, also, was one of the wandering stepsisters for a while.  It began as one of the Aquaria, but despite a lot of fussing it fell short (it was not alone in this failure).  The efforts to save it got more and more wild, including the cadmium yellow, until at a certain point all hope was lost and out came the brayer and opaque titanium white – time to wash clean.  If it wasn’t to be an Aquaria, then it could be anything.  That’s when things got fun again.  The final touch was the three phthalo green stripes.  They are actually deli paper painted, cut out, and collaged on.  I secretly love stripes and was easily convinced they would be just the right thing here – which, in the end, I believe they were.

It occurs to me I should include this post on the thread about line, because both these paintings started with black line on white though they went far afield from that.  But line starts so many of my paintings, that thread could start to become meaningless.  I might include it anyway, though.  Lines seem to be the heart of the matter.