Category Archives: how

Eve Swings

"Eve Swings" - Carraher 2022

Eve Swings
2022. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Got the paintings back from the framers, and I’m very happy with them.  No surprise there; Plaza always does a super job.  So I just need to make some labels and they’ll be ready for hanging the show on Monday.  Relieved!  That’s one thing I can check off the list.

And I can’t complain, the studio is very close to checking off, as well.  The painter will finish tomorrow and, gotta say, it looks nice!  It may not have looked this good even when it was new – and that was a very, very long time ago.  What it’s lost in vintage authenticity and ramshackle charm it’s made up in simple, clean freshness.  It looks veritably sprightly!  I did use shingles that are in line with the original look, and a slightly cool gray color not far off from where the cabin started.  So, in sum, it looks almost like a dream version of the old cabin, renewed. A few minor items remain but those may be completed over the weekend, we’ll see.  Tomorrow I start taking old shingles and other debris to the dump.

The above painting, Eve Swings, had a twisting (okay, tortured) path to completion.  I loved the big olive-y green shape with the pink base color, the torn white piece, and the smaller red square-ish, but things went through a lot of changes from there.  There were a couple more pieces intended, but once I got this far I changed my mind and left it in this simpler state.  The orange and red rod shapes retained their edges, conveying the halo effect I noted in my last post.  I don’t think this photograph gives the colors their due; their cool but juicy interplay in the original is a big part of the “swing”.  LOVE reds; the infinity of reds gives me an infinity of pleasures.

Scrambling

"For Juana" - Carraher 2022

For Juana
2022.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

Life has been generous with the curveballs lately, and I’m a little stressed out with trying to both keep up and keep from getting hit.  I think the only reason I’m able to settle down and write a post today is that yesterday I finally got my paintings safely deposited with the framer and feel secure they will be ready for the “Wonder Valley Friends” exhibition opening two weeks from today at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.  When last I posted I had expected I would be getting them in to the framers the next day, and I was much surprised on that visit to learn my venerable long-time framers don’t deal in the particular frames I wanted to use.  Yikes!  Not what I expected to hear!  So then the scramble was on, the mad details of which I’ll spare you, but I did eventually find what I wanted on-line, the two suppliers were surprisingly prompt and well-packaged in their shipping, and yesterday the batch of seven paintings and their intended frames were delivered for assembly to my regular framers.

But that little drama pales beside the larger disruptions, the greatest of which is the construction happening on my studio.  It’s needed re-siding since…well, since before I even bought the place, but I loved the original look and didn’t want to change it.  But my property insurer was less enamored of the vintage look and demanded I replace the ancient disintegrating shingles or lose coverage.  The journey from there has involved all the distresses familiar to our current climate such as shortage of skilled ready labor, shortage of supplies, lost materials, late deliveries, etc., plus some associated wild-card mishaps such as motorcycle accidents (not mine), failing septic systems, and vehicle breakdowns.  The last couple months have been an adventure, and not a fun one.

Be all that as it may, at this moment the old shingles are off the studio, new windows are installed, plywood sheathing and black paper wrap are in place, and half the new shingles are up. The yard is a jumble of materials and tools and the interior of the studio a mess, but progress is now swift and in a few weeks I believe all will be back to rights.  I can’t wait.

Above is another of the new collages, this one also featuring charcoal.  I got a similar speckled result from the main color layer that had also occurred on the preceding piece, “Karma”.  Once again, I rather liked it.  Notably in this painting I retained the translucent edges of the collage pieces rather than trimming them off.  The combination of slight reflectivity and cloudy translucence bestows a kind of aura around the shapes that appeals to me.  So this piece marks a distinct development in my handling of the edges of my collage bits, a development that has continued in following works.  Counting the days until I can get back in the studio and do some more.

Karma

"Karma" - Carraher 2022

Karma
2022.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Karma.  One of the new collages I’ll be featuring in the “Wonder Valley Friends” group show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery in April.  I’ve been working on these steadily but just finally got some more photos last week.  I’ll be taking maybe half a dozen of the paintings to the framer’s on Wednesday, which should be fun.

The camera had a challenge capturing the finely spotted appearance of the phthalo turquoise pigment.  I’m not sure why the paint separated as it did.  Perhaps it was the airbrush medium I used to thin it, or perhaps it was the preparatory layers of fixative I sprayed on the charcoal causing the paint to kind of bead up.  Anyway, I liked it!  Chance, rather than control, governs the initial stages of these collages.

It’s not generally advisable to have a big bright red shape almost in the middle of your painting.  Common principles of composition oppose it.  But as soon as I placed this collage shape there, I accepted it.  That’s probably when the name – Karma – came to me, as well.  An asymmetrical wheel of life.

I haven’t been posting much lately.  It’s a combination of changing feelings about the work and a period of naturally arising silence.  Although, as always, my mind never stops, I don’t feel like sharing the insights.  They seem either depressing or inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things.  People don’t need more depressing thoughts just now, right?  And there are sooo many words and images drowning us every day, I recoil at the idea of adding more.

But nevertheless I continue working happily and steadily in the studio, fully engaged, and generally pleased with the results although not always, of course.  Experiments sometimes flat-out fail, or take us on a troublesome journey before resolving.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The nature of adventure.

Celestial Regatta

"Celestial Regatta" - Carraher 2021

Celestial Regatta
2021. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The earliest of the new collages.  Surprised me completely.  Still trying to get back in the swing after October’s Open Studio Art Tours, I’d prepared two canvases with texturing, a coat of titanium white, and then a gesture set in black acrylic with a round brush.  But I didn’t know where to go from there.  Both canvases sat around for a while, then I got a sense that I wanted to stain this one with a dilute phthalo blue.  I then went over parts of it with some more opaque blue, and while the paint was still wet got an impulse to draw into it with a narrow piece of willow charcoal.

I liked what was happening, but wasn’t sure of a next step and set it aside.  In the meantime, I was throwing some translucent collage pieces on a painting that I’d started early last year and that had come to a dead stop.  I picked up some of the collage pieces and started placing them on this blue painting.  Excitement!  It took a lot of fidgeting but eventually I got just the balance I wanted.

The colors felt like pennants hanging in the sky, which brought to mind Raoul Dufy and his many paintings of regattas in French harbors. But I saw this painting as purely celestial, in the heavens.

I finished the painting on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.  As she lay dying I saw her in a twilit world, without color.  But since then I feel her rocketing around the cosmos in a kind of super-sled, attending to business I can only imagine.  This painting is for her.

Three Jewels

"Three Jewels" - Carraher 2022

Three Jewels
2022.  Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

For those who like rosy pink.  Not everyone does, I realize.  But somebody’s gonna love this baby.  It’s like a bastard Pucci printed on elephant hide and run over by a tire.  Exactly a certain person’s cup of tea.  Might be a while until that certain person encounters the painting, but it will happen and it will be love.

Three Jewels started out the same as the current collage series, with a gesture in black on a textured canvas, followed by a dilute coat of acrylic color applied with a sponge.  But once I got that far – using a quinacridone red, in this case – the interior patterns were calling me.  This piece wanted a different treatment.  So I skipped the collage and sailed in directly with paint.

Though some of the patterns of color and value that I would use were apparent to me from the time I’d first applied that pink, there was nonetheless considerable shifting around as I continued, and it took a while to balance everything out to my satisfaction.  I can get really fussy in the later stages of a painting and spend the bulk of my time with the final fine-tuning.

It’s funny, I’d started a painting in exactly this manner before and when that initial layer of pink got on there I’d really hated it.  But I’d soldiered on and ultimately was quite fond of the result.  So when I got to the same stage with this one – same pink! – I did not waver but continued with the confidence that comes with experience.  Nice to feel that!

By the way, for anybody who cares about these things, the “three jewels” refers to the three tiny spots of full-strength, deep red.  I’d originally envisioned quite a bit more of that intense straight-from-the-tube red, but ultimately preferred this balance as it evolved.  The pink was enough!

The Pony Tale

"The Pony Tale" - Carraher 2022

The Pony Tale
2022.  Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I frankly scorn cheesy play-on-words titles, but this title occurred halfway through the piece and wouldn’t go away.  So I accepted it.  Gotta say this painting really pleases me.  I liked the strength and simplicity of the initial gesture, which was done with a flat brush rather than the round I’d usually use for this purpose.  And I’m also quite happy with the muted gray-green ground over the texturing contrasting with the range of reds.

But mostly I like the ambiguity between abstract and narrative here.  It almost seems like there is a “tale”, but then again not really.  It fits inside the crevice between.  I feel no compulsion to figure out which it is; it seems quite complete as is, with no need to be one or the other.  I like that place.

The New Look

"Harlequin" - Carraher 2021

Harlequin
2021.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Well, I finally did get some photographs of the new work.  This was one of the earlier pieces, from December, and it delights me.  This is the inside of my mind while listening to jazz, people.  Here you see what I’m really made of.  It’s like an x-ray of my synapses.

How it happened:  I drew with willow charcoal of two different diameters over a canvas texturized with my trusty Golden Light Modeling Paste.  I sprayed the charcoal with a workable fixative, and when the canvas was dry I stained it with a very diluted quinacridone gold acrylic paint, then brushed over in areas with more quin gold lightened with titanium white.

The collaged pieces are all deli paper painted with acrylic, and in this case I limited myself to bits I’d created specifically with the palette I’d chosen for this piece:  quin gold, quinacridone red, phthalo blue, and a little cadmium yellow. The more opaque paint bits had been applied to the deli paper with a palette knife; the translucent were more dilute and were brushed on.

This technique is basically what I’ve been using for most of the current works, of which I’ll share photos in the coming weeks.  On this one I put a lot of work into retaining the original feathery edges of the pigment on the collage paper; I think I’m getting better at that.  The earlier collages were rougher.

I get a lot of joy working with these shapes of pure color and combining them with a very textured colored surface and gestural line.  When the arrangement of these elements reaches a certain relationship the work springs to life for me and achieves a sense of inevitability.  Color me happy.

Slow Burner, Lots On It

Snapshot of work in progress.

Snapshot of work in progress.

So the mandarins have left behind the clock and the vodka and are now commanding their own solo investigation, as you can see in this snapshot.  Very sketchy, I know, but I tend to get happy with “sketchy” so we’ll see if anything more happens with this study.  In the meantime, though, I’m developing a similar sketch further with some blocks of color.  Of note, this sketch is on a 20-by-10-inch canvas and is entirely acrylic applied with a brush; the pastel has dropped out again.

The clock and the vodka are hanging on, meanwhile, in some new sketches as their own line of inquiry evolves.  Some striped wallpaper and a table may be appearing.

I’m spending a lot of studio time looking and thinking right now.  I’m pursuing several of the same lines that I was before Art Tours (and, indeed, for years in some cases), but I’m really taking it slow.  It’s time to stop stumbling down the same path and instead consider whether that path is leading me where I want to go, or if I now have the tools to sharpen my navigation and better visualize a route to a new destination.

I’m certainly spending much more time with this still-life subject than has been my habit in the past.  I’m really boring in, determined to find the connection of my impulse to render still-lifes to my personal vision and preferred methods of working.  Thus the repeated pots of mandarins and extended meditations!  It helps, though, to be doing some abstracts at the same time.  Having several items on the burner keeps everything moving along, with less chance of feeling stuck.

The truth is, I’m super happy to be back to work and may not be taking part in shows for a while.  Don’t want the distraction or the sense of a deadline.  Got plenty enough percolating right here in the studio.

Adventure

Snapshot of work in progress

snapshot of work in progress

You think you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t.  You’ve seen an earlier study of the same subject – what I’m thinking of as Time, Vodka, Mandarins.  Again, acrylic and pastel on paper.  If you saw it in real life you’d see it was stapled to a piece of foamboard and bordered with white tape.  There’s a few more changes I want to make to this; we’ll see if I actually get to them.  I’m already working on a third study.  

I’ve been pondering why I’m so averse to portraying form, as in three-dimensional perspective.   I’m quite capable of doing it; in fact, I have to work to not do it. Instead, I like a flattened surface that, if it has depth, it is only depth created with texture or such design elements as color or temperature or scale.  Abstraction and the deconstruction of perspective are other ways to avoid it, as in how I handled the homestead cabins in the Additional Dimensions series.  

Every time a piece veers towards modeling I quickly get irritated – literally hot under the collar – and bored.  Resentful, even.  The feeling that happens is that of a shift to the other part of my brain – the part that analyzes and makes calculations.  There’s a time and a place for that, of course, but it feels like work.  And I’m not painting to feel like I have a job.  I’m painting to have an adventure.  

On another note:  I hung some paintings today at the one-and-only Glass Outhouse Art Gallery in Wonder Valley as part of “Buh-Bye to 2021“, a group show curated by Suzanne Ross.  The show runs Dec 1-26 (including Christmas Day), with opening reception this Saturday 1-5 pm.  For the display I elected to bring several of my Bell Poems.  I thought they might be a quiet spot in the blizzard of works on view, not to mention the general chaotic conditions of this year soon ending. 

End of the Millennium

Snapshot of "End of the Millennium with Star"

Snapshot of End of the Millennium with Star

I wrote in my last post about my habit of returning to simple still-life set-ups after a prolonged interruption in the studio in order to regain my stride, and then quickly passing on to something looser.  Here’s another example, demonstrating that this practice goes quite a ways back.

At the turn of the millennium – more than 20 years ago now – we had a small party on my property with a very big bonfire.  When I acquired my five acres in 1999 there was quite a bit of debris, and I gathered this over months into a big pile.  That night we burned all the contents over many hours, ending up with the pile gone and a deep pit of cherry red coals.  It was pretty spectacular.

Anyway, one of the guests gave me a special bottle of wine and a yellow winter squash, curvy and heavy and lovely in that almost fleshly way winter squashes have.  Too lovely to cook, really, and so we didn’t.  After everyone was gone and the mess cleaned up, I staged the two items in a box and started painting them.  It began quite conventionally, like this:

Snapshot of "End of the Millenium"

This is pastel on a heavy watercolor paper.  It’s quite small, maybe 4 or 5 inches.  It got a name:  End of the Millennium.  (These are all just snapshots, by the way.)

Then I began playing a bit more:

Snapshot of "Millenium" study

I think this study is on sandpaper, and brought in some vine charcoal.  Again, just a few inches tall.

I liked what was happening, so I worked it up further, a little larger, again on sandpaper, with result as seen in the snapshot at the top of this post:  End of the Millennium with Star.  That final version is in the scribbling, layered style I was using at the time, before I began taking a brush to the pastels.

This cascade of deconstruction always ends up happening in these return-to-the still-life scenarios.  And then I’m done with still-lifes and on to something else.  Perhaps I’ve gotten the re-grounding, re-centering I need.  But I think more likely I just get reminded that I find conventional still-lifes profoundly boring to do, and in reaction I head towards something more exciting and then I’m back off and running.  There is something seductive in the prospect of the still life, but I’m still searching for the more direct route to the part that matters to me.