Category Archives: pandemic

A Year

"Our Dangerous Spring" - Carraher 2020

Our Dangerous Spring
March 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 in.

Our Dangerous Spring.  This image topped the very first post of this blog, and I’m posting it again because:

  1. it’s been just about a year since that first post, and it’s time to mark the occasion; and
  2. I’m finally having the opportunity to exhibit the piece for the first time this month in the Members Show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery

I created this painting in March of 2020, right as viral reality was hitting us upside the head, and in light of its timeliness I planned to show it in the members’ room of the Gallery in April.  But of course…the April show never happened.  And the cascade of cancellations continued, month after month for most of a year.  But, finally, here we are:  our dangerous spring has come and gone, and life and hope have returned.  

And yes, it has been almost a year since I launched the Magicgroove: In the Studio blog (July 7, 2020), largely in reaction to the shutdown of opportunities to show and to interact with other artists and viewers.  My thoughts on this anniversary?  Well, I should tell you that in January, the half-year point, I drafted a post explaining why I was going to do away with it.  Obviously, I didn’t go through with that, but ambivalence has continued.  My patience with writing is not what it once was, and putting down the more complex thoughts that interest me simply demands more time and effort than I’m willing to invest.  A great deal that preoccupies me never finds its way onto these pages except in terms of the images.  Which is the point, after all. 

Yet I believe I will continue, in this rather quiet fashion.  I so appreciate those of you who follow along with me.  But truth told, I’d rather just have the conversation in person, you know what I mean?  At least that’s becoming possible again.  🙂

 

All Is Not Lost

"Yellow Cabin" - Carraher 2008

Yellow Cabin
2008.  Pastel on sandpaper.  9-5/8 x 10-1/2 in.

Saturday evening, after visiting the closing receptions at Gallery 62 and JTAG in Joshua Tree, we walked up the street to where a private reception was being held for Kim Stringfellow’s Jackrabbit Homestead installation at The Station.  The work was commissioned for Desert X 2021 and was trailered up the grade from Palm Desert when that site-specific exhibition closed last month.  The installation is a lovingly imagined recreation of the homestead of writer Catherine Venn Peterson, who wrote about her experience for Desert Magazine in 1950. 

Kim has done extensive photography, research, and publication on the small-tract homestead movement, including multiple exhibitions such as at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and her book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  (The book has finally been reissued and is available for purchase at The Station in Joshua Tree.)  

I met Kim sort of inevitably in the 2000’s as we were both deeply interested in the homestead cabins, their origins, and their effects in and upon the desert landscape.  Her work has been thoughtful, honest, and beautiful, and I’m proud to have been included in her JRHS project as, for example, part of the Jackrabbit Homestead audio tour and in this KCET Artbound segment, where I blithely blather in front of my studio on a witheringly hot afternoon where we had to take breaks to let the camera cool down.  

I myself did a lot of creative work back then on the topic of the homesteads, including co-direction of the one-and-only Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival in 2008 and a number of paintingsYellow Cabin above, from 2008, proved to be the last I was to do for quite a while.  But in 2015 I picked up sort of where I had left off, creating the deeply colored pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave using pencil sketches I had created at that time, in the mid-2000’s.  

It’s very possible those were the final works I’ll ever do of the homesteads.  The derelict cabins that fascinated me truly are disappearing now, along with the peculiar homestead community where I found my place to be for the last 30 years.  It took a very long time, but the great consuming maw of late-stage capitalism has found its way to even this blighty little edge-world. 

But, in the meantime, it was great to see Kim at the reception, for real and in person.  Over the covid time friends were in no way forgotten but did become unreal in a way.  Now, when we see them again it’s, like, wham!  They’re real, and alive!  No longer missing, I guess you could say.  A lot of things have been lost in the last year and a half, but not everything.  I’m so happy to find some things are still with us. 

The Heart in the Bardo/400,000

"The Heart in the Bardo" - Carraher 2020

The Heart in the Bardo
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

Finally, after almost a year of denial and dismissal, an acknowledgement and honoring of those lost to the coronavirus: President Biden and Vice President Harris led a national mourning at the Lincoln Memorial this evening.

At 400,000 dead we are now double what we were when I last posted the number, in late September. May this be the last time I post this text to accompany the Plague Faces:

I paint this series to recognize those who have died or suffered grave loss in this crisis, and, further, to accuse those who have knowingly, willfully, or carelessly pursued polices, actions, and inactions that allowed these deaths and suffering to happen and who continue to do so at this moment.

"Plague Faces No. 21" - Carraher 2020

Plague Faces No. 21
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

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.

The Furies

"The Furies" - Carraher 2020

The Furies
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

My mother, near the end of her life, was endowed by her illness with a truly awesome power of fury – a fury of which there had been little indication during her prior 90 years, and whose aura extended exponentially beyond her tiny frame.  At that time she was truly fearsome to those around her, no matter how young or how strong.

My own fury at the ongoing losses and injuries caused by a malevolent and incompetent Administration does not have near the power hers had to affect anything except myself, I fear.  But it does affect me, corrosively.

The Furies do not come to rest without leaving damage; it’s their job.  And they are loose in the world now.

Joyce in the Bardo

"Joyce in the Bardo" - Carraher 2020

Joyce in the Bardo
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 14 in.

My mother is dying, on hospice now at home.  She was in the hospital for eight days, the first four in the ER because there were no beds available.  Because of the covid surge no visitors were allowed, and because of her condition it was almost impossible to reach her by phone or to know if she understood where she was, or why.

Now at least she is home, with those whom she knows and who care for her.  But how much of that she understands I don’t know, as she is in another bardo now, a twilit limbo of morphine.

Or perhaps it is me that is in the bardo.  I couldn’t reach her in the hospital; I can’t reach her now.  I can’t know what she wants, or feels, or needs.  I can’t know if she understands what is happening to her.

Or maybe it is all of us that are there, trapped by covid, incompetence, and craziness in a limbo life of no real contact and of dimmed connection, where true knowledge of one another cannot happen and action is not possible or means nothing.

I do not know if my mother has the will or desire to press past this state.  I know I do.  Our nation, despite nearly 300,000 dead, seems determined to remain in it.

Wifredo Lam/200,000

"The Warrior (Personnage avec Lezzard)" - Wifredo Lam

The Warrior (Personnage avec Lezzard)
Wifredo Lam, 1948.  Oil on burlap. 

In a lecture given by abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell in 1949, he refers almost in passing to the American racism suffered by prominent Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam:

The conditions under which an artist exists in America are nearly unbearable; but so they are everywhere in modern times.  Sunday last I had lunch, in a fisherman’s inn in Montauk overlooking Gardiner’s Bay, with Wifredo Lam, the Cuban and Parisian painter, who is half-Chinese, half-Negro; he has difficulty in remaining in this country because of the Oriental quota; I know he is humiliated on occasion in New York, for example, in certain restaurants.  He kept speaking to me of his admiration of America, asking me what American painters thought of this and that, and I answered as best I could; but a refrain that ran through his questions is less easy to answer, whether artists were always so “unwanted.”  I replied that I supposed that artists were more “wanted” in the past when they spoke for a whole community, that they became less “wanted” as their expressions because individual and separate; but since I had never had the sensation of belonging to a community, it was difficult for me to imagine being “wanted.”  This is not wholly true; we modern artists constitute a community of sorts; part of what keeps me going, part of my mystique is to work for this placeless community.  Lam and I parted advising each other to keep working ; it is the only advice one painter ever gives another.  — from a lecture given during symposium “French Art vs. U.S. Art Today”, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1949

I take Motherwell’s point about not feeling part of a community and therefore “wanted”.  But I wonder if he might have more easily imagined being a part of a community if he had been part of one that was “unwanted” by birth, rather than being the White son of a banker who put him through Ivy League universities.   

We have now passed 200,000 dead from covid-19 in the United States.  This persisting catastrophe is welded to another constant in this country:  the systemic racism that continues to shape our national outcomes.  Those who doubt or deny the prevalence or lethality of the pandemic must surely be insulated from communities of color, where the losses are outrageously high. 

Is it possible that at least a portion of these deaths do not constitute a crime against humanity, in the face of careless and, now we find, perhaps purposeful neglect on the part of the Trump Administration?   Will they never be held accountable for those lives lost?  

It is a long, long path, this journey out of our national racism.  Maybe we’ll never get there.  But along the way are the gravestones of now 200,000 Americans dead of covid-19, among them far too many people of color. 

"Plague Faces No. 12" - Carraher 2020

Plague Faces No. 12
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I paint this series to recognize those who have died or suffered grave loss in this crisis, and, further, to accuse those who have knowingly, willfully, or carelessly pursued polices, actions, and inactions that allowed these deaths and suffering to happen and who continue to do so at this moment.

Where the Plague Faces donations go

Half of all the proceeds from sales of the Plague Faces is donated for covid relief.  Where does the money go?

I paint this series to recognize those who have died or suffered grave loss in this crisis, and, further, to accuse those who have knowingly, willfully, or carelessly pursued polices, actions, and inactions that allowed these deaths and suffering to happen and who continue to do so at this moment.

Plague Faces: Outrun

Plague Faces No. 14Plague Faces No. 14
June 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 in.

This project – the Plague Faces –  has repeatedly been outrun by events.  But the dead, which they memorialize, are outside of time.

In mid-May the nation was “opening up”, seeming, to my amazement, to believe it could just move on.  On May 21 I created the first of the Plague Faces paintings, and I finished the last on June 16 – not quite a month.  The paintings were rushed, roughly done – a kind of accounting that couldn’t wait for refinement.  I posted the first of the Faces on social media on May 23.  By May 27 there were already 100,000 dead.

On May 30, as the protests against police brutality swept the nation, I posted, “In the short time I’ve been working on this series, the ‘crisis’ to which I referred has been subsumed by national emergencies of almost every kind. Mourning those who are dying in the pandemic seems almost a quaint sidebar. But it’s not; it’s one more tragic, unnecessary face of our disintegration.”  The losses in the pandemic reflect the injustices that have been with us all along.

And now we are at 137,000 covid dead and counting.  The dead and those yet to die are already lost to history, while we are doomed to still live it, because we are doing the single worst thing we can do for them:  not learn from their deaths.   When I started painting the Faces I could not guess at the future because the present itself was unacceptable, beyond comprehension.  But that time just barely past, as spring moved into summer, now seems a faded relic too exhausting to recall.  We are no longer suspended in disbelief as we slide toward the unknown.  We are now fully in the abyss.  We are in the embrace of the devil.

I feel a new set of Prayer Flags coming on.

One way to help those continuing to suffer loss:  Half the proceeds of sales from the paintings of the Plague Faces will be donated for covid relief.

I paint this series to recognize those who have died or suffered grave loss in this crisis, and, further, to accuse those who have knowingly, willfully, or carelessly pursued polices, actions, and inactions that allowed these deaths and suffering to happen and who continue to do so at this moment.

Plague Faces No. 20 - Carraher 2020Plague Faces No. 20
June 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

 

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flag (Green) - Carraher 2020

Prayer Flag (Green)
April 2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in.

So it’s not all pandemic gloom-and-doom here at Magicgroove studio.  There’s also pandemic hopefulness.  Okay, if not hopefulness then at least the sharing of positive intention and an interlude of grace.

The Prayer Flags series was created in March and April of this year, in that ancient time when it seemed all of us were pulling together, engaged in a common purpose and treating one another with generosity even amid chaos, suffering, and loss.  In that time before our leaders turned us against one another, and we realized that our nation, fatefully, was not capable of resisting the virus.

My work thrived with so much solitude, with the new opportunity to focus and explore in the midst of intense changes.  The prayer flags appeared, each one an improvisation, a mix of accident and intention.  Release of control followed by response, followed again by release of control.  I am perfectly happy working that way, despite the moments of apprehension. I know that forging ahead and letting go are necessary to get to a new place.

And people responded, somewhat to my surprise with abstract work.

You know what?  It was hope.