Category Archives: studio

Carrying On

"Bell Poem No. 18" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 18
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

My spirit revived somewhat this week when my partner came out into the studio with me and we looked together at the work I’ve been doing, the situation in the studio, and the possibilities for a sane, safe, and satisfying participation in October’s Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours(Reminder:  I’ll be Studio No. 2 on the first and second weekends, Oct. 9-10 and 16-17.) 

The challenges of this summer (not to mention the last two years) have been frankly discouraging, and I’ve been on the cusp of withdrawing from the Tours.  (Did I mention that the power went out for 22 hours after a thunderstorm last week during triple-digit temps, and that there was a breakdown at the well and we were without water the weekend before?)  I’ve felt extremely unprepared despite my best efforts, covid continues to make public events fraught, isolation has led to a crisis of artistic confidence, and the Art Tours organizers have also suffered from the covid malaise in their preparations and promotions, leading to a less predictable and potentially less successful event.

But as my partner and I pulled out the artworks, considered possible hanging schemes, and addressed organizational challenges, my spirits rose.  Although I know this year may not be be as straightforward, convivial, and celebratory as past Tours, it really is possible that it will be rewarding in its own way.   I do believe in the work, and I do believe that viewing it here in this desert retreat may bring some folks solace in this stressful and alienating time.

It helped that my partner was so enamored of the works that she has commandeered several pieces for hanging in the house until next month, including Bell Poem No. 18 above and also Mandala II.  It is reassuring that she is so delighted by them; as I mentioned, the isolation of the last two years has left me in need of a reality check on the appeal of the work.  Of course, she is biased, but so is everyone, right?  Anyway, the next challenge will be getting them back away from her for display in the studio in October.

Hi-Desert Milestones

"2020 Suite No. 2" - Carraher 2020

2020 Suite No. 2
2020.  Acrylic and ink on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

The venerable Beatnik Lounge in Joshua Tree has reopened and is holding its first IRL show since March 2020.  For the “OOOF” show – “Olly Olly Oxen Free” – curator Deb Tobin had some guidelines that resonated fully in the desert this summer of 2021:

The call for the hide-and-seekers to come back to the base.
The cartoon sound of a punch to the gut.
The sound of being greeted by 110ºF Mojave desert salutations.
It should also be noted that 2021 is the year of the Metal Ox in the Chinese zodiac, so those oxen can come in free too.

As one can see in the virtual exhibition on the Beatnik website, the submissions run rather wild and unrestrained – no surprise.  Included is No. 2 from my 2020 Suite (see No. 1 here and No. 3 here).  

Joshua Tree happily supports a permanent floating population of a kind of beatnik strain, and there seems always to be a venue to fill their needs and house their productions.  It changes names, proprietors, and sometimes location, but defining boundaries across time are few.  Its current incarnation is the Beatnik Lounge which, in my version of local history, has its roots all the way back in the early or mid ’90s with Jeremy’s Cappucino Bar, a tiny coffee room in the strip mall between Sam’s Indian Pizza and the radio station.  Jeremy then moved it over to its current roomier location in more central JT, where, as I remember it, the words “Beatnik Lounge” got added to the name.  Due no doubt to its prehistoric age I find only one reference to Jeremy’s on line (a characteristic blues jam with JT musician Clive Wright), and it is probably from this second location.

At some point the sign changed and it became The Red Arrow Gallery, which is when the arrow (not as big as the original 15-footer in the gallery’s old location up the highway) appeared at the roof-line.  The Red Arrow put more emphasis on the gallery but retained the refreshment bar along with performances and readings, and many a memorable, free-wheeling event was had. 

And then, somewhere along the line, the name became Beatnik Lounge once again (Jeremy having many years since decamped Back East), and so the spirit continues in its eclectic, welcoming, opposite-of-uptight floating way.  Welcome back, Beatnik, and congratulations on making it through Covid Year. 

However, just down the block, Gallery 62, the flagship of the cooperative Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, will sadly close its doors at the end of October.  The collective show of the annual Open Studio Art Tours will be the final exhibition.  The Council and the Gallery have made it through the last tough year and a half, but the rent is just too much at this point.  They will retain JTAG gallery, though, so all is not lost.  And it appears that the Art Tours will be proceeding as planned this year, after being derailed in 2020 by everybody’s favorite pandemic. 

And if I may be allowed to note one final local and quite personal milestone:  cooling has returned to my studio.  Last weekend the unit fired up and ran perfectly, and I’m so grateful to say that peace, quiet, and moderate temperatures are now supporting my creative efforts.  I could not be happier.  In honor, I post the first of the Mandalas, subtitled “Nandi Wanders the Universe”.  

"Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)" - Carraher 2021

Mandala I (Nandi Wanders the Universe)
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

All things in their appointed time

"Homestead Losing Roof No 2" - Carraher2016

Homestead Losing Roof No. 2
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper.  11-1/8 x 13-7/8 in.
from Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave 

All things in their appointed time.  Cooling in the studio, apparently, is not appointed at this time.  Several more hurdles have been surmounted, the professional was out here this morning and everything with the new unit is good to go, but now we find that the 220 circuit we believed was in place was…not there, after all.

Have I ever posted on here about where I live?  It’s in the Mojave desert – the lower, dryer, harsher parts of the Mojave.  I live in an old homestead community, where most of the homes started out as “jackrabbit” kits that went up almost overnight (mine retailed for $4000 complete back in the day) and were made just as well as you would expect.  Many were then added onto by homeowners who may have been creative and resourceful but mostly were not experienced, certainly not professional; had little in the way of money; and had no interest in building codes.  Over the years desert conditions took these hopeful if unpromising starts and beat, wore on, and undermined them.  When repairs were needed those creative and resourceful homeowners, still with little in the way of money, kluged something together or paid a local neighbor (who may have more or less experience) to kluge something together for them.  The miracle is that things work as well as they do.  But every new repair or improvement is a voyage of discovery through layers of kluging and jerry-rigging that may have no resemblance to general building standards and practices.  

And so I find myself now, over two months since the effort began to replace the cooling in the studio, still without cooling.  This is in spite of heroic efforts on the part of my installer and today the ministrations and ultimate resounding thumbs-up of the HVAC pro.  So it is only now, with lift-off in sight, that this latest Wonder Valley electrical “creative construction” is discovered.  And the rocket remains limply on the launch-pad. 

We will now be digging a new circuit across the yard (and do not underestimate what digging means through layers of caliche and clay).  And then?  Perhaps I’ll have cooling.  But I suspect by then the easing temperatures of oncoming fall may render the matter moot.  Anyway.  One way or another, I will be back to full speed in the studio within a month, I dare to predict.  

Refreshed

"Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)" - Carraher 2015

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow)
2015.  Pastel on sandpaper, 9-3/8 x 20-3/4 in.

I’ve been away – took a week to visit the coast and various friends and some sea creatures, and also to get away from the heat and the studio cooling problem which continues to resist solution.  After years of living in San Francisco I thought I’d had enough fog to last two lifetimes, but with the heat this summer my skin soaked up the seaside fog like a grateful sponge. 

We started in Ojai, that magical classic California valley of blossoms, oranges, and avocadoes.  We walked into the home of our friends there and the first thing to meet my eye was this painting , hanging in the entry.  I’d forgotten they’d bought it almost five years ago, and I was delighted to see it again!  It was my favorite among the 30 or so pieces in the Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave collection. 

I remembered then that they’d struggled to frame it.  It’s a high-key, delicately colored work with little value contrast, easy to overwhelm.  I didn’t envy them the challenge; I remember them asking at one point if I had any advice, and frankly I didn’t.  They’d finally gone with a mid-sized white mat and a wood frame painted a deep teal – really surprising!  And it looked great!  The teal picked up the faint outline color.  

Two Walls (Rose and Yellow) was based on a series of gestural sketches I’d done of local derelict desert homesteads.  This piece, one of the earliest from the collection, caught what I was after, with the dis-integration of the two walls; the porosity and overall melting, disappearing quality of the right-hand wall; the failing of architectural geometry; and the sense of organic reclamation.  I never created another quite as satisfying. 

We had a fine visit with our friends, meandering through their home and studio, viewing their own inspiring work, and feeling refreshed by its beauty and their creative, generous spirits.  The whole trip was like that.  So refreshing.  Even the fog!  There’s a time for everything. 

Cabin Overwhelmed

"Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun" - Carraher 2016

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun
2016.  Pastel on sandpaper, 18-3/8 x 9-3/8 in.

The disappointing news?  The studio cooling installation has hit (yet another) snag.  This time expert reinforcements are required, and in a summer like this HVAC professionals can set their own schedules.  We will have to get in line and wait.  Again.  Still.

So the studio continues to run an interior average of 95 degrees, and to languish in the state of profound disarray the installation project has created.

What this means:  No painting.  No work on the promotions or ancillary products for October Open Studio Art Tours for which I need photos of the work, and to get those I need the use of the studio.  No preparing of the artworks or the space for display.  Canvases, mediums, and paints roasting at temperatures they were not made to withstand.

One thing I can say about pastels, in which I worked for years:  It’s a dry medium that is not bothered by heat, usually on a substrate of paper which is also not bothered by heat.  I didn’t realize how good I had it.

Cabin Overwhelmed By the Sun was part of my pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave , which arose from sketches I’d done over the years of derelict homesteads in my neighborhood.  My own studio cabin is not derelict; it is loved and cared for.  But it is most decidedly overwhelmed by the sun at the moment.  As am I.  This is a hellish summer.

We are all Mad Men now

Prayer Flag (Manganese Blue)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be participating in the Morongo Basin Open Studio Art Tours this October.  In anticipation I’ve been doing a lot of reorganizing in my studio, discarding and updating.  That process is interrupted now due to the cooling problem (still with us, but very close to solved).  In the meantime, I’m working on some of the ancillary tasks, ones that I can do in the cool of my office, such as designing greeting cards that I will have for sale at Open Studio.

These cards will include several images from the Prayer Flag series that I completed in spring of last year, such as the Manganese Blue pictured above.  At that time I sold 10 of the 12 Prayer Flags through Facebook, in a very short time and without having intended to.  I’d never done any “marketing” through social media.  But of course, it was covid, galleries were shut down, and I had started posting my work more frequently in response.  Folks liked them and asked if they were available for purchase, and so that happened.

Marketing rules in America these digital days.  Rules all, pervades all.  Marketing of self, marketing of brand, marketing of product, marketing of cause…it never ends.  As soon as Americans got their hands on the technology, the all-consuming self-promotion began.  As an artist I’m supposed to be marketing…theoretically the work, but really, in the current style, myself.  Forget the artwork, I’m supposed to get you to like me, to relate to me, to…I don’t know, want to be like me?  Own a piece of me?  Self-promotion is an end in itself now, ubiquitous, weird…grotesque, frankly.  Rude to say it, I know, but seriously:  grotesque.  In my best moments I see it as sad but tenderly human.  But my more common reaction is a combination of nausea and fright.

And I’ve done it myself.  In the earlier days of the internet, and the earlier days of my career, I was pretty good at selling myself.  Ultimately, though, it made me recoil with a kind of loathing.  I felt trapped by my own “brand” and by the tyranny of the performance.  (Hence, my continual tiresome ambivalence towards this very blog you’re reading now.)

I don’t want to judge my fellow Americans just trying to survive in Late-Stage Capitalism.  We all gotta make a living.  But I think there’s a lot of self-selling these days that does not result in a living but at most reaps a kind of dumb fleeting attention and at worst results in being celebrated for one’s ability to self-promote and literally nothing else.  The celebrity, of course, being the apotheosis of this sad scramble.

The model is not a healthy one, my friends.  Not healthy for society, not healthy for individuals, not healthy for the earth and other living things.

This is not news, I know.  And it makes for a gloomy post.  But I’ve been wrestling with it, because I have to make decisions on how to promote my work at this stage in my career, at this stage in my life, and at this stage in American virtual culture.  I don’t like the array of options I see.  One longs to “opt out”. 

Consumerism has consumed itself.  Let’s see if there’s any place for the spirit in the vacuum that remains.

More Heat, But Cooling Ahead

Snapshot of "Chimney Rock" - Carraher 2021

Snapshot of “Chimney Rock
June 2021.  Acrylic, graphite, charcoal, ink on paper.  8 x 11 in.

It’s not news that we’re under another heat dome.  It’s actually hotter than the last one (118 yesterday, briefly hitting 119) but perhaps won’t be as sustained.  Once again hiding out in the house, shades drawn against the searing air.

But what IS news is that there is progress on getting cooling back in the studio!  The unit finally arrived after ridiculous and foul delays, and my installer has begun work.  However, the roaring temperatures are interfering with the next steps, notably laying a small concrete pad for the compressor; curing cement does not like these kinds of temperatures and will want to crack.  As well, he has had to take out a window and will need to do some work on the outside wall before proceeding with the inside installation, and, frankly, it’s just too dangerous to be working long in these conditions.  So, progress is hampered.  But we persist.

Once confronted with the reality of the unit in 3-D we unfortunately had to change  some of the plans.  Instead of placing the inside unit above the west window, we’re now removing the small northwest window and putting it there.  This window was the most expendable, being essentially the old original “bathroom” window, with the bottom half frosted and very leaky louvers that constantly sieved in drafts and dust.  But, on the other hand, it was a good source of ventilation in the west part of the room, and I will miss that.

Plus – sigh – I love my old cabin, and it distresses me to change any part of its humble, original self.    But the fact is, it’s suffered 60-plus years of desert brutalization and it needs upgrades to keep it standing and serving.  For example, the old asphalt shingles have had every possible modification to keep them operative but they are simply disintegrating right off the walls, and in the next year or two I will have to come up with a replacement plan for the siding.  Things have to change to survive, I guess.

So for now I’m trying to concentrate not on the losses but rather on how incredible it’s going to be to have modern, reliable cooling in there.  And, of course, on getting back to work.

The image above is another snapshot of a recent work on paper, from the same group as “Drought, 115 Degrees” that I posted before.  The palette again was just ultramarine blue, raw umber, black, and white. The photo is rather dingy but that’s just what we’ve got for the moment; I shot it on the floor with the phone under fluorescent light.   I look forward to getting a proper shot of it when the studio’s back to rights; right now it’s all in an uproar, of course, and will remain so until the cooler work is done.

I rather like this painting, which recalls to me the backroads of Utah and the wildness of the rock and the weather.  Younger days.  It was all so very exciting.

Snapshot

This morning I dropped a couple of pieces by Gallery 62 for showing in the Members Room through July and August.  Yes, we’re doing this again:  exhibiting artwork.  Feels natural, feels weird.  Anyway.  The gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays, and the main show is “Space Is the Place”, showcasing artwork that is inspired by outer space.  Just to be clear, my work is not part of that show and has nothing to do with outer space; inner space is enough for me at present.

I included for the gallery two acrylics from last winter, and you can see them in the above wobbly shot of my studio wall – the one farthest to the right and the uppermost.  I’ve posted each of these on the blog before:  Damastes here and Untitled (1 5 21) here.  They’re on the wall because I’d just put hanging wire on them.

The other pieces are all recent work/in progress that you haven’t seen because I’m still unable to set up a proper photo session due to the excessive heat.  The studio cooler problem continues, and the replacement plan has been stalled on the vendor’s end.  Hopefully we’ll be able to start putting in the new cooler late this week; my fingers are crossed.  In the meantime, snapshots are what we got.

It’s a motley group, I know.  But I believe in all of them, and they represent several different threads that I continue to pursue.  The two larger black-and-whites on the left are in the Carbon group.  I’ve started working a little larger with these, 14 x 18 in. in this case.

That can’t-miss-it red piece is a companion to The Heart in the Bardo, featuring my usual heavy black gesture but on saturated color rather than white or gray.  Makes for a very different animal.

And the final one on the bottom, in white, black, gray, and raw umber, is in the same vein as Urchin and Pause Point and has been much fussed over.  I’m determined to bring it in; I think it’s getting close.

Drought, 115 Degrees

Snapshot of "Drought, 115 Degrees" - Carraher

Snapshot of “Drought, 115 Degrees”
June 2021.  Acrylic and graphite on paper, 8 x 11 in.

Yes.  It’s been hot here.  Dangerously so.  Five days straight of 115-plus, sealed up in the house, blinds closed, cooler running around the clock.  Outside, plants and wildlife scorching, wilting, hanging on for dear life or…not making it.  I’ve kept irrigation running at a low level to provide damp ground for cooling bodies and small puddles for drinking.  The bird feeder has hardly emptied; the finches can only manage an hour or two at it in the morning before self-preservation sends them to find what shelter they can.  It is very, very quiet in the yard.

The studio cooling has essentially failed.  This latest swamp cooler has never cooled well, and in this heat it’s barely this side of useless.  I can get in a few hours of work first thing in the morning, if I rise very early.  That’s it.  Very frustrating.  But at least I can go in the house and be reasonably comfortable; many creatures are not so lucky.

The conditions in the studio are why the image of this painting is just a snapshot taken with my phone instead of a properly lit and staged photograph.  I have a backlog of work needing to be photographed, but that will just have to wait until climatic sanity returns.

“Drought, 115 Degrees” is on paper.  I’ve mostly avoided using paper with the acrylic paints prior to this; getting away from all the problems of paper was one of the reasons I turned from pastels to acrylics in the first place.  But it’s time to give it a decent trial, if I can find a satisfactory product.  I’ve started experimenting with Strathmore acrylic paper, and so far it’s pleasing me with the several small studies I’ve attempted.  It’s 246 lb, so fairly sturdy and not prone to buckle with the light treatment I’ve been using so far.  It has a subtle linen texture on the “right” side; this particular painting is done on the smooth reverse.  I like the smooth textures I’ve been able to easily achieve; common canvas is so rough the texture can dominate at this small scale, which can be frustrating.

I’m happy to say it’s cooling off, very noticeable today at a high of 107.  The creatures who’ve made it this far have reason to hope.  The plants, though, have gone the last year-plus with almost no rain, and even the hardy desert natives can take only so much.  Let’s just hope the winds don’t come up.

Pruning, and What Remains

In the studio 2000

Magicgroove studio, circa 2000

Last January I posted about cleaning and reorganizing in my studio.  Turns out that was just the prelude.  I find myself eager to go much deeper, more than ready to discard, update, improve in both major and minor ways.  I’ve finally installed thermal curtains to help stave off the heat entering through the twin 60-year-old 5×6-foot windows on the southwest side.  I’ll be replacing some pieces of hand-me-down furniture with rolling wire shelving.  I’m revamping my storage options for everything from blank canvases to old project records.  

But not everything is going.  In this old photo I am sitting in a swiveling armchair, the single piece I salvaged from the original owner’s overstuffed living room set.  It’s upholstered in a blinding giant brown-and-orange plaid but is otherwise perfect for silent, slightly swingy cogitation, so I threw a sheet over it and to this day do all my most useful contemplation in it.  Also seen here and for sitting:  one of a pair of sturdy yellow linoleum chairs that had already seen their best days when the previous owner left them, but are still some of the most useful items in the studio.  And next to it a thrift-shop rolling chair that has since moved on, but the shirt over its back is still with me, now on the shoulders of a modern drafting chair.  It’s a vintage roomy twill women’s overshirt from the ’40s, a  pale brown with colored flowers block-printed on each of the two big patch pockets.  And it came with its own paint stains; clearly it had been used as a studio shirt by someone before me.  I suspect it will remain as a talisman in the studio as long as I am still working in there. 

In the far corner is a dress form that belonged to the late mother of a friend.  She did dress designing, mostly for herself, late at night when the children were asleep.  It’s the old professional kind, made of fabric and hanging from a rolling metal stand.  I do use it on the occasions when I still sew; mostly it just wears items that are meaningful to me, often those of friends who have departed. 

Somewhat difficult to see in the shadows against the back wall, barely visible between the linoleum and rolling chairs, is an open trunk that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  It had traveled with her to California from Pittsburg in the ’20s, when she came with her daughter and my father when he was still quite small.  It has her name painted on the side, and I guess I can’t get rid of it although it’s pretty beaten up and not the most practical item.  It was holding props at the time this picture was taken; it’s still holding props — “props” being a euphemism for items that fascinate me and that I think I might draw someday but mostly don’t.  

And finally there are a few paintings and drawings on the wall, including this one of which I made two versions – this was the first:

"Ocotillo No. 1" - Carraher 2000

Ocotillo No. 1
2000.  Pastel on paper, 20 x 17 in.