Category Archives: why

Texture

"Carbon 6" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 6
June 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

Now that the studio is comfortable to work in again, I spent most of last week doing multiple photo trials of my more textured paintings.  It’s a tricky enterprise:  When you light the work to capture more surface texture, you trade away some of the other important qualities of the painting such as layers and variation in value and opacity.  It’s hard to hit the right balance.  I want to indicate the dimensionality and textural feel but I don’t want the “skin” of the painting to grab a disproportionate amount of the attention.  Ultimately, my goal in a photographic reproduction is to convey as closely as I can the sense of standing in front of the painting and experiencing it fully, in person, in all aspects.

This was an enterprise that did not fascinate me.  I am not a photographer and I don’t want to be one.  I’m just trying to record the work as “accurately” as I can.  And I’m a pretty dogged person, so I worked through all the variables that were reasonably available to me, which took some time.  In the end I realized that there was no perfect version, but rather just the version best for the particular purpose at hand.

As the importance of texture and dimensionality has increased in my work, my antipathy toward digital reproduction has been foregrounded.  There are SO many digital images saturating our every day, leading to a constant visual chaos and cacophony.  Perhaps it’s different for you, but I am left with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion.  More and more, I prize the actual, real-life artwork.  An experience of shallowness versus an experience of depth.

This is a main reason why I’m not on Instagram, etc., and don’t seek out additional opportunities to post my work on-line.  This aversion obviously complicates my art career in the time of covid.  But apparently I don’t care.

Let’s get off the screens and smell the paint, people.  Time to reach out for what’s real.

Mandala II

"Mandala II" - Carraher 2020

Mandala II
2021.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

I’ve been doing short photo shoots in the studio despite the heat, because with Open Studio Art Tours coming up in October I have to get going on this.  For lighting reasons I shoot after dark, so the worst of the heat is over for the day.  So I’ll have some newer paintings to post, including this one from my Mandala series.

When I posted about the new Mandala series before I mentioned that I felt several needed more work.  Mandala II was one I had doubts about.  It ended up with major modifications and I do not regret undertaking them.  It’s a much better piece now.

Mandala II is dynamic, not static, which doesn’t agree with everyone’s idea of a mandala.  And yet it is that acknowledgement of dynamism that gives me peace in an unstable world.  It is my hope that it helps bring more peace and compassion into a world that sorely needs it.

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. 

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.  🙂

 

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.

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes

"Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes" - Carraher 2000

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes
2000.  Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper.  8-3/4 x 6-3/4 in.

We finally took this small painting in for framing last week.  It’s been sitting in a drawer, carefully wrapped in glassine, for 20 years.  I’m very patient with these things; having created it is the primary source of satisfaction, and I don’t need to look at it all the time after that.  And I knew I would never agree to sell it; it’s a key piece of my work, plus I dearly love it.  My partner, who loves it also, is not as patient as I am, and she had found a frame that was suitable.  She wants it on the wall.

I drew the original charcoal sketch out behind the house I was living in at the time, about half a mile from where I am now.  It’s the view facing north, with a creosote bush, the distant Bullion Mountains on the Marine base, and some ground-squirrel dens amid the swells of sand and dried grasses.

I liked the swingy gestural feel of the large sketch, and some time later I reduced it with the scanner and transferred it to a piece of Ersta sandpaper.  The pastel technique I was using at the time involved building up layers of color and value with scribbly line, which can give a lot of depth and complexity but also breathing space while still retaining the sparkle and intensity of the pigments.  Recreating the charcoal line was a challenge, a kind of task I had plenty of opportunity to practice over many more years of drawing and painting in pastel.

This would have been around the time I acquired my studio, when I was working mainly with Rembrandt pastels.  Soon after I would have bought my full set of Senneliers, which are much softer, and eventually began working the surface with my brush technique and left this scribbly style behind.  But the fact is I miss it and often think I need to pick it up again.  It has its own unique potential and satisfactions.  Someday.

Genie

"Genie" - Carraher 2021

Genie
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

I post this image aware that no one may perceive its charm besides myself. The painting began in the vein of Pause Point and Urchin, with an earth pigment gestured on a white-on-dark ground and the intention of following this up with Mars black.  I did come back in with white, several times, to remove some areas of umber I didn’t need; you can see the ghosts of the strokes in the upper portion.  But when I got to this stage, I just wouldn’t go further.  This painting sat in the studio for months as I waited for permission to continue.  But I never got it.  I simply was satisfied with this “Genie” (the name came to me almost immediately).  I debated with myself about the messiness in those upper areas, which are not clean or well-painted, frankly.  But repeatedly I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to change them.  I liked the messiness, for perverse reasons.  I like all the grubby ghosts in there.  

This canvas is larger, 18 by 18 inches.  Once again I was re-purposing an old painting, done maybe a year ago but that had never felt quite right.  It was good that it kicked me into the larger format.  I have several going at this size now.  I like the physical impact as the format scales up.  And I like the physical feel of painting it.  Fits me better.

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Picture

"Carbon 2" - Carraher 2020

Carbon 2
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

Things have moved to a new level in the studio the last few months.  A subtle graduation has occurred.  I seem to have gained my footing with the acrylics.  I have enough skills now that I am better able to achieve what I’m trying to do, to match the execution to the vision and the impulse.  And when I encounter a challenge, I’m more likely to know a solution, or at least in which direction to turn.  And because of this, I am more patient.  I’m willing to set a work aside for months, if need be, and feel confident that the solution or direction will become apparent to me with time.  The flailing has lessened; the Hail Mary passes are fewer.  And I’m less likely to fall into an abyss of hopelessness and self-condemnation when several works in a row seem unsuccessful. 

I’m also fully focused now on several series of works and have lost patience with my long-time practice of giving myself “assignments” to help me learn.  There’s a growing pile of such pieces that I’ve simply lost interest in.  And I’ve become better at distinguishing between works on which I’m just unsure how to proceed, and those that just actually don’t mean anything to me.  This is a change from the past.  The curiosity of trying to learn something or the challenge of solving them technically is not enough to carry me through to completion.  I keep wandering off to the works that compel me.  

This is a good thing.   

The works I’m doing now may or may not be “good” – I’m not in the best position to judge – but they are what I want to be doing.  I’m achieving my visions, and through the prompts of the medium and process itself I’m discovering  new visions, visions that surprise me. 

“Carbon 2”, above, is from a small but growing series that surprises me, and keeps pulling me forward in an unhurried way.  There are four completed works now, and I know more are coming.  I posted the first here (it was an “Untitled” then, but I’ve since realized it was “Carbon 1”).   I’ve been working increasingly with black and white, or minor variations on B&W such as the grayed white in the Carbon paintings, or just small amounts of other hues as in Urchin and Pause Point.  And, for those who are curious about such things, the black pigment in the Carbon paintings is carbon black; it is Mars black in the other two just mentioned.   

Man as Subject

Number 10, (1950) by Mark Rothko

Number 10, 1950 by Mark Rothko, 1950.
Oil on canvas, 90-3/8 x 57-1/8 in.
(Museum of Modern Art, New York)

I love drawing from life.  Perhaps my most revelatory art-making experience came in my first figure-drawing course, when we were introduced to gesture drawing, the super-short (like, 20-second) poses that force one to try to capture the essential energy of the stance in a simple, rapid action.  I quickly realized that I loved the bold attack that was required, and that it generated my best work – strong, fluid, fresh, honest.  I also learned that long poses bored me – often I’d said most of what I wanted to say in that first attack, and prolonged development did not usually improve on it.

But the human figure is rarely a subject in my work.  Nor is the drama and urge for story-making that accompanies it.  I experience almost a visceral rejection of narrative and drama as subject.  I view excising unnecessary drama from our lives as a step on the path to transcendence; portraying it in my art only reinforces it.

But is it necessary for the figure to be the subject for our work to be humanistic?  As we are ourselves human, cannot humanity help but be present in our work?

William C. Seitz, in his early classic Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, explores subject matter and content as used in the work of several fellow artists of the New York School, including the subject of “man”:

The subject of man, however, divides between an objective outer conception and inner expression.  God, in the traditional sense in which He was imaged on the Sistine ceiling, is seldom represented today.  Yet the personal quest for a transcendental reality, and for an absolute, has in no sense abated.  Recognition must be give to this all-important distinction between more or less objectively stated, often representational, subject matter and an inner existential, or transcendental, content. “

And further on:

A rationalized attempt to solve the dilemma of subject, means, and technique, if such it is, theoretically splits into two possible solutions:  first, and more conservative, a reciprocal modification of contemporary abstract form and the autonomy of the human body; second, the more daring solution which accepts the challenge of abstraction and seeks to contain and communicate human meaning without representation.  It is characteristic of the Abstract Expressionists to find plastic solutions in which contradiction is sustained.

…Let us direct our attention to the [first] solution.  In regarding the content we call “human” as synonymous with figuration, are we not in tacit agreement with the opponents of modern style?  Are we not committing ourselves to a philosophy of art which is, to say the least, a bit beefy?

The notably cantankerous Mark Rothko was achieving his classic style (as in “Number 10”, at the top of this post) in the early 1950s, the years when Seitz was interviewing him and observing his work.  But a decade and a half before his style was quite different:

Underground Fantasy, c.1940 - Mark Rothko

Subway (Subterranean Fantasy) by Mark Rothko, ca. 1936
Oil on canvas, 33-3/4 x 46 in.
(The Mark Rothko Foundation, New York)

Seitz considers Rothko’s development “especially instructive” in his examination of man as subject:

[Rothko’s] compositions of the thirties represent human figures in rooms and subways and streets.  Some of the reasons for his change in forms may be reflected in later observations:  “But the solitary figure could not raise its limbs in a single gesture that might indicate its concern with the fact of mortality and an insatiable appetite for ubiquitous experience in the face of this fact.  Nor could the solitude be overcome.  It could gather on beaches and streets and in parks only through coincidence, and, with its companions, for a tableau vivant of human incommunicability.”  Seen in relation to his verbal statements and conversation, the abandonment of traditional figuration in Rothko’s work appears to have been a breakthrough from the hampering representation of everyday situations to meanings hidden behind compromises which, though they must make up practical living, mask the inner drives, desires, and fears which form the core of experience:  “The presentation of this drama in the familiar world was never possible . . . The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.”

This is the challenge that interests me.  Seitz’ second “possible solution”.

Ollas

"Olla #7 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #7 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 8 in.

My sister spent years living and traveling in Mexico.  She was a dancer and musician especially focused on fandango and son jarocho, the folk forms of the Veracruz region.  Mexican arts and culture were central to her life.   She collected artisanal works as she traveled, both because of her personal love of the historical forms and also as a way to support and promote indigenous artists.

When she died, my brother and I sorted through her belongings which included many ceramics, especially those of that ancient form, the round, humble olla,  She had examples of the colorful colonial talavera style, as well as a range of black or earth-colored pots of more Native origin.

Some of these ollas made their way home with me.

Around this same time I started experimenting with acrylics.

"Olla #4" - Carraher 2018

Olla #4
2018.  Acrylic on foamboard. 8 x 6 in.

The ollas made a good, simple subject for still lifes, but I’m never able to stick with that form for long and after just a couple I was free-handing and abstracting them.  These two small studies were done on scraps of foamboard I had sitting around the studio, and involved palette knife as well as brush.

"Olla #5" = Carraher 2018

Olla #5
2018.  Acrylic on foamboard. 6 x 8 in.

A year after my sister’s passing I began a small series of ollas on canvas in her memory; the first of them is at the top of this post.  They all used essentially the same palette and technique.  After laying down an orange ground I made a loose free-hand drawing, surrounding it with the blue and incising with the back end of the brush.

"Olla #8 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #8 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas.  10 x 8 in.

While she was in hospice my brother and I took turns staying with her during the night, sleeping on the floor of her one room.  Above me the shelves were full of ceramics and books about the art and history of Mexico.  And next to me on the floor, her favorite jarana in its case and, in a basket, several other jaranas that she would lend to her students – all instruments made by compadres in Mexico.

She was silent that last week, in a morphine dream, far away, her body getting lighter and lighter.  The daffodils she had planted were blooming all around the garden, and I would bring them into the room.  The daffodil yellow found its way into the last of the ollas I painted, for the day after her leaving:

"Olla #11 (for Juana leaving)" - Carraher 2019

Olla #11 (for Juana leaving)
2019.  Acrylic on canvas.  10 x 8 in.

Vaya con dios, mi hermana.