Category Archives: why

In the Lateness of the Afternoon

"Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon" - Carraher 2019

Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon
2019.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 11 x 14 in.

Well, true to form I got to a certain point with the still lifes and then totally ran off in another direction.  I started doing some collaging with translucent paper and have just been in a trance ever since.  I’m working hour after hour with full concentration and a kind of bliss, intensely satisfied with both the process and the results.  So much so that I have not stopped to photograph anything, so I can’t show you any of it yet.  I hope to attend to that this next week; we’ll see.

But in the meantime:  It’s a new year!  And I am of an age where these passages are as much about sums of the past as about the future.  And so I thought about this acrylic work I painted in 2019:  Pablo and Henri in the Lateness of the Afternoon.  I was stimulated, perhaps, by recently reading about Matisse, which inevitably brings one to think of the legendary connections and contrasts between those two titanic contemporaries, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Ultimately respectful if not always friendly rivals, they were fierce observers of one another’s work over their long careers.  “All things considered, there is only Matisse,” Picasso once said, and Matisse responded, “Only one person has the right to criticize me. It’s Picasso.”

Pablo and Henri both spent the twilight of their lives at work on the French Riviera.  Matisse passed his final years in the Regina Hotel in Nice, quite near what was to become the Matisse Museum.  Many years ago I visited there, my companion and I riding a local bus up the long hill to where the historic villa housing the museum commands a view of the bay.  At that time the museum only occupied the upper floor and did not have a large collection of works, but it did have some key pieces of the artist’s props easily recalled from his paintings – fabrics, chairs, vases.  Seeing them displayed in the Mediterranean light streaming through the big windows brought a true shock of recognition, a shock both pleasurable and complex.  That sense of recognition extended through our long winding walk down the hill, with the views over Nice and the sea that Matisse made so familiar.

Perhaps 20 years later I took the train to the coastal town of Antibes to visit the small Musee Picasso.  It is housed right on the water in the medieval Chateau Grimaldi, itself built upon the ruins of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis.  Picasso used the chateau as his studio for 6 months in 1946 during a very prolific period, and ultimately donated all of the work that he had done there back to the chateau on the condition that it remain displayed to the public.  The collection when I was there included many of his most ebullient ceramics, a revelation in that ancient setting.  I also  vividly remember viewing the large, striking La Joie de Vivre, painted right at that location, its centaurs, satyrs, and pipe-players seemingly called up straight out of the Mediterranean earth beneath it.

Both of these experiences were a long time ago and I’ve forgotten most of the details, but the impression made on me was deep – of the art, the artists, and the elements all connected.  Over time I learned more about the connection between the two painters, their parallel careers, and their almost life-long arms-length relationship intimate mainly through their art.

Picasso occasionally visited Matisse during those last years when Matisse was mostly confined by ill health to his bed, from where he continued to work including on his last great innovations, his cut-outs.  Matisse told Picasso’s mistress Françoise Gilot at the time, “We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things that the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else.”

The losses of later life deepen and expand the significance of long relationships, of conversations that have lasted over many years, and their meaning and preciousness come to feel incalculable no matter how circumscribed they may have been.  I felt the mysteries of these connections – for you, for me – while painting of Pablo and Henri sharing their separate, lonely intimacy uniquely with one another as they painted their way into the eternal Mediterranean sun.

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.

Back in the Saddle

Snapshot of work in progress - Carraher 2021

snapshot of work in progress

I’m finally back to real work in the studio.  I hate long interludes where I can’t paint; I really lose my stride and it’s hard to regain it.  On the other hand, I’ve been wanting to explore some new directions, and this recent break in continuity certainly provides that opportunity.  This tends to happen every few years, due to one thing or another.  And I’ve found my common first step to get back in the saddle is a still life – usually a conventional approach to start with, followed by lively disintegration into directions I’m more interested in.

Thus the acrylic and pastel in progress pictured above.  Of course, the big news here is the re-introduction of pastel, after my focus on acrylics the last few years.  I still feel more comfortable with a pastel rather than with a brush in my hand.  And it feels a little awkward, trying to work in both at the same time.  Even how to lay out my tools on the table is not obvious to me.  I’m really stumbling around, which is the opposite of what I’m seeking.  But it will get better.

There’s a set-up out there somewhere, a set of tools and an approach, that will let me just flow.  I can feel it.  I know it’s possible.  I’m getting closer.

The Blue Pot

"The Blue Pot" - Carraher 2019

The Blue Pot
2019.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

I have a heavy (very heavy) blue ceramic pot that I picked up second-hand a few years ago.  It’s square in shape but with the sides slightly rounded and an unusual, wavy, multi-level lip around the top edge.  I’ve actually never planted anything in it, although plants get temporarily placed in it sometimes.  It’s pretty groovy.

I wanted to make a painting with it, and did some sketches a couple years ago.  It was tricky finding an approach that caught the aspects of it that interested me.  But I found this close-cropped, straight-on angle satisfying.  I was also at the time particularly interested in how Matisse handled pattern, and how often it showed up in his work.  So a little patterning got added to the sketch.  The palette was very simple, just raw sienna, phthalo blue, and a yellow, probably cadmium.  The drawing was brushed on the canvas very loosely, and my main interest was the intensity and weight of the blue.  I was not quite satisfied with the block of raw sienna in the upper right, and added the blue discs.

I liked the painting well enough but didn’t see where it fit in with the rest of my work.  I didn’t expect to show it at Open Studio Art Tours.  But on a whim I hung it up to replace another work that had sold, and it was quickly bought by a younger fellow who was furnishing his Mid-Century Modern mobile home.  He showed me some photos of the trailer and I must say it was pretty cool.  I was intrigued at the idea of this work in there.

When he and his friends were leaving they spotted the original blue pot on top of a low wall in my yard.  They were pretty excited to see it.  I’m kind of surprised they recognized it from this painting.  Says something, I guess.

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.  🙂