Category Archives: why

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.

A Year

"Untitled (12 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 20)
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

I’ve starting painting over old paintings.  Not that they can be all that old, as I’ve only been working with paints (as opposed to pastels) for a couple years now.  But this past year – this strange year of time and solitude amid chaos and loss – has allowed me to paint, and paint, and paint, and make mistakes and learn lessons and create a lot of…well, bad work.  And now, especially after this year, I’m running out of room for it.

All of that time to paint has also moved me far and fast in the direction I apparently was always headed – a direction I think the new work above illustrates well.  I’d reached the end of possibilities with a canvas I’d beat to death, so I painted it over with titanium white although not thoroughly.  I allowed it to remain patchy, with the surface and color uneven.  The result was deeply inspiring to me, and I was immediately satisfied with this gesture in black. It feels quite different than the black gestures on plain untextured white canvases that I have been making these last few months (see here and here and here), with more dimension, a depth and a richness.

And this direction, long coming but this year accelerated, is clearly deeper and deeper into abstraction – yes, and expressive abstraction, that much reviled classic American style.  It is exciting to me, I celebrate it, and I celebrate this cursed year because, through it all, I’ve arrived at this.

I have so much to say on this – on all of it.  I had planned to include quite a bit more in this post – about this past year, and Time, and space.  So much percolating in my brain, almost painfully.  And perhaps those thoughts will show up in future posts.  But maybe not; I’ve lost the patience to write.  After all, I’m painting, not writing.  That’s the point.

Happy New Year.  We made it.

Prodigals

"Untitled (12 2 20)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (12 2 20)
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

Some paintings do quite a bit of wandering before they come home.  This one started months ago as just a black gesture on white.  It felt unfinished and…kinda lost.  Didn’t know where to take it from there.  It sat around for quite a while, until I got tired of looking at it and attacked it with the red.  At that point I thought it was done.  I didn’t love it, but I kept thinking I should learn to love it.  I put it up on the studio wall with some others and it always felt lightweight, but I thought maybe it was just because it was…different.  I finally put it in the stack to sign, photograph, varnish, and put away.

But when the time came to take those last steps I suddenly grabbed it and came after it with a big brush full of titanium white, and – presto!  It found its weight, and its depth.  It’s quite at home with the others on the wall now, even though it is somewhat different in style.  It has made it home.

"Untitled (12 9 20)" - Carraher 2020

Lisa’s “Promenade”
December 2020.  Acrylic, ink, paper on panel. 10 x 8 in.

This piece, also, was one of the wandering stepsisters for a while.  It began as one of the Aquaria, but despite a lot of fussing it fell short (it was not alone in this failure).  The efforts to save it got more and more wild, including the cadmium yellow, until at a certain point all hope was lost and out came the brayer and opaque titanium white – time to wash clean.  If it wasn’t to be an Aquaria, then it could be anything.  That’s when things got fun again.  The final touch was the three phthalo green stripes.  They are actually deli paper painted, cut out, and collaged on.  I secretly love stripes and was easily convinced they would be just the right thing here – which, in the end, I believe they were.

It occurs to me I should include this post on the thread about line, because both these paintings started with black line on white though they went far afield from that.  But line starts so many of my paintings, that thread could start to become meaningless.  I might include it anyway, though.  Lines seem to be the heart of the matter.

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.

Line

"Untitled (April)" - Carraher 2020

Untitled (April)
2020.  Acrylic on textured canvas. 14 x 11 in.

I have a great deal to say about line.  Line dominates much of my work.  A lot of the works start with line.  Some finish with line.  And some of the works are nothing BUT line.  

It took me a while to accept this piece as it was:  nothing but a single line, and not such a fancy one at that. But after quite a while of it hanging around, I accepted that it was finished.  It simply didn’t want anything else. 

So…alrighty then.  

I drew with burnt sienna straight from the tube, a technique I’ve found to be alarmingly satisfying.  So satisfying that I kind of dole it out, reluctant to indulge in it too often for fear it might lose its charm. 

It was applied to a canvas that had been textured with Golden’s light modeling paste, leaving some places smooth and some bits of canvas exposed.  I then rubbed on a thinned burnt sienna with a sponge. 

And that’s the beginning of what I have to say about line. 

Conversation in Taormina

"Conversation in Taormina" - Carraher 2019

Conversation in Taormina
2019.  Acrylic and charcoal on canvas.  18 x 18 in.

It was a lifetime ago that I was in Taormina, ancient city of the Greeks high above the Ionian Sea, in the shadow of Mt. Etna.  Did I have a conversation there?  I’m sure I did, as I was traveling with a companion of a lifetime with whom conversation has only ever been interrupted, never ceased.  While working on this piece the title formed itself in my mind, and so it was.  Conversation in Taormina.

I ruminated literally months over whether to add a sort of warm rose patch to the upper left, which I think would have been a becoming option, but in the final analysis it would not have fit this title.  That rose.  Too pretty.  Too rococo.  It would not have fit in that conversation.

So here it stopped.  With the gold shapes and Ionian blue dreams recovered from antiquity and the smeary charcoal lines swinging like jazz.

I wish a happy birthday to my companion from Taormina.  May the art of our conversation never be done.

Mid-November

"Astral Beauties" - Carraher 2019

Astral Beauties
2019.  Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 in.

These two paintings were completed almost exactly a year ago.  They were new in style and exciting to me.  I felt the hint of something I’d been looking for.  A lot of work was launched from this new direction. 

They both feature acrylic paint manipulated with brayer and brush, as well as china marker and ink pen.  They are both fully improvisational.  

"The Goldfish" - Carraher 2019

The Goldfish
2019.  Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.

I suppose I might say something about titles.  Titles are integral for me.  If they’re wrong for the work, they just don’t stick; I will hate the painting until the title is fixed.  If the painting is in some way unsuccessful or I don’t care about it, the title will be just as unsuccessful.  Most often, except for untitled works, the name arises to my mind sometime during the process and is then stuck like glue – even occasionally shaping the work itself, in the end.  It’s the poet in me, I guess.  Words matter.  Sound matters.  Rhythm and melody matter.  

Untitled works are usually not paintings for which I cannot find a title.  They are, rather, paintings that reject further comment.  I do not wish to contextualize their reception with words.

It actually means a lot to me.  Can’t live with wrong titles. 

Happy

"Aquaria No. 3" - Carraher 2020

Aquaria No. 3
2020.  Acrylic and ink on panel. 10 x 8 in.

Things turned around in the studio yesterday morning – even before the announcement.  (After the announcement I really ceased to be able to do anything! :))) )  So I’m posting some things that invariably make me happy:  more Aquaria.  Not sure why they make me smile every time I look at them, but they do.  Small, neat, smooth, swimming in color, and intriguingly eloquent about those infinite worlds for which we neglected to make words. 

"Aquaria No. 5" - Carraher 2020

Aquaria No. 5
2020.  Acrylic and ink on panel. 10 x 8 in.

Last one:  my Pharoah-ess:

"Aquaria No. 4" - Carraher 2020

Aquaria No. 4
2020.  Acrylic and ink on panel. 10 x 8 in.

It Comes Down to This

"Bell Poem No. 10" - Carraher 2020

Bell Poem No. 10
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 20 in.

My paintings are getting simpler, simpler, simpler.  By which I mean stripped down to nothing but what I see as the only essential elements, even when that’s very few elements indeed.

I have my moments of unease about this, where I am subject to the siren song of cultural notions of what a painting ought to be.  I am of course not alone in this species of doubt; most artists at one time or another wrestle with their own variation on this question.  And if the gods are with them, they ultimately or perhaps repeatedly reject it and ride forward into the scary isolation of authentic work.

But most of the time, I just know when a work satisfies me.  And at that moment I’m done with the painting, and with the doubt.

So it comes down to this, Bell Poem No. 10, my offering on this most momentous day.