Maritime Constellation

"Maritime Constellation" - Carraher 2020

Maritime Constellation
2020.  Acrylic and china maker on wood panel. 9 x 12 in.

I did several of these in the later months of last year; this is the only one I’m happy with.

I began each of them with several coats of gesso, then rolled on two values of a single color with a brayer, overlapping.  The initial linear work was with black and white china makers.  I observed this one on and off for weeks, weighing options and potential, and finally added the blue line straight from the tube.   A lot of picky little minor manipulations followed until it felt right, smoothing curves, bringing them forwards or backwards, letting some bits fade and strengthening others.  As is often the case, the title was clear to me before finishing.

None of the works went at all where I thought I was going when I started the series, and I finally accepted that the original idea just wasn’t going to pan out.  But I did get at least this one thing out of it that I like.  And I like it pretty swell.

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. 

 

Work this month at Gallery 62

"Jack (Steady at Sea)" - Carraher 2021

Jack (Steady at Sea)
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

The local galleries continue to reopen (with social distancing protocols still in place, of course)!  Gallery 62 in Joshua Tree presents Creativity During Quarantine:  “Our first members’ exhibition in 2021 is a large group show themed around how our artist members used this time at home to traverse new roads in their artistic output. Some artists were more creative, tried new techniques and/or shifted their subject matter as a result of the stay-at-home order. Instead of focusing on the year lost to Covid-19 let’s celebrate the new work created during this time.”

I think artists are very interested in showing or talking about that new work; I certainly am.  I had two recent pieces accepted in the show, Bell Poems No. 7 and No. 11, and when the gallery requested a few lines on how we experimented with our art practice during quarantine, I submitted the following:

The pandemic year has shaped both the content and the process of my work.  It coincided with a move from the pastel medium to acrylics, a plunge which was accelerated with the increased studio time.  Uninterrupted focus allowed me to explore further, deeper, broader – for better or for worse.  I was able, in the absence of external judgments and demands, to pursue each thread of inquiry fully, and multiple threads at a time.  All the while, an engagement with larger questions of human existence, tragedy, and hope was unavoidable.  Increasingly I found the work revealing a meditative space, a grounding place, a respite for the viewer from a world roiling with fear, chaos, and illusion.

The show also features Jen Shakti’s work in the Signature Room and will be on view May 8th through 30th, Saturdays 9-3:00 and Sundays 9 to noon.  At Gallery 62’s sister gallery, JTAG, venerable Wonder Valley artist and curator Suzanne Ross presents REGROUP: Wide and Narrow spaces, a group exhibition of large and small works.  A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at these galleries for keeping them alive through these challenging times, and a resounding Congratulations! at reopening to the live public.

The work above – Jack (Steady at Sea) – was finished last month after the prepped canvas had sat around quite a while.  Sometimes one gets anxious at the prospect of committing.  But ultimately I did set upon it with brush in hand, and I was not disappointed.  Again a little larger, like Genie.  For my father.

Lighthearted

"Lighthearted" - Carraher 2021

Lighthearted
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

This actually did start out as black and white, but it certainly didn’t stay that way!  It’s one of four pieces I began months ago. only finally finishing in the last couple weeks.  They all started with black improvisations brushed on a plain white ground, although two of them had been textured first with Golden Light Molding Paste, including this one. 

I liked the black drawing, but I really disliked the cold white over the texturing.  It did not inspire me.  So, after a few weeks of staring at it, I stained it with quinacridone red to a pale rose. 

really hated the rose.  I mean, really hated it.  Like gnashing my teeth when I’d look at it.  So, once again, it sat around for weeks but this time with me not staring at it.  Just avoiding it.  

Finally I’d had enough.  I chose my palette (the original quinacridone red, cadmium yellow light, and cerulean blue) and sailed in with abandon, starting with the orange and progressing to the green.  I’d always known I was going to have that blue stripe, and opposite was going to be a white stripe, but I didn’t like that after all and covered it with the yellow.  Came together pretty fast, once I finally got to it. 

This is a different way of handling the paint than I’ve used heretofore.  It helps to feel one has nothing to lose.  It specifically helped to have the textured and tinted surface that I just wanted to mess up; I am so easily enslaved by the beauty of a pure white surface, I get too careful.  This painting turned out to have no visible white in it at all – quite unusual for me.  I’m really glad I got over it, because I quite like the texture in it.  It truly adds a third dimension. 

Anyway, in the end it felt good and I like how it turned out.  Different for me, at least in a paint medium (as opposed to pastels).  It’s got a hint of a Matissean feel to it, in terms of the saturated color, loose drawing, and joyous mood.  I like that direction.  Glad I stuck it out. 

Correction: Date Change Open Studios Art Tour 2021

"Mar12/20" - Carraher 2020

Mar12/20
2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 8 x 10 in.

For anyone who just got an essentially text-less version of this post, my apologies:  I don’t believe I hit “Publish”, but I guess I must have.  So that went out by mistake, premature.  Grumble.

What I intended to write was that the dates I’ll be participating in the 2021 Open Studio Art Tours in October have changed.  Instead of the 2nd and 3rd weekends, I’ll be doing the 1st and 2nd weekends.  That’s October 9/10 and 16/17.

That’s still a ways off, of course.  But in the meantime, I’ve just put a couple more pieces in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery for the month of May, including the work above.  Featured artists this month include John Henson, Jennifer Grandi, and Denise Tanguay.  Reception will be this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7:00.

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.

3-1/4 Views of Fukushima

"3-1/4 Views of Fukushima" - Carraher 2021

3-1/4 Views of Fukushima
February 2021.  Acrylic on wood panel. 12 x 9 in.

Hard to get a good scan of this painting, but basically it’s just two colors, ultramarine blue and pyrrole red, rolled on a wood panel with a soft brayer.

Ten years on, the several related events involved with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including the earthquake and tsunami as well as the spread of radioactive debris in the ocean, still cause uneasiness and even nightmares for people on the West Coast.  The Pacific Ocean is a big unsteady bowl on the edges of which Japan and the Western states all sit.  Our toes are all wet with the same water.  We are neighbors, and share the same dreads.  My heart still feels for the people of Japan and all they suffered in this multifaceted disaster.

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.   

OMG Showing Again!

"Untitled (10 19 18)" - Carraher 2018

Untitled (10 19 18)
2018.  Acrylic and charcoal on foamboard. 6.5 x 8.25 in.

Wow.  The drought has attenuated if not ended.  I WILL be showing work on walls again!

First, the 29 Palms Art Gallery reopened in March, and I will have a couple pieces in the Members Gallery for the month of April.  Featured artists are Khrysso Heart LeFey and Warner Graves, hours 11-3 Thursday through Sunday.  I will be docenting this Thursday April 1 if you want to stop by and say a socially distanced and masked hi!

Second, I have registered for Open Studio Art Tours in October!  I’ll be doing the second and third weekends (16-17 and 23-24), covid-goddess willing.  I’m very pleased.  I love showing my work in my own studio and really missed it last year.

Above is a little early acrylic work which was very important in my evolution with acrylics.  I suppose it counts as a “small Ways” piece as I was using up some leftover paint on a scrap of foamboard covered with clear gesso.  The linework with charcoal happened first, and the paint followed totally spontaneously.  I was very pleased with it, and it opened up a world of possibilities in my mind.  My work has progressed so much over the last three years, but I have yet to match some of those early, accidental pieces that hit me right in my sweet spot, like this one.  🙂