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.

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.  🙂

 

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.

Rough Trade

"Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on several individual works in the Carbon series.  Some of the Carbons have come quickly; this one did not.  I started it late last year, and only declared it finished in May.  Over that time it changed almost completely; only some portions of the upper left remain from the beginning.  At one point it had a bright warm red figure – the result of a Hail Mary pass.  The remnants of red still glow beneath layers of white on the upper right.   I actually had decided that that version was the final, months ago, and set it in the stack for signing and varnishing.

But…no.

It made an interesting painting at that point, with the red; I even had a title and a sort of alternate life for it.  But it wasn’t a painting I cared about.  When push came to shove, I decided to press on.

I spent a LOT of time looking, putting it aside, then pulling it out and looking some more.  I repeatedly painted over passages that I liked because they weren’t right for what was developing.  After I’d covered over the red I felt a strong connection with this painting and knew I’d be pursuing it, whatever it took.  Slowly it came into focus, but the final refinements still took a long time and lots of consideration.

Why am I telling you all this?  Must not be very fascinating to read, I’m sure.  But I’m having this experience increasingly – not with all my paintings, but with more and more of them.  Especially the Carbon series.  I’ve had several of those sitting in the stew pot for months now.  I believe it’s because:

  • I have a clearer sense of what I want;
  • I have a clearer sense of what I can do;
  • I have a clearer sense of how to do it; and
  • I’m not willing to put up with less.

So that’s progress, I’d say.  It’s a slow-moving but important development.  It’s changed my tempo in the studio, the varieties of control available to me, the depth of satisfaction I feel.  My commitment is deepening.  Which is good, because not everybody is going to like the direction revealed by works like Rough Trade.  So be it.

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.

All Is Not Lost

"Yellow Cabin" - Carraher 2008

Yellow Cabin
2008.  Pastel on sandpaper.  9-5/8 x 10-1/2 in.

Saturday evening, after visiting the closing receptions at Gallery 62 and JTAG in Joshua Tree, we walked up the street to where a private reception was being held for Kim Stringfellow’s Jackrabbit Homestead installation at The Station.  The work was commissioned for Desert X 2021 and was trailered up the grade from Palm Desert when that site-specific exhibition closed last month.  The installation is a lovingly imagined recreation of the homestead of writer Catherine Venn Peterson, who wrote about her experience for Desert Magazine in 1950. 

Kim has done extensive photography, research, and publication on the small-tract homestead movement, including multiple exhibitions such as at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and her book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  (The book has finally been reissued and is available for purchase at The Station in Joshua Tree.)  

I met Kim sort of inevitably in the 2000’s as we were both deeply interested in the homestead cabins, their origins, and their effects in and upon the desert landscape.  Her work has been thoughtful, honest, and beautiful, and I’m proud to have been included in her JRHS project as, for example, part of the Jackrabbit Homestead audio tour and in this KCET Artbound segment, where I blithely blather in front of my studio on a witheringly hot afternoon where we had to take breaks to let the camera cool down.  

I myself did a lot of creative work back then on the topic of the homesteads, including co-direction of the one-and-only Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival in 2008 and a number of paintingsYellow Cabin above, from 2008, proved to be the last I was to do for quite a while.  But in 2015 I picked up sort of where I had left off, creating the deeply colored pastel collection Additional Dimensions:  Disappearance and the Homesteads of the Mojave using pencil sketches I had created at that time, in the mid-2000’s.  

It’s very possible those were the final works I’ll ever do of the homesteads.  The derelict cabins that fascinated me truly are disappearing now, along with the peculiar homestead community where I found my place to be for the last 30 years.  It took a very long time, but the great consuming maw of late-stage capitalism has found its way to even this blighty little edge-world. 

But, in the meantime, it was great to see Kim at the reception, for real and in person.  Over the covid time friends were in no way forgotten but did become unreal in a way.  Now, when we see them again it’s, like, wham!  They’re real, and alive!  No longer missing, I guess you could say.  A lot of things have been lost in the last year and a half, but not everything.  I’m so happy to find some things are still with us. 

Light

 

"Light" - Carraher 2021

Light
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

First, a couple brief housekeeping items:

One:  There will be a closing reception for Creativity During Quarantine at Gallery 62 this Saturday, May 29, 5-8 pm.  It’s a mark of how things have changed just in this last month that when the show opened on May 8 the gallery staff did not feel an opening reception was safe; now, just a few weeks later, they feel ready for such an event.  Hope to see you there!

Two:  If you want to receive new posts from this blog, there’re several easy ways to subscribe.  Scroll down the sidebar to enter your email address and hit the Follow button.  Or, below that is a button if you want to follow via WordPress, or, alternatively, another button if you’d rather add it to your RSS feed.

This painting, Light, is of the same lineage as Pause Point and Urchin but in the larger 18 x 18-in format I used with Genie and Jack (Steady at Sea).  But, like with Genie, rather than continuing with Mars black I stopped after the initial earth-tone gesture.   A very simple work, obviously.  But we can always use more light in this world.  

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.