Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll’s new paintings give expression to his acute awareness of the inherent dilemma of oppositional and contradictory sensations. This awareness and rich visual expression of his move toward reconciliation, more than resolution, rise out a deep investigation through spiritual practice. For the viewer, it's always been a sharp wound of pain and pleasure, experiencing Michael’s work, a moment on the precipice of sensation, a kind of static pressure between an acute presence and a subtle, spiny, cool reserve.

The twelve new paintings in the exhibition now in progress at The Schoolhouse Center, all painted in the last year, do contain that quality of stasis, hanging in the balance between closely structured interiors and deeply private locations of our human selves, and in Carroll's case, his most intimate companion, his dog Lucky; and landscape, the open outside world where we encounter uncertainty, danger, opportunity, and relationship.

Carroll's work has always been about an intensive self-exploration and discovery. One gets the feeling Carroll is going up that fevered river, alone, into the sources of being. . Earlier paintings were darker in palette and mood, confined to the interior; pictures of emotional place, well contained, profound, relentlessly daily. These weren’t congenial paintings. Still, like the interiors of 17th Century Dutch painters whom Carroll admires, there was always an open window, light flooding in; sometimes a bouncing ball.

Now Carroll has incorporated that outside world. The walls have nearly disappeared. His palette is lighter, whiter, more cerulean blue. We know we are inside because there's the exposed pipe, the table or mirror, the finely executed tiled floor, like a little stage; but we're outside at the same time. There's a silver plane in the sky. There's the bird's nest with three eggs and the spindly tree, and the sap green lawn, reminiscent of a suburban lawn gone back to nature. In several paintings, Carroll has opened the ground itself, presenting a kind of cross-sectional view of the landscape above and below the horizon. Lucky is now less a witness and more a figure in the landscape with his own yearning to explore the world.

Inside, outside, above, below, distant, close -- Carroll opens the world to exploration from every perspective and challenges customary perceptions. These new paintings are less mysterious, less moody, more direct, even welcoming. His increased comfort and technical skill as a painter seem to have brought him to a greater willingness to risk all the ambiguities life and painting present. Yet, he maintains the equilibrium between visual perception and abstract organization -- and the fullness with which each is realized in these paintings marks a fine new distinction in his work. Light falls on both the landscape and the interior with the subtlest gradations, unifying all the objects in its blue tonality. Details are spare, intricate, finely rendered. Carroll's pure love of paint and the sensual surface of the canvas is evident in these paintings. There is still a coolness, a certain detachment, but it holds less tension here, less resistance; rather, it feels more a detachment evolved from acceptance, a kind of visual affection for the world as it is.

Carroll explains that this recent work comes out of "everything falling apart." He only began painting five years ago. Having a show a year for the past three years, he found himself restless with his work. He felt it was becoming formulaic. "I found I had to let the image fall apart piece by piece, to break it up. The only thing to do was to let go of the established patterns that threatened to become cliche." One of the things Carroll wanted to drop is sentiment. He feels strongly now that sentiment, always resting on historic references, is a great deceiver and dangerous to art. "It is false experience, not real emotion. It is manipulative. I don't want that in my painting. That shouldn't be determined by the artist." One is reminded of Jack Tworkov's famous comment that "In painting, nostalgia doesn't matter."

Anything one does well transcends itself. Being a painter is not a mythic occupation anymore. Now Carroll sees the painting as simply his work, his practice. The surface of the paintings reveal that sense of practice, his orderly method, working slowly, building layer upon layer, thoroughly in the process of making. "This is what I do. Things are always asking to exist," he says, "I find myself now more compelled to select rather than to express." A painting may or may not have a narrative element. What is there is surely based on an accumulation of experience, and that's more directly presented now. The picture itself is not mysterious. In this exhibition, Michael Carroll's painting continues to achieve its memorable impact with a skillfully accomplished, imaginatively intricate integration of figure and ground, content and form, idea and image.

September 1999

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