The lyrical illustrations of James Christopher Carroll | Visual arts | Hudson Valley

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  • My Last Lullaby, James Christopher Carroll Mixed Media, 2022

Illustrator James Christopher Carroll says he could never consider anything but continuing on his chosen path. “I always wanted to be an artist; nothing else made sense,” he says. “What a blessing to be able to make art every day! Although I’m sure that might be the most selfish thing a person can do. Maybe once all the words and colors dry up, they can bring beauty to others.

Carroll has published a number of children’s books, including his most recent, The world under brine (Creative Editions, 2021), which contrasts Walt Whitman’s poem about the mystery and wonders of underwater life with Carrol’s lush illustrations. Imbued with a lyrical and whimsical style, Carroll’s work suggests dreamlike landscapes. At times its flying silhouettes recall the work of Marc Chagal, but Carroll’s palace is brighter, saturated with magical luminescence and glowing as if powered by fireflies. In contrast, his black and white work is more austere, with an etched or woodcut quality.

Carroll’s creative method is open. “I’ve found that my best work comes when I allow the process to just stay out of my control for as long as I can bear it,” he says. “It’s a time of discomfort, shrouded in a certain amount of self-loathing, but putting ego aside for a spell allows me to drink from a well my ancestors dug long ago.”

Carroll is also receptive to narratives in available materials, like an antenna for stories floating in the ether. “I see an image, a photo, a sketch, and I imagine the story they want to tell us. They sit there waiting for someone to want to spend time chatting with them. That’s probably why I spent a lot of my time illustrating and writing children’s books. To enjoy the slow waltz of words and images across the page. In truth, I write for myself, to create a world that I crave or remember. Then comes the added pleasure of sharing that piece of myself with others.

The written word is an equally powerful medium for Carroll, and he considers himself a poet as much as he is an illustrator. His poem “My Last Lullaby” is a companion to the illustration on this month’s cover, which is about the death of Carroll’s mother. “My dear mother passed away last winter and of course she came with me when she left,” he says. “In an effort to find balance, I took a long walk in the Catskills this spring. I camped, biked, meditated, prayed, drew, and wrote ‘My Last Lullaby’ during this time. My mother has helped write this poem and inspired the artwork.(The poem is included in the online version of this piece.)

The Hudson Valley has always been home to Carroll, who lives in Chatham with his wife and children. He has spent his entire life in the area and continues to be inspired by the history and the landscape. “The beauty that surrounds us is inescapable. The mountains are haunted by charming old ghosts. I wonder if there could be a place more enchanted than the one we have here? Carol asks.

Carroll’s illustrations will be exhibited, along with photographs by Matt Drake, at the Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham from October 15 to November 13.