|Mast I- Wind for the Sail Solid Air, 2012, oil on canvas, approx. 12 x 8 inches|
|Struggle #5- Dancing Bear, 2009, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches|
|New World Type 1, 2012, oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches|
|Painter's Form Again, 2011, oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches|
The tangibility of paint and a certain loose-handedness with the brush are the prominent traits found in the work of Farrell Brickhouse. There’s the sense that each painting is strived for, worked out …hard won. But not only is he contending with paint in the painterly tradition, Brickhouse is also dealing with the enchanting qualities that his pieces exude; it’s as if he’s imbuing his subjects with lightness and grace. It’s that aspect of his work that has me hooked, not just how the paint appears. In trying to pin down the specific quality that I’ve felt, I want to use the word “charming,” but another part of me says that I should embrace terms like: captivating, beguiling and mesmerizing when trying to assess the thoughts and feelings that his works induce.
PB: What I like about your work is the paint handling, coupled with a color usage that’s wide open—the same things I appreciate in the work of Soutine and Avery. Can you tell me a bit about your influences?
FB: I greatly appreciate the effort you've put in to become familiar with my work and I think you've made perceptive observations of what is important to me, especially about achieving grace in my painting. A fellow artist used the term "tertiary palette" in describing recent work of mine. I liked that. Influences are many as they are for most of us. First, I remember as a child, going to the Museum of Natural History in NYC and seeing those dioramas, these worlds cast in a dark corridor—each one opening on something "mesmerizing," to quote you. I've sought that in my work, each painting is to be this illuminated world/object. Soutine did that with this gritty light and those jewel-like moments that come out of paint being pushed into paint. There was that great group show awhile back at Cheim & Read of Soutine and His Influences. Georges Rouault’s Christ Before Pilate - 7.25 x 5.2 inches is just sublime. At Queens College, Charles Cajori was a wonderful instructor to me.
As a young man, my friend Ralph Hilton and I were roped together, sort of to say, working on each other's paintings and sharing what it was to live the life of an artist. There was something so exciting about what two can do next to a solitary painter. Also, spending several years fishing off Montauk in the late 70’s before deciding to return to NYC and give it another shot …Joseph Conrad said, “If you would know the age of the Earth, look upon the sea in a storm.” As I matured, art history offered different lessons and my influences would sound like the usual suspects.
There are also the early paintings of Eva Hesse, the humanity of early Greek and Roman frescoes and also African American vernacular art mostly seen in a book called Souls Grown Deep. Influences are also those that confirm one is on the right path, not necessarily something one is drawing from formally, but as a territory worth inhabiting—someone like early Peter Saul. And NYC in the 70’s was quite a unique world and the city still is such an influence, this vibrant community of artists making such a passionate commitment to a life in the arts …one had better make the best thing possible. Of course, traveling a bit and seeing something of the world excited and expanded my art.
PB: The specific way in which you work—which feels like an exploration with paint—is evident. Can you shed some light on your studio practice and your experiences there?
FB: I was about to quote myself here but then thought better of it. When one has worked so hard to craft a document that is accurate about such an illusory process, there is the temptation to repeat it. Yes, at best it is certainly an exploration and I like your distinction between practice and experience. One question I ask when entering the studio is, “what needs to be said, what can my art contain?”
My studio time is not unique, it runs the whole gamut: from the workman-like strokes that one makes until something more significant can happen, to the terrible certainty that it is all collapsing and one should just buy a boat and be done with it. There are the moments when I come alive; the marks seem determined, as if they always existed, and I am witnessing the process unfold—and all that one knows seems to be available in this illuminated moment. One also learns when to stop and step out of the trenches and look for a while to see what has been achieved, especially after the novelty wears off. Sometimes it’s a way forward that’s been rendered and sometimes one is rewarded with a decent work.
My practice is one of having multiple paintings going at once. I may focus on just one thing, but usually there is this leapfrogging going on, where one work liberates the other to take the next step. I’m often amazed at how a casual three-minute sketch on a small piece of paper can inform a painting. I putter around and I have lots of visual sources lying about, as well as my own drawings, gouaches and such. I’m very organized, but in the immortal words of Patti Smith, “one has to lose control to gain control.”
PB: You’re on the faculty at SVA (School of Visual Art). How do you approach teaching?
FB: SVA has provided me with a wonderful place to work. I’ve been there since 1980 in the Undergraduate Fine Arts Department. Teaching is about being a conduit for the student, to provide a route to him- or herself. We offer a safe place for them to learn and to fail and make what they need to make at this time in their emerging careers. We endeavor to turn them into Students worthy of the name. I offer them my passion, my knowledge of how to work, the belief that art is a language, that the function of language is to allow us to speak, and that art comes from a life lived.
Students learn when they realize that the tools we are offering will enable them to get to where it is they want to be. It happens on all fronts, the entire expanse of being an artist—and faculty members can be an example that it can be done, that a life in the arts is possible. It’s such a privilege to share one’s hard won experience and be in a dialogue with young people, to be relevant. It is a vibrant part of my life and informs my own practice. We are all eternally students if we are artists.
PB: Who are some other artists whose work you’re excited about right now?
FB: There is the beloved Kathy Bradford… I believe there are synchronicities in the air, shared stories and images born of what it is to be alive now and that her work is terrific. Jennifer Wynne Reeves makes me feel like a barbarian, in a good way. Peter Acheson, Peter Gallo… so many younger artists are excited about paint, what it allows and what it can speak to and that is encouraging. My Facebook community is really rewarding. I know I am leaving out many fellow travelers. I like what John Yau is writing about too.
PB: What other things out there fuel your work and progression?
FB: I am not sure about “out there.” At this point in my life there seems to be a turning inward, a focusing on my work that keeps unfolding and a censorship on what I let in, even as I feel more connected than at any time in quite awhile. The miracle of a life with my wife—my muse, the upstate NY land we go to as a sanctuary… traveling and seeing the courage that people all over the world display in seeking justice makes me believe my task is to be as courageous as possible in the studio. I do want to see what the scope of my art can speak to: personal experiences, current events and history.
Recently, I feel that good work is somewhat like a time machine. It opens up one’s past body of work to new interpretations and significance, and allows one to claim new territory for the future. My career has been up and down and then some. With the new technology of sharing and a turn in the currents, I have another run going. I feel painting now is crisscrossing old borders with passion, wisdom and abandon to make work that resonates. Our political, financial, religious and even scientific leadership has mostly failed us at this moment in history. I think the re-emergence of painting today is tied to the need to create our own mythologies and to document the depth of wonder at the terrible beauty of this existence. Thanks Mike.