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Friday, April 24, 2015

David Farrar's Ephemeral Moments of Beauty and Comedy

“Ephemeral moments of beauty and comedy influence and guide my practice,” says artist David Farrar. “Lines of light cast through a venetian blind, a toilet roll dancing uninhibitedly in the gentle breeze of an extraction fan, the strong shadow cast from a streetlight illuminating a wooden pallet on the street. I repackage these moments as ethereal worlds isolated from the imperfections and noise of reality so that more people might appreciate the beauty of everyday occurrences.”

In his practice which incorporates printmaking, woodwork, sculpture and installation, Farrar makes use of humble materials and objects, subtly altering them in unexpected and, indeed, quite dysfunctional ways. In a hallway of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) in Amherst, Virginia where Farrar was recently in residence, he changed the EXIT sign to read EXALT, cleverly maintaining the font and utilitarian position, high on the wall, so it takes awhile to notice it. When you do, it’s hard not to smile. “I enjoy installing these pieces in ways that could be overlooked at first glance, and seeing the viewer’s moment of realization,” he says.

Farrar was drawn to the Exit sign as an oddity. In the UK, where he’s from, exits are marked with the symbol of the running man. It’s in keeping with his practice of working with what’s around him. Whether he does this using things like soil or tree bark as media, or in the creation of, often loaded, facsimiles of objects, sometimes reproducing them in miniature, other times they’re perfect, though functionless, replicas.

While commonplace for Americans, heating vents are also unfamiliar objects for Farrar (central heating is rare in the UK). His introduction to them occurred at the Artist House residency program, St. Mary's College, Maryland where he was prior to VCCA. Puzzled that the paper models he left on his desk at night would be scattered on the floor when he woke, he soon realized the culprit was the forced air that came on while he slept.

David’s interested in the relationship between form and function,“ particularly the point at which an object loses its functionality,” he says. “For instance, the same object found on the street functions in a wholly different manner than when it is in a dining room. Broken and discarded objects are imbued with a sense of pathos that stems from their loss of functionality and dislocation from their original environment. I reinterpret these objects within an artistic framework, raising them up as art objects by giving them new forms and functions. In this transformation, I often physically break down these objects to their raw materials in order to reconstruct them using traditional methods such as printmaking and woodwork. I see this process as a form of preservation: if these objects were left to break down naturally they would be lost forever. So, instead, I give them a new lease on life and purpose.”

Taking the scavenged furniture, Farrar photographs it, then breaks it down, burning the wood. Reducing the resulting charcoal to a fine ash, he uses this together with the original photograph to make a screen-printed image. It’s a wonderful rift on form and function that only gets better when you take into account silk screen terminology: you “burn” the image onto a screen using a thin layer of UV sensitive paint and a strong UV light. This, of course, references the burning of the original object; the residue or palimpsest often left behind after cleaning off a screen is called a “ghost image", which relates in some way as the image is a ghost of the no longer extant chair.

Lack of functionality also plays into his true-to-life 2-D templates of a glue stick and pair of scissors. The trick with these is you need actual glue and scissors to create their 3-D versions from the templates.

Shipping pallets figure largely in Farrar’s work. “I like their form, the fact that they are these very functional objects with this one purpose and they haven’t been superseded by something high tech.” He’s worked with large ones before, but there is something so appealing about his miniature versions. Some he paints, others he covers in material: velvet to exalt the mundane pallet and fake grass, which suggests that nature is reclaiming the pallet, but then again, it’s artificial grass. “I make scale models out of cardboard and balsa wood so they retain their formal quality but lose their functionality; after all a balsa wood pallet is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. These works also act as visual puns that reference, and perhaps make slight fun of, the overly serious monochrome canvases of minimalism: a monochrome palette for a monochrome pallet.”  

Farrar also makes miniature versions of the quite beautiful skeletal “houses” that are sometimes used in historic settlements to give visitors the idea of the structure of a building. “I noticed these striking forms on the landscape when I first arrived to St. Mary’s and was intrigued to learn that they are known as “ghost houses”, which is an apt description as they are wooden skeletons built on the footprint of the past and left to degrade naturally over time.”

Paper plate lithography is an experimental technique that exploits the chemical reaction between gum arabic and Xerox toner. Toner resists the gum arabic and paper absorbs it. When you put oil-based ink down, the toner attracts while the paper resists. For these lithographs, Farrar used ink he made with Mt. San Angelo soil. The process doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Basically, all you need is a Xerox machine. It’s transient, you can only use each plate once, and the image breaks down fairly easily so there’s a painterly quality that corresponds nicely to the clarity of the Xerox.

Farrar likes taking humdrum things and presenting them as art citing the Arte Povera movement as a major influence. Much of his work is either very fragile or not archival. “I like the delicate nature of things, they’re fleeting objects that only exist for a limited time. I don’t want to be perceived as too serious,” he says. “I like the fact people pick up on the humor in the work.”

One can marvel at his inventiveness and the labor involved in creating some of these pieces. It takes real passion, not to mention self-confidence to scan an entire roll of paper towels and then digitally print a version of it, but as Farrar says, “This is the work I want to do; I maintain truth to the original idea. I persevere.”

On his return to the UK, Farrar who is from Oxford, will continue to live and work in Glasgow returning to his post as a printing technician at the Glasgow School of Art where he studied. He will also be exhibiting work made during these residencies (St. Mary's College, Maryland and VCCA) in Glasgow Open House Festival, (Glasgow) and Hidden Door Festival, (Edinburgh).

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