Neil Farber, "Untitled (the braided stream 1)," 2016
Neil Farber, "Untitled (the braided stream 1)," 2016, acrylic paint, acrylic pouring medium, collage on panel, 12.3” x 16.3”
Neil Farber’s new works are a writer’s dream. They brim with detail, making it easy to get carried away with description. For the last few years, Farber has been working with a new process, collaging imagery – floating heads, fantastical creatures, vacant-eyed spooks – between layers of clear acrylic pouring medium.
Farber was a founding member of The Royal Art Lodge, the famed Winnipeg artist collective known for the combined effects of hilarity and emotional awkwardness. No one can do tragicomedy better, though many have tried.
The collective is now defunct, but Farber has maintained a collaborative practice with fellow art lodger Michael Dumontier, as well as an impressive solo career. Since 2001 he’s had shows in Britain, Denmark and New York, to name a few. This is his first solo exhibition in Canada in more than a decade.
Farber’s ongoing commitment to creating worlds populated with folkloric characters is clear. The wise child makes a frequent appearance, as do many morose and creaturely companions. In the new work, gestalts overlap gestalts. As each work is made with some 50 layers, his subject matter is contained within an incredible density.
Neil Farber, "Untitled (the braided stream 2)," 2016
Neil Farber, "Untitled (the braided stream 2)," 2016, acrylic paint, acrylic pouring medium, collage on panel, 16” x 20”
In this expanded vision, it’s almost as though pouring medium becomes an analogy for the medium of life itself – memory, time, or perhaps swirling air of various viscosities. Whichever it is, Farber’s layers allow his subjects to stratify, slipping in and out of focus. Occasionally, streaks of paint seem to float up from some lower depth to just below the surface. Veins of pearlescent paint and wisps of white describe the halos and nimbuses of tiny souls.
A reviewer once described Farber’s work as being concerned with male neuroses. Whether or not that’s true, a little girl appears in several of these new pieces. In some canvases, there are only a few of her, while in others she’s replicated over and over – a critical mass of girls in capelets and pinafores. She’s the kind of child that stands apart on the playground, arms around her own ribs. She’s a little nun or a little nurse – solemn and watchful. Farber has painted hospitals in the past, and the theme reappears in X-rayed bones and anatomy, in the scatterings of red and black crosses.
In Farber’s world, the real and imagined live together. Surface enfolds surface so that night terrors lie within daydreams, truths within fictions. What began as a blank slate has been painted over. And now it – and we – are colonized by every imaginable beast and aberration.