The following interview was conducted by Matthew Patton via email in August 2016.
Matthew Patton: Your show is called The Braided Stream and you have related it to evolution and the diverging and converging of elements, why did you choose that title for your exhibition?
Neil Farber: I had just discovered the term recently and found the concept quite interesting. I often think of how when making art the work changes a little at a time, which over time can add up to something larger, and I liked this idea that it wasn't a straight line, that it was more complicated than that. Which made me think of these paintings.
MP: Can you tell me how you made these recent paintings, the method and process used to make them?
NF: These recent paintings are made of acrylic on birch board. They are made of many layers of a clear acrylic medium designed for pouring called pouring medium. I sometimes paint into the wet medium with acrylic or watercolour paints and add paint, technical pen, collaged drawings, and cut up pieces of text to the painting when the medium is dry. I apply the medium with a playing card. Like much of the paintings, I paint most of the figures in layers with each colour on a different layer.
MP: I understand the paintings might have 20 or 30 layers, maybe more. Can you tell me about the layering of these works; why are you attracted to this process?
NF: I should really keep track of how many layers are in the paintings, but I think it could be as high as 40 or 50 for some. Clear mediums are something I have been experimenting with since I was in university and first discovered them. At that point I was making abstract paintings by painting with really wet acrylic paint that would look amazing when wet and then kind of disappointing when dry. The mediums were a great discovery for helping to keep the paintings looking wet.
After university my focus shifted to making drawings and I wasn't using any paint for a few years, until I started using the medium to make little blobs that became the heads for the characters I was drawing.
When I started making paintings again quite regularly I continued to experiment with mediums and particularly pouring medium. I made the first heavily layered painting maybe 7 or 8 years ago as an experiment, but it took so long that at that point it wasn't something I thought I would do very often.
These current paintings and this focus on the layering came from an idea I had for a painting a couple years ago. My drawings and paintings had become more dense with characters and ideas over the years and because I love the way that over saturation looks and feels I wanted to make a painting that had that but with space around it. The painting I came up with was a ball of layered squiggles with a white background that I turned into a landscape with a black ground at the bottom and a portrait with a curtain/cloud/hairline at the top. This was, I felt, the best painting I had made in a long time and all the current painting are me experimenting with the two ideas, pushing that saturation level, and having the paintings be more than one kind of painting at the same time.
What I've come to love about the layering is having a 3rd dimension to think about and having so much time with each painting.
MP: You like to move from piece to piece throughout the day, working on several different paintings. Why? What is its effect on what you are creating?
NF: I like to work off and on whenever I'm at home which is much of the time. I have a lot of ideas so I like to start a lot of paintings and because of all the drying time involved in these paintings the more I can be working on at the same time the better. I probably have close to 50 paintings started at the moment and I'll work on 5-25 on any working day.
I think I like moving from painting to painting so that I'm excited about what I'm working on. I make paintings with my friend Michael (Dumontier) and we do the same thing - moving from painting to painting, and thinking about a few things at the same time. Could just be a short attention span.
I think the effect is that the paintings influence each other more. If I'm excited about one idea or technique one day that could end up in 25 paintings.
MP: Your paintings can get very complex using elements of text, images, abstraction, catalogues, instruction manuals, self-help books, comic books, textbooks, and much more.
NF: I think when an image become dense enough it becomes too much to take in all at once and then you can revisit it and take different things away each time. To me I just like the way they make me feel, like I'm looking at a whole world, or a person’s life story, or their personality, or a feeling - or anything that's hard to describe simply. The paintings end up having different moods. Also I think because there is so much work involved and because they get this impressive thickness from the layering they have a genuine physical presence and lived in quality that I love.
There are a lot of different kinds of imagery throughout the paintings, but some that reoccur frequently are, the abstract elements that result from painting into the wet medium, watercolour style stains done in between layers, poorly done technical pen embellishments that make everything fancy, text cut from books (largely, The Magic of Psychotronic Power) and characters.
The main character in this series of paintings so far has been a little girl in a dress with or without a cape like a WW1 nurse would wear. The evolution of this character began about 20 years ago when I decided to stop making funny drawings with characters and speech bubbles and start making more surreal drawings. Most of the funny drawings featured little kids, because kids are funny, e.g. peanuts. I decided to just keep drawing these kids along with a bunch of obviously Studio Ghibli inspired monster type characters in rows or just floating around the page. They have remained fairly constant in my work since then, most typically as little boy with a bowl cut, because I often had bowl cuts as a kid. The current switch away from using a little boy as the prominent character came about around 5 years ago when I was challenged by my friend Francoise to make a sculpture. Not being terribly interested in sculpture I wanted it to just be something from the drawings brought to life. This ended up being a little girl sculpture partly because a dress is easier to make than a shirt and pants, and partly because I wanted it to resemble an anthropomorphic salt shaker I was given that resembled drawings I had made. This sculpture called Manny inspired me to make many more mannequin based sculptures now called globeheads because they use globes for heads instead of the plastered rolled up bed sheet of the original. The sculptures inspired me to start using a girl as the main character in these paintings, sometimes with a globe head, but usually without, because she was just a normal girl before her head got so big.
MP: I know you have a very deep interest in music. What are your thoughts about music and how it may inform how you work or, the work itself?
NF: My interest in music extends into technical areas like speaker design or recording techniques, which I think is similar to my focus on materials in painting. In the same way that I like to paint all day, I like to listen to music all day. Music is also my main interest and hobby. I think in very general sense the mood of the music I'm listening too may affect the mood of the paintings, especially when I've focused my listening on something in particular for a long time.
Matthew Patton is a composer, and is currently the Artistic Associate and Curator of the Winnipeg Symphony New Music Festival.