Three years ago, following brief periods of studying architecture in college, producing photorealist renderings as a mechanical draftsman, and designing home computer games for publication, Warren Farr began to paint nocturnal landscapes on small panels. In the tradition of de Chirico’s surrealist imagery, these imaginary views possess an unsettling quality of mystery and the unknown.
Farr employs a number of pictorial and technical devices to accomplish his goals. A straight horizon line bisects the picture plane, which may depict an artificially precise environment devoid of clouds in the sky or vegetation on the stark terrain. A profusion of artificial light sources— whether the cold light of neon and fluorescent tubing, floodlights illuminating runways and stadiums, or beams from searchlights and spaceships— suggest a world of twilight and darkness. Complicated constructions of steel girders loom like eerie presences. Enhancing the scene is the meticulous buildup of forms in three-dimensional relief produced by mixing alkyd resin mediums with paint. Working in grisaille further increases the feeling of coldness and hostility in these otherworldly scenes.
Familiar objects are juxtaposed in incongruous combinations. Caught in the nightmarish disproportion of scale, tiny, delicate figures are left to contend for themselves in alien, oversized environments. These desperate personages make seemingly futile attempts to escape their entrapment by peddling bicycles on endless highways, pulling buried airplanes out of the ground with inadequate machines, or drawing designs to build a new ark. This implied narrative of disquieting vulnerability generates an uncomfortable tension in which man seems to be challenged and threatened by technology.
This private vision of personal fantasy and loneliness is occasionally infused with elements of wry humor, such as the absurdity of Airplane Pull. In Find-Your-Sign, people climb into harnesses of ridiculously designed, telescopic devices to search the heavens for their astrological identity. Super Bowl XXXV playfully equates a scene from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with the American obsession with professional football. The powerful force of the worshipped monolith found in the excavation on the moon is transferred to a giant ball on a sunken playing field.
William A. Fagaly
“Essay by William A. Fagaly”
The 41st Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting
Warren Farr of Paducah, Ky., is more of a newcomer to art. A designer of home computer games, he began only three years ago to paint small nocturnal scenes on panels. Using his background as a mechanical draftsman, he uses acrylic and modeling paste [sic] to create meticulously rendered dream-like visions— a rectangular stadium with banks of night lights sunk into what looks like a post-nuclear landscape, or “1814 Overture,” a melancholy scene of patriotic icons out of context. Mr. Farr’s work stays in the memory— its haunting mix of future and past has the uncomfortable authority of prophecy.
Jane Addams Allen
“Biennial focuses on Southern Gothic”
The Washington Times, April 5, 1989
Farr... dreams little, most mysterious, scenes of ghostly gray: Tiny men in complex craft are fishing on what seems to be a sea of liquid tar; they are catching ruined airplanes. Dolly and James Madison are musing by the White House, or by the White House as it might appear were it on the moon. Farr’s pictures... are surprisingly convincing. To peer into his paintings is to share his eerie dreams.
“The Corcoran’s Southern-Flavored 41st Biennial”
The Washington Post, April 5, 1989
The world that Kentucky artist Warren Farr creates in his paintings is... closer to the irrational hyper-realism of science fiction... He builds almost monochromatic oil and resin reliefs that suggest abandoned or mutant outposts of civilization. In the slyly humorous “Super Bowl XXXV,” only a football field— here a pit— occupies a barren landscape, reduced to land, sky and horizon line. An upended football towers over the players; another floats in the sky like a Goodyear blimp. The resemblance to Mayan sites of deathly religious games or, as indicated in the catalog, to the worship of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” furnishes commentary on our obsession with organized sports.
“Corcoran Biennial Paints Varied Picture of South”
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 28, 1989
Warren Farr’s work is characterized by a sense of history, of irony, black humor, surreal dream images, isolation, melancholy and conflict with the influence of technology on human character. Farr’s gift is the ability to combine all of these elements into a coherent and precise, if somewhat magical, world of UFOs, Indian wizards, inventive and bizarre engineering feats, intriguing inventions, as yet unpatented machinery and, above all, Farr’s own “tilted” personality. The effect of these combinations usually elicits, at first, a smile and then, a “hmm...” as the viewer is captured by Farr’s ability to visually suspend disbelief— a necessary ingredient when the motif is science fiction and fantasy.
While Farr does not specifically mention the influence of science fiction writers in his work, there is an unmistakable involvement with alien worlds, with isolated and desolate landscapes; of worlds where technology has become a parody of itself; where the futility of invention is apparent; and barren landscapes testify to humanity’s preoccupation with technology at the expense of our environment, both physical and cultural.
While Farr generally tempers the more foreboding aspects of his vision with touches of wry humor, the viewer should never take his rather whimsical approach to the human condition too lightly, for he often tests our field of reference in surprising ways. For example, in Cones, the painting is peppered with cone shapes, from dunce caps to highway barriers, from ice cream cones to breasts, from satellite dishes to moose horns. But, in addition to the obvious visual references, he also introduces a touch of color, in contrast to his visual work in grisaille— an element which references the “cones” in our eye, those cones that make it possible for us to discern color.
In Find Your Sign and Superbowl XXXV, as in most of his work, there is a sense of people attempting in rather futile manners to define a character that, due to neglect (Farr’s ubiquitous irony exposed), has become more and more sterile and undefinable. (The lyrics to a popular song come to mind, something on the order of, “The less I try to define myself with definitives, the closer I am to fine.”) This characteristic— the alienation of humanity through excess definition, the sterilization of human character as it attempts to refine its definition of self in technological terms, the irony of a civilization bent upon improving its condition at the expense of those aesthetic appeals that, in fact, define its condition— is a recurring and central theme in Farr’s work, one which, no matter the representation, intrigues the viewer and prompts personal introspection and investigation. Farr’s work, while it may appear dreamlike or surreal on one level, also possesses a prophetic element which should prompt a pause in the most optimistic as well as the most cynical viewer.
Southern Arts Federation Fellowships (Warren Farr)
for New Art Examiner, May 1992
Although many of the elements in Warren Farr’s modestly-scaled, highly compacted paintings on vulcanized rubber [sic] seem to be sculptural, even the three-dimensional details have been painstakingly created using only paint. Hailing from Paducah, Kentucky, Farr’s vision can be startling apocalyptic in its deployment of science-fiction elements combined with references to more conventional aspects of Western religions and vernacular culture.
Dan Cameron, Guest Curator
1995 New Orleans Triennial
An effective atmosphere of sci-fi anxiety hangs over Warren Farr’s obsessive little black-on-black paintings, in which Earth and the galaxy seem exposed to every natural and extraterrestrial danger.
Marcia E. Vetrocq
“Report from New Orleans: Dixie Buffet”
Art in America, September 1995
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© 2006 Warren Farr, revised 5/4