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Art Review : Farber Puts His Vision On Display

April 21, 1987|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — It's reassuring to see an exhibition like the one now at the Mark Quint Gallery (664 9th Ave.). It gives us a sense of continuity, not only of the career of the artist but also of the history of art. It reminds us of the past as it excites us about the future.

Manny Farber has a distinctive artistic vision. It evinces some obsessions, most notably the experience of the artist himself, but it is ever-evolving and ever-fresh.

The Quint Gallery is showing 20 of his paintings completed during the past six months, the most recent just hours before the April 11 opening.

It is a dazzling exhibition.

Farber, a painter for at least 40 years, has worked through abstract expressionism and minimalism. He also has been an eminent film critic. Language is important to him, and words and short phrases appear in his paintings. For the past dozen years, he has painted representationally, using what appear to be objects from his working table and studio to create landscapes of the intellect and emotions, of the memory and psyche.

His paintings, even of the recent past, were congested with painted and written information, to an almost painful surfeit. Nevertheless, they were irresistible because there were always "hooks" that grabbed the attention and stimulated the imagination.

The new paintings at the Quint Gallery still contain much information, but they seem generally more open, more relaxed.

All start with a reductive field divided either horizontally or vertically. One divided both ways looks like a black and white checkerboard. Five small works, varying from this format, are monochromatic. And the half-fields of a few others are different shades of the same color.

The surfaces of the paintings are crowded with representations of many objects whose varying perspectives create spatial ambiguity. Viewed from a distance, they appear to float, but viewed up close they appear flat, even smashed onto the surface.

The paintings are essentially still lifes with peculiar kinships and sometimes direct references to still lifes of the past. Although the objects seem discordant by their nature--peonies and sweet potatoes?--they are harmoniously composed. In Farber's painted universe, everything has its place and relates to everything else.

Appearing most generously are representations of flowers, symbols of life's beauty and brevity--carnations, baby's breath, heather, anemones. They are not realistic, but they convey the presence of flowers.

Pears, lemons, tangerines, apples and other fruits appear, and squash, onions and nuts.

References to Farber's career as a film critic appear in his works occasionally, but more often to his career as a teacher at UC San Diego--"your salvation what students say," for example.

Curious stencil forms appear (both negative and positive) and references to historical figures in art--Ensor, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Duccio, Giotto, to mention only a few.

A new addition is a skull, evincing perhaps a concern for mortality.

The most enduring memory of the show, however, is of the physical presence of the works. It's nice to be intellectually challenged but it's nicer to be seduced.

The exhibition continues through May 16.

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