The Language of Experience: For Farrell Brickhouse, Painting Is a Lifelong Process

Farrell Brickhouse, "Struggle 5, Dancing Bear," 2009, oil on canvas, 18x18"

Farrell Brickhouse's paintings are small, jewel-like emotion-objects, brimming with authentic, unmediated feeling that seems to flow directly from Farrell's heart onto the canvas. I wish I could offer Brickhouse the same prizes that the "Work of Art" winning contestant will receive--$100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum--but my modest connections only permit a blog post about his paintings at Two Coats of Paint and this article in The Huff Po. The grating irony is that, unlike the winner of "Work of Art," Brickhouse, who has been making remarkable paintings for over forty years and teaching at the School of Visual Arts since 1980, actually deserves a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. But no one ever said the art world was fair.

I've been familiar with Brickhouse's work since the late Eighties, when he used to show regularly at Pamela Auchincloss in Soho,  so I was happy to reconnect via Facebook last year. Since the early Aughts, when his work was primarily abstract, he has moved in a more figurative direction. But the paintings continue to be enigmatic. In Brickhouse's Facebook photo albums, he often reveals the story behind his images, which are frequently everyday events or images from the newspaper.  Here are some images of Brickhouse's recent work, excerpts from our correspondence, and a list of what he considers the  six most important influences on his current work.

Farrell Brickhouse, "A Dubious Catch," 2009, oil on canvas, 20 x 16"
Farrell Brickhouse, "Dance of the Bombed, Last Dance, LA Riots," 2010, oil on canvas, 20 x 26"
Farrell Brickhouse, "Big Top #7," 2010, oil on canvas, 20 x 16"
Farrell Brickhouse, "Stage # 10 for BP,"2009, oil on canvas, 12  x 9"
Farrell Brickhouse, "Alter 1," oil on canvas, 18 x 24"

About the painting process:
"For me art is a personal odyssey. A vehicle to carry me forward and find some deeper unity in what is happening in and around me." Brickhouse writes. "I've never expected my art to overtly carry my political concerns. Art is a slow burn, working its gift on individuals. It is based on memories arrested in liquid space. I want my paintings to be a haunted living presence that reveals to the viewer passion, intellect, mystery and that changes with each day's new light. My work is experiential, non-formulaic. Painting is a belief system that demands, as Borges put it, 'a momentary act of faith that reality is inferred from events not reasonings. That theories are nothing but stimuli: that the finished work frequently ignores and even contradicts them.'... For me, there needs to be an epiphany, a trace of how the imagery conveyed through paint was discovered and experienced by the artist. Not a graphic notation of the language of experience, but the mystery of it."

About community:
Brickhouse is a vibrant presence in the community of painters on Facebook, where he frequently posts images of his new work and generously comments on work posted by others. "In Tribeca, as a young artist, I had been used to a constant exchange of studio visits, crits and an all-hours ongoing dialogue. Historical events [9/11] more or less ended that thriving discourse but as we dispersed {Brickhouse moved to Staten Island] we created new communities for artists to work and carry on this exchange. Facebook has emerged as one of these new communities; a bulletin board/studio visit/keep-in-touch/found-you-again/webpage to share ideas, events and what you are thinking. It's perfect for visual artists short of an actual studio visit. We make albums and post our passions in this new way but it's what artists have always done. I've been truly touched by the level of support and informed by artists' work I never would have seen but for the ever- expanding list of 'friends' from all over the globe."

Six important influences:
1. Museum of Natural History - As a child I was mesmerized by the dioramas. I would go home and try to build worlds like those I'd seen at the museum.
2. Man and His Symbols by Carl G. Jung - Jung's book made me aware of the deep, mysterious creative spirit shared by all humankind.
3. Arthur Dove - Dove possessed a singular way of depicting his physical surroundings that was both personal and full of emotion.
4. Chaim Soutine -Soutine demonstrated the power of paint to reveal an image and express what it means to be alive and in the world.
5. Ralph Hilton - Hilton was an "early years" friend who I met at Skowhegan School. Through Hilton I began to understand what comprised the creative life of an artist. "To walk with you is to walk ahead of myself," Ralph used to say.
6. Goya - Goya taught me how an artist can change over time, painting about current events as well as works of the imagination.

In August 2010, Farrell Brickhouse's paintings will be featured in the Project Room at John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY.


AGAINST THE TIDE (working title)
If Two Coats readers have paintings they've made of/about the water (sea, pond, pool or lake) within the past year, please send a link to an image, or send a jpeg with image info (Format: Name, "Title," 2010, media, size) before August 30 to twocoatsofpaint{at}gmail{dot}com. Several artists will be selected for a curated online exhibition (and possibly a Two Coats publication). Submit questions and comments on the Two Coats of Paint Facebook page.

The new Two Coats of Paint Video Channel is dedicated to videos made by painters about painting. Any readers who have made videos about their process and/or practice, please submit links for consideration. In order to be featured on the Two Coats Channel, the videos must first be posted on Vimeo. Thanks for watching!