Geoff Farnsworth | Frank Auerbach, 2021
Geoff Farnsworth | Frank Auerbach, 2021
But this rigour could be seen as revolutionary, one requiring a major historical shift from an art of representation to one of presence, that is, the direct experience of the object standing before you.
Julian Bell, What is Painting? Representation and Modern Art
Let us begin with a disclaimer that is, in fact, a compliment. I am not featuring my friend and the fine painter Geoff Farnsworth’s work because he has painted me twice (he has rendered, wonderfully, in paint, a number of denizens of Niagara), nor because the most recent of these is almost perfect in capturing the moment and conversation we were having (he snapped a picture at that time) and the vagaries of my overly expressive face and demeanor. I won’t tell you what we were discussing at the time (along the road in Welland) but my unimpressed face in that work tells you all you truly need to know, of the moment.
Farnsworth has demonstrated that ability on numerous occasions, to not only bring a telling likeness of his subjects into his paintings, but also to seemingly embed an element of their personality, too. A fine painter who dances between figurative works and hints of abstraction with an affinity for colour that defines his art.
His portraits seem to coalesce from his thick, mucoid paint, with a figure emerging from his rich colours and almost sculptural application of his medium. The image vascillates between abstraction and representation, and in this work – as it is a portrait of the painter Frank Auerbach – that dialogue happens not just on the canvas but in the conversation around the choice of subject, and Auerbach’s own ideas regarding non representational and more ‘realist’ painting. But – somewhat in opposition to this idea, as all these things blend together like paint on a surface – I’ll return to Julian Bell, whom I cited at the beginning of this essay: ‘ — there was no prior context to the painting itself. The viewer’s eyes would submit, and the painting would act.’
But let’s end by returning to Auerbach (from Frank Auerbach Speaking and Painting by Catherine Lampert): “Auerbach views such claims and labels as essentially meaningless; for him, where figurative art excels, if it is any good, is in what is abstract within the painting and concept. The forms one engages with, and invents, will have a plastic character and individuality unconnected to their names.”
Since I mentioned it in this article, I feel compelled to include an image of the fine portrait that Geoff Farnsworth painted of me, so you might have a visual to augment my words. But I will temper it with an image from Ad Reinhardt, whose ideas about the immediacy of the art object, and the necessity of its primacy in any interpretation of the same is relevant to considering Farnsworth’s portraits, which shift and flow and fracture and come together again, all in colour and line and very physical, goopy ways.
Geoff Farnsworth began his art training in Vancouver, B.C. at the Federation of Canadian Artists, Emily Carr, and Capilano College in the Graphic Design & Illustration Program. He moved to New York City to train at the Art Students League from 1997 to 2002. His paintings have been shown in New York City, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Niagara Falls, Norway, Sweden, and Trinidad.
His words: “My paintings explore a relationship between figurative and abstraction in order to meld unconscious probing and stylistic innovation with a meditative figural base. It is important to me that the paintings work well as collections of shape, colour, texture, and energy, while also building a compelling image. Working with people and objects from my personal world, I focus on maintaining a balance between plan and accident, known and unknown, restraint and exuberance. My figures look out as much into mindscape as landscape.”
You can enjoy more of Farnsworth’s work here and more of his portrait works (of people both known and more local) can be viewed here.
~ Bart Gazzola