"What kind of paintings do you do?" This is the most common question from people who find out that I am an artist. It is also a question that is incredibly difficult for me to answer. Usually, I say "Contemporary Abstract," which tells them very little, and often gives the wrong impression. As an art lover as well as an artist, I have naturally been influenced by various artists and art movements, or "isms" as I like to call them. My work doesnít quite fit into any of the categories available to me, however, so if I wish to answer the above question, I must invent my own "ism."
My first attempt, in 1988, was "Formulism." Six years following the birth of my pattern, I was wrestling with the problem of explaining what I was doing and why. A common question at the time was, "Why do you do the same thing over and over?" The term Formulism was intended to explain the use of a repetitive formula to study color, that formula being my pattern.
The second name I gave to my work, in 1992, was "Farbelism." The origins of Farbelism were much less philosophical and much more serendipitous that those of Formulism. A woman who was watching me paint at The Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art said, "I love how you put those little farbels on there!" I got a kick out of the way she pulled the word out of thin air, and told several of my fellow artists how she had named the marks I used to make my pattern. One of them told me that "farbe" was a derivative of the German word for color. Farbelism was born, incorporating my pattern, my love of color, and a sense of fun, all in one word.
Results were mixed with both names. Formulism was a serious attempt to condense a description of my technique and my philosophies about it into a single word with a concise definition, and then to show that every artist was to some extent a Formalist. An ambitious and admittedly pretentious undertaking, which was successful only by accident. Jonathan Kandell, then the reviewer for The Tucson Weekly, received my "package" and came to my show with the intention of ridiculing me (he told me later.) As it turned out, he loved my work, spent a long time talking with me, and wrote an extensive, positive review. I realized from his first impression, however, that I was far from ready to write about my work, much less name it.
By the time I coined the name Farbelism, my work was strong enough that people were no longer asking "what is it?" and "why?", they were now asking "how?" and "what do you call it?" At first I treated the name with tongue in cheek, even going so far as to create a vocabulary around it: farbelistic, farbelous, farbelitious, you get the picture. The name stuck, however, and drew the attention of Gary Rausch, the reviewer for the Scottsdale Tribune, resulting in another good review. While I still donít know how to answer people who ask what kind of painting I do, at least I have a name for it.