Outdoor Mobile Orchestra – Madison Make Music Day

John Himmelfarb is an American artist, known for idiosyncratic, yet modernist-based work across many media. His diverse influences ranging from Miró, Matisse & Picasso to Dubuffet, New York school artists like de Kooning, Guston, and Pop artists inform his work, described by critics and curators as chaotically complex and tightly constructed. He often employs energetic, gestural line, dense patterns of accumulated shapes, and fluid movement between figuration & abstraction, using strategies of concealment and revelation to create a sense of meaning that is both playful & elusive. His work is also unified by “a circulating library” of motifs and organizing structures, such as geographic and urban mapping, abstracted natural and industrial forms, and language systems. One of the things he is fond of as a subject is trucks. His “Trucks” series represents a most improbable journey. It began unexpectedly one day after seeing a Dubuffet painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Dubuffet employed a liquid black line over a multicolored background that electrified Mr. Himmelfarb. He immediately went to his studio to emulate the graphic impact on an “Inland Romance” painting. When a crane-like form emerged, he drew what appeared to be a truck below it. In the next painting, Avion (2004), he dispensed with the crane and only a truck appeared. A new series was born which would expand to include drawings (many on old library catalogue cards), prints, & sculpture employing ceramics, wood, cast iron, steel, and eventually, 25-foot, drivable assemblages incorporating actual trucks, that critics have described collectively as whimsical, formally inventive. Curators would bring together this eclectic work in the touring museum exhibit, “Trucks” (2014–6). While he initially focused on two-dimensional works that bore the influence of Dubuffet & Guston, after a 2007 residency at the Kohler Arts Center “Arts in Industry” program he felt enabled to seriously explore three-dimensional work. He began casting molten-like, expressionistic trucks that were sometimes indistinguishable from their freight, such as Greek Opera & Bird in Hand. In 2008, he made a huge leap, acquiring a 1946 International KB-1 pickup truck, along with a host of found objects—steel barrels, equipment, tools, pipes—that he welded together and painted stop-sign red to create the assemblage, Conversion. He followed with Galatea (2010), a work more essential in its forms and drivable, and later, with the widely traveled Penelope Awaiting Her Chamberlain (2013), a mobile work using a 1946 Chevrolet farm truck that references the mythological Penelope and assemblage sculptor John Chamberlain. Despite their more literal references, Himmelfarb’s “Trucks” function much like his other work, freely shifting from familiar to strange, functional to artistic, industrial to whimsical, with the trucks serving largely as “carriers” of form (colors and shapes) and meaning (stand-ins representing human qualities reflected in titles such as Charity, Dedication, or Forbearance).

I had the great opportunity to chat with Mr. Himmelfarb ahead of the Outdoor Mobile Orchestra event he and his two interactive “truck” sculptures as part of Madison Make Music Day, June 21st at Café CODA. John and I get into the impromptu nature of this special Make Music Day event and how for this get toGether, he has something brand new attached to one of the sculptures for a brand new sonic experience. I mean, people can drum on and play these trucks items to find the rhythms and vibrations of that moment.. Find out what he has in store for us on the 21st here in Madison and how people can plan on actually interacting and creating with this. We talk about how this process got started for him and where it has taken him along the way as he saw his idea form into a true entity. Check out a lot more insights and participation in the project here. We got into the moments just before he puts that final bead on with a masterful weld, and what goes into making that final decision. This man is quite the prolific artist and music has been a part of his life and while he ended up on a unique path, I am thankful the exploration of sound in such a thoughtful and creative way has been shared for all to share in. With that said, John and I talk about the ‘smile factor’ for him as this and other events see his idea(s) turned into a cool, useable creative space being explored, examined and inspiring. I think this is what it’s all about and hope to see some or many of you seeing just how to express ourselves with this interactive art.

photograph of KB-3 by Kathy Moens; photograph of John with KB-3 by Rick Graves

About grnarrow

Setlist Architect/Art Scene Checker-Outer/Sound Feeler
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