Haley Farthing received her BFA degree in painting and BA degree in art history from Boston University, and her MFA degree in painting and drawing from the University of Washington. She has exhibited her work in Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Farthing is currently a lecturer at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, Illinois) teaching 2D foundations, drawing, and painting.
Expose: Why do you use watercolor and ink?
Haley: The answer to that question requires that I talk a little bit about how I first began the work that evolved into what I’m doing now. I was originally working with oil paint, but I desired a more subtle, delicate medium to match the ephemeral, impermanent quality of the organic subjects I was representing. So, I switched to chalk pastel. What I liked about the pastel is that when it’s put on in a thick and solid layer, it takes on form and presence. But when it’s smeared out to a really thin layer, the image disappears and everything is dust. I liked that duality, and so I worked with pastels for a several years.
The switch to watercolor and ink came about for two reasons. Primarily, I began to feel as though I had exhausted the pastels. I felt like I was repeating myself over and over without any variation or discovery. Water based media have always challenged and excited me. They always feel just a little beyond my control. Their slightly unpredictable nature enlivened my work. At the same time, because these materials are translucent, they have the same effect as the pastels. From a distance, they appear solid and substantial, but up close you can see the background come through and the image disappears again.
The other reason was outside pressure. Many galleries and potential buyers were nervous about the fragility of the pastel. Putting the images under glass wasn’t really an option because so much of the subtleties would be lost and applying too much fixative to the images would ruin them. Everyone was worried that the pieces could be too easily destroyed. So the evolution to the wet media worked formally, conceptually, and solved the problem of the artwork being too fragile.
Expose: Why are most of your pieces on wood?
Haley: A couple of reasons. I had been doing them on paper and I felt that there was no connection between imagery and space. The paper was not an active part of the artwork in anyway and that bothered me. So I tried the drawings on wood. The linear wood grain became an important part of the art, engaging with the image drawn on it. The grain also enhanced the duality I desired. From afar it’s not noticeable, we see the drawn form. But up close the material is broken down and the wood grain becomes dominant. Pattern is also something I’ve always been interested in and have worked with, so I appreciated the natural pattern of the wood grain.
The other reason is the connection between the material and what I’m representing. All of the imagery I work with is organic. Whether the image is of leaves or driftwood, it always relates to nature and the wood panels reinforce that. I zoom in quite dramatically on my subject so it’s not always recognizable to all viewers, but the wood surface helps them make the connection to nature.
Expose: So, what about art galleries? How would you approach them?
Haley: I don’t have a very good answer for you, but the best thing I can say is live in or near a city where you can actually be part the gallery scene. Get to know the people showing there, get to know what type of art the galleries show. It’s important to find a good fit, and that’s hard to do if you don’t know the galleries. If you’re just sending images to every gallery regardless of their mission, you’re most likely not going to hear back. So, make sure to do your research before sending your materials to a gallery. Also, this is where staying connected is useful too. Artists know it’s hard so they’re often willing to help you when they can- recommend you to a gallery, show a piece in a group show they’re curating, etc.
Expose: Do you think that, in a way, it’s the galleries that shape the art world, or is it the artist who shapes the art world? Because everything goes through galleries before it’s presented to the public.
Haley: My answer is a little bit of both. I think that galleries shape the present art world. It’s the work in the galleries that gets seen by the public and written about in articles. They need to sell art to survive so they show art that they know will sell, resulting in an art world of work that is pretty similar.
However, I think that artists shape the future art world. There are artists who aren’t getting shows and aren’t part of the present art world but continue to make art that’s important to them. And eventually, the trends in the galleries shift and find those artists who have been doing something different. I don’t think artists should change what they’re doing to fit in with the galleries. You want to be aware of what’s going on, and you want to be doing something different so you can be the next thing.
Expose: so you need to be a step ahead of what everyone else is doing.
Haley: Yes, if your sole purpose behind the work is to make something a gallery will show, you’re running behind. It can be hard, but it’s sometimes good to be different. It means you might not have a place in the art world right now or work that relates to what other people are doing, but it means you’re doing something unique. Eventually, that will be appreciated. Juried shows can be a good way to get your art seen when it doesn’t fit in enough with the current art world to be given a solo show.
www.haleyfarthing.com for more of her work