„Afoot and light-hearted I take the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.“
When we travel we feel lighter, as travelling allows us to leave everything grave and grey behind. When we embark on a journey we are full of joy and excitement. When we travel, only the moment and the yet undiscovered path ahead of us count. We take first steps, get in the car, on the bike, train or plane – we get on our way. With heightened senses, we are curious about what is to come and how it will affect and change us.
When Lucy Farley (*1982) travelled through the US with her parents at the age of 7, visiting 22 states in six weeks, she was struck by a fascination that has stayed with her well into adulthood. Propped up high in the back-seat of her parents’ station wagon, she absorbed the houses, people, gardens, rivers and woods passing by the window. Shimmering sunlight and the rhythmical play of the silhouettes of trees, power poles and water towers – yellow, green, grey, brown – wheels on asphalt and sand. Every day had fresh, colours, impressions and encounters in store.
After the journey Farley would always revisit the places and events in her mind. Her first road trip marked the beginning of a lasting love for the US landscapes, up until today works by the artist with British and Danish roots show the influence of this passion: “I have always felt a need to get under the skin of a place, to understand and explore all the elements that combine a certain spirit of place, be it through historic research, meeting the characters who inhabit it or simply absorbing the space by taking myself to a quiet corner for hours of looking and recording in notebooks.“
Today, Farley finds inspiration for her art on trips through Great Britain, Denmark, France, the USA or the places in between. The sketches she makes on the road form the basis for larger works she executes in her studios in London or Cologne. The preliminary sketches trigger a visual and emotional process of recollecting what she then sets in motion through a repeated execution of her motifs. In this way, she gradually works through the essence of every place and event, visualizing it on paper in layered shapes and colours.
Farley’s painting style has been influenced by Danish artists from her childhood such as Asger Jorn and Per Kirkeby, as well as the British post-war Neo-Romantics which include Keith Vaughan, Graham Sutherland and John Piper. But the most notable impact stems from The New York School and West Coast Abstract Expressionists of the 1950’s. An obsession with the action paintings of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan and most notably Richard Diebenkorn. She explains: “Another major trigger for me was seeing Richard Diebenkorn‘s site specific works from the American landscape for the first time, and the way he tried to capture the very particular ‚essence‘ of something using an abstract language; to make paintings that are abstracted from the subject while retaining recognizable links with it. This really is my ultimate goal and something I am still striving for every time I make a painting.“
In the summer of 2016 Farley travelled to the Southern US again and followed the ‘Great River Road’ along the Mississippi River, then headed West all the way to San Francisco. Farley discovered the unique intensity of the Deep South from reading novels of the Southern Gothic genre such as The heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which influenced her connection with the land and its people.
Using these reference points, Farley returned to her studio in Cologne and painted the latest body of work: the ‘Deep South series’ in which the artist renders the intensive impressions she has gained from her journeys, in versatile paintings characterized by a strong concentration of forms. Fields of rich colour overlap, thick and dynamic brushstrokes form broad contours, which are intersected by jagged and shimmering surfaces where you can feel the glow of the Southern sun on you. “There is something so moving about seeing the dark brown Mississippi river roll silently along. I was intent on capturing the throbbing red heat, low, wide sunsets and silence that I experienced there in the more remote parts.“
While her works “Deep South Gold“ (2017), “Purple glow Mississippi“ (2017) and “The Mississippi Delta“ (2018) are dedicated to Southern US landscapes, the artist captured the atmosphere of a packed saloon in “Under the Hill Saloon“ (2017). The two collages “Southern Lovers and Natchez Nights 1-2“ (2017) tell the crazed love story of a local bar character. The narrative aspect that characterizes the above works are a little more concealed in the landscapes that Farley conceives during fleeting moments and quick glances from the moving car. The pictorial representation of time passing on the road, which we as observers became familiarized with through scenes from films like Easy Rider (1969), Midnight Cowboy (1969) and American Honey (2016), is also a core theme of Farley’s practice. The Landscape itself represents the concept of time for it is constantly evolving – through seasons, positions of the sun, through rain, wind and the eyes of the observer – for this reason, the majority of Farley’s works – both paintings and prints – are executed as series: “A major concern I always have is to try and capture the passing of time – which has always been a preoccupation with me – and find a way to represent that through painting. One approach is by focusing on the same landscape, scene or objects and repeatedly drawing them as time unfolds, which is why my works often end up as a series, or you notice the same motifs reoccurring in the paintings. I am always referencing film for this reason and cinema plays a huge part in the way I work, in particular the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.”
Farley is a sensitive and nostalgic observer, her proximity to nature and the landscapes that surround her, surely owe to her British-Danish origins, as both cultures are known for their great love of the outdoors and a long tradition of landscape painting. Accordingly, the exhibition shows works from the Deep South Series, works inspired during stays in England, in Denmark at her Mother’s summer house, as well as journeys through Spain and France. Shades of green and blue with yellow, orange and red accents dominate in these paintings. In comparison to her works with motifs from the South, colour and composition are a lot more serene while still being characterized by the same dynamic atmosphere. Farley’s abstraction of the original subject always follows a meandering, creative path that leaves room for figurative associations. The observer glimpses the shape of a boat, the top of a chimney, a lighthouse, a distant figure or clouds on the horizon. During this process of abstraction Farley uses the gap that opens up between the moment of recollection and the actual event of painting itself – this is what she strives for – as this is the space where she can uncover the feeling of being on the road again, becoming immersed, and escaping reality in order to express it freely through the medium of paint.
No matter how long a journey lasts or through which unknown lands it may take us, on that journey, we find ourselves in some way. This understanding may be considered common sense, however, it is essential for the comprehension of Farley’s art:” There is always a part of myself captured in each work. Whatever is going on in my life at that given time is translated through paint into the finished piece. Even though I draw from external influences, I would say my work is certainly autobiographical as well … The finished works mostly evolve into landscapes, but can be viewed as an emotional landscape … Stories and lives that I have encountered along the journey, as well as my own, always weave their way subconsciously into the final abstract works.“
Farley has already planned a route for her upcoming trip: the road will take her from the American West Coast, north up to Oregon and then heading east to Montana and South Dakota. But prior to that the Cologne-based artist has plans for yet another trip to a much closer destination: she will follow the Black Forest Panoramic Route by bicycle. So we are looking forward to Farley’s version of the legendary Black Forest and to everything else that lies ahead, waiting to be discovered and documented in her sketchbooks.
Interview with Lucy Farley