“Hold on, I may have tucked it back here,” Patrick McFarlin says. He’s rustling around in the corners of his studio, in search of a small oil painting that’s just popped into his head. McFarlin emerges with a canvas that’s bursting with colorful block letters. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13,” he reads. It’s the first line of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. “I should put that in the show, since Trump has brought back 1984.”
The longtime Santa Fe artist's new solo show is slated to open at Phil Space on Friday. At a studio visit last week, its creation was still very much in progress. James Hart, who runs Phil Space in a gallery adjoining his photography studio, emailed McFarlin on Jan. 4 and offered him a Feb. 17 show. McFarlin was preparing for a 10-day trip to Mexico, but he took the opportunity. "I decided it would do me some good, no matter what," he says. "It's kind of a dark time of the year in Santa Fe."
After his vacation, McFarlin immediately got to work. The show's hodgepodge title, Fresh Oil/Crazy Quilts/Word Pictures, reflects the frenetic process of preparing an artistic statement in less than a month. McFarlin isn't complaining, though: The challenge embodies his kinetic approach to creativity. After a year of battling severe health issues, he was more than ready to get the paint moving again.
Inside McFarlin's lofty, naturally lit studio on Old Galisteo Way, colorful artworks are piled everywhere. He's tacked two un-stretched canvases to the wall meant to anchor the show. "This one's called 'Annual Report,'" he says, gesturing to a gloomy self-portrait that shows McFarlin surrounded by jesters and anthropomorphic paint tubes. The piece originally featured a pie chart split into a variety of comical categories such as "wasted art materials," but he painted over it and added a bundle of red balloons above his head. A single black balloon rises from the flock.
"In my annual report, I'm not in the black and I'm not in the red," he says, gesturing to the balloons. "I'm just floating away."
McFarlin has been battling tonsil cancer since last spring, and he's only recently regained the energy to make a full return to his art practice. "It wasn't a Beach Boys summer," he says.
The second large canvas he's been working on for the show is a bit more optimistic, depending on how you look at it. It shows McFarlin wheeling a cart of art supplies off the edge of a barren planet. He's headed towards a smaller globe, from which a small child emerges to greet him. "That's the new world, I guess," he says. "Maybe the child represents the hope of rebirth or something like that." Does the composition chronicle McFarlin's return to health, or is it an allegory for a journey to the next life? "I've been thinking about, you know, mortality," the artist says. He declines to elaborate.
He does kindly indulge a line of questioning about his artistic career. McFarlin is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas. His first solo show was in San Francisco in 1968, and he's mounted over 20 since then, from New York City to Houston. He moved to Santa Fe in 1990. In the City Different, he's well-known for a monumental portrait series that he exhibited at SITE Santa Fe in 1997.
The works in Fresh Oil/Crazy Quilts/Word Pictures are all taken from bodies of work completed in the past few years. "I'm definitely not a serial painter," he says. "I tend to work two or three years on a series, and then go on to something else." The Fresh Oil pieces are the canvases tacked to the walls in his studio, which McFarlin plans to display in the same way at Phil Space. His Crazy Quilts are oil paintings on paper that show quilts overlaid with wild tangles of figures and objects. He unfurls one of the giant sheets on the floor, which depicts the outlines of guns atop a colorful patchwork pattern. The work was a reaction to the Sandy Hook shooting, and is titled "Sleep Tight."
Word Pictures is the most intricate series in the show. Completed between 2014 and 2015, it incorporates passages from famous novels into impasto fields of color. McFarlin props several of these around the studio, all of which feature paragraphs from Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Like Kerouac's propulsive prose, McFarlin is always tumbling towards the next brushstroke. "That comes from getting into the realm of what I call 'It Paints,' where a painting takes off in itself," he says. "Art supplies are not going to get out of those jars and tubes and cans if you don't do something. I say, 'Waste 'em.'"
Patrick McFarlin: Fresh Oil/Crazy Quilts/Word Pictures
5 pm Friday Feb. 17. Free.
1410 Second St.,