‘Always something extra’ – James Chute of the San Diego Union-Tribune on Manny Farber exhibition at Quint Contemporary Art

‘Always something extra’ – James Chute of the San Diego Union-Tribune on Manny Farber exhibition at Quint Contemporary Art (8/7/11)

Mark Quint still remembers his first collaboration with Manny Farber in 1984, when Quint’s gallery was located downtown. Farber was infamous for working up to the last minute, and he finished the show’s final work about an hour before the opening.

“We hauled it upstairs, and it was still totally wet,” Quint recalled. “He had images of seafood, lobsters, mussels, and these were all things Patricia (Patterson, his wife and collaborator) had either cooked or they had bought. And before he ate them, he painted them.”

As was his practice, Farber worked on a flat, horizontal surface and would stage his paintings using tiny figures, scraps of paper, rebar, leaves, vegetables, fish and countless other everyday, mundane items. But sometimes, as he was painting, often right next to the item, a piece of something, perhaps a melon seed or a fish bone, would get caught in the paint and become part of the painting.

“This thing smelled to high heaven,” said Quint, who became fast friends with Farber. “It was a mixture of oil and seafood, so when people showed up for the opening, the gallery smelled like a rotting seafood restaurant. But that was just like Manny. There was always something extra with his work.”

Quint presented 16 solo shows of Farber’s work during his lifetime. “Manny Farber: Selected Works From the Artist’s Estate,” now in Quint’s new La Jolla gallery, is No. 17, his first since Farber’s death in 2008.

Walking through the gallery, with its pieces spanning four decades, you get an uncanny sense of the idiosyncratic, at times playful and provocative, painter, as acclaimed for his film criticism as his paintings.

“I look at them and I can see him doing them,” said Patterson, whose own work is highlighted in a new catalogue, “Here and There, Back and Forth,” which will be released on the final day of Farber’s exhibit, Sept. 17, with a 6 p.m. panel including the contributors to the publication: Sally Yard, Kent Jones, Robert Polito, Robert Walsh and Leah Ollman.

The oldest of Farber’s works on view is an untitled paper piece from 1967, a year after Patterson and Farber began their partnership in New York. At the time, Farber was working with color-field-influenced abstractions on paper, hung directly on the wall (with the exception of this framed untitled work). Soon after they moved to San Diego and joined the UCSD faculty in the early 1970s, Farber’s style evolved into the more figurative but equally individualistic manner he would pursue for the next 40 years.

“It’s very connected to his writing,” Patterson said. “He’d talk in film criticism about how an actor walked through a town, or how objects were used. So it was about acting and space and how the director would set up the scene.”

Many of the works from the mid-’70s onward include depictions of a range of objects (or sometimes the object itself), from (three) packages of Bugler tobacco to tiny figures and props that would be more commonly encountered in doll houses. Despite the number of elements vying for attention, the pieces never seem cluttered or chaotic.

“Manny, until the very end, was talking about leading you through a painting,” Quint said. “In the early (abstract) paintings, he’d glue paper together, and fold them, and have these different lines. He’s doing that with these later paintings, too. They are like abstract paintings, but with objects on top of them. Train track, film leader, ribbons, rebar, wood — he always had some kind of element that would lead you through.”

After retiring from UCSD and moving his studio to the house he and Patterson shared in Leucadia, those elements became more natural: leaves, vegetation, plants, flowers.

But Farber never retired from painting. He worked right up to the day of the opening of his 2008 exhibition with Quint, “Drawing Across Time, just two months before he died.

“He was very much like that,” Patterson said. “He just sort of was who he was.”