Remains (2015) utilizes a restored 1953 Chevrolet truck as an armature, with welded steel salvage.
21' L x 11' H x 9' D
Delivery time and cost determined at time of sale.
John Himmelfarb is known for his idiosyncratic, yet modernist-based work across many media. His work is 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 and abstraction, using strategies of concealment and revelation to create a sense of meaning that is both playful and 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 John’s fascination with language dates to his early Harvard days when he invented his own pictorial alphabet. In the 1990s he began two series representing his deepest exploration of language, his remarkably varied “Icons” and “Puzzles.” Utilizing hieroglyphs and characters derived from Neolithic and religious symbols, ancient earth drawings as well as his own invented languages of pictograms, John created compositions resembling sacred scrolls, tablets, fragments of temple facades and everyday documents. In 2003, John began translating “Icons” into three dimensions, fashioning small-scale cast bronze, iron and aluminum sculptures from his pictograms. “Trucks” (2004-) includes drawings, prints, and sculpture employing ceramics, wood, cast iron, steel and full-size drivable assemblages incorporating actual trucks, that critics have described collectively as whimsical, formally inventive.
“Why Apples?” Asked Adam — John Himmelfarb’s essay from the book Trucks (2014); reprinted in the catalog Trucks: Recent Work by John Himmelfarb — Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University (2014)
To my constant amazement, people of all backgrounds and dispositions ask me, “Why trucks?” (Dogs never ask me this, as they share my excitement.) Does anyone ask the artist of still lives, “Why apples?”
For centuries, still lifes were held as a lesser form of art because they seemed to lack reference to intellectual concepts concerning religion, history, and philosophy. Only recently has the still life been accepted as a possible approach to high art. Just in time for my trucks.
An excerpt from my sister Susan’s recent remarks (in a discussion about whether a mystery story can be literature) is germane here: “As a child of two abstract painters, I learned from the air I breathed that content only becomes art when it is given meaning by the form an artist gives it, and that this is as true for literature and music as it is for visual arts.”
My primary driver as a visual artist is to create form that is exciting visually and that suggests content ripe for interpretation through association, metaphor, and implication. I am not concerned with illustrating what we see.
While I played with toy trucks as a child, and included some in childhood drawings, trucks were not major players in my childhood art. Growing up in the woods of DuPage County, west of Chicago, I did hear, more than a mile away and late at night, the sounds of the big rigs headed for the city with cattle and other products from the west. Once in a while, having trouble getting to sleep, I would slip out of the house and walk the distance to Alternate U.S. Highway 30 so that I could see them speeding east as well as hear them up close. The romance of American agriculture, commerce, and industry was contained in these visions.
Only when I became a professional artist did trucks appear as a recurring motif in my work. At the time, uncertain as to whether I could earn enough money to support myself, my plan B was to become a big rig driver. I invented the name “Darryl Licht Transport,” an imaginary cartage firm. “Transport” reflected my desire to transport people through my art, which would remain my primary occupation. “Darryl Licht” referred, perhaps, to the condition of my 1870s Chicago studio. Stationery from this enterprise is filed away somewhere.
The image of a truck appeared from time to time as my oeuvre evolved, much as it had in my father’s paintings and drawings. Our mutual interest seemed to be in the visual stimulation of the colors, shapes, textures, and other elements of visual language to be found in the maw of a garbage truck, the back of a livestock hauler, and countless other complex specimens of the cartage world.
Only much later did I consider the cultural connotations, the significance of what trucks mean to us subconsciously. In the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, I executed a series of paintings called Inland Romance. Chiefly abstracted from the urban landscape of the Midwest, forms generated into cranes, bridges, tracks, roadways and maps, and all manner of urban ironworks, these paintings had layers of network patterns, each extending over the entire canvas.
In 2003, on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw a painting I’d never seen by Dubuffet, one of the artists who had been most stimulating to me over the years. I do not recall its subject, but it had a soft abstract background of muted color and amorphous shapes on which was superimposed a line drawing in very liquid black paint. The graphic impact was strong. I wanted to make a painting like that!
I immediately went back to my studio, mixed up some blues and greens (as I recalled them in the Dubuffet), and I laid down a patchwork of color swatches of no particular distinction. Over that I began to draw with a liquid black paint, using a thinner brush suitable for drawing.
As usual, I had no particular image in mind. I began on the right side with my industrial forms. The result looked like a crane, and I stopped far short of covering the entire plane with this pattern. It wasn’t enough, so I recommenced drawing beneath the boom of the crane. The truck that emerged delighted as much as surprised me. I felt an immediate visceral connection.
Having experienced a lifetime of art (literature, visual art, music, and theater), I have a great deal of confidence in my ability to sense when a work has resonance on many levels, and this painting, which I titled Inland Romance: Bypass, did. I felt compelled to try creating something similar again and, shortly thereafter painted Avion, a painting whose title may have been inspired by Magritte’s This is Not a Pipe. Not only does the word avion not mean “truck,” the painting is a representation of something more than a truck.
The truck works then exploded rapidly in numbers and materials as I followed this still-unexamined “hook.” To me, the resonance was so clear as to need no examination. However, as these works gained increasing exposure, I was asked repeatedly to answer the question: “Why trucks?”
I explored this question from many points of view, and I found the exploration itself a satisfying endeavor, though the validity of an answer always fell short of any mathematical certainty. The exercise was similar to those I had gone through with other bodies of work that continued over a long period of time. It gave me the same kind of satisfaction I experience in thinking about why a particular novel strikes me as of great moment.
While I have talked to many individuals about these trucks and possible interpretations, I now realize that for me to tell other viewers how to interpret or understand these works is to deprive them of the personal discovery that comes from looking at art.
Now I turn the “Why trucks?” question around. I ask those who query me about my choice of subject matter, “What do you think about when you see these works?” Invariably, I hear, often slowly at first, a series of references both personal and and universal to direct experiences, to literature, music, and to the work of other visual artists.
It is clear to me that I don’t need to tell anyone anything about these pieces. The best thing I can do is to give them permission to answer their own questions. I encourage people to explore my use of visual language and the resulting form. This is where they will find answers. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to answer for ourselves the questions we have about the meaning of anything, even apples and trucks.