Viorel Farcas, sculptor, American born Romania 1950
Viorel Farcas was born in Transylvania.
He was trained at the School of Fine Arts, Bucharest, a student of Paul Vasilescu (1936-2012), whom Farcas much admired as sculptor and teacher. The most famous of the graduates of this school is Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957).
In 1984, he settled in Philadelphia where he lives still and where he has been able to continue his artistic work while gaining his living as an artisan restorer and builder.
Viorel Farcas’ work was widely exhibited in Romania between 1975 and 1984.
Since that time, his work has been included in many exhibitions in the United States and in Europe; and is in several private collections in the United States, Romania, Germany and Finland.
By choice, the artist no longer exhibits, except by exception. Nor does he sell his work.
He has chosen to focus on working, on creating.
He has made an exception in a loan of six pieces to The Woodmere Museum in Philadelphia. Five of the artist’s pieces are positioned on the green in front of the museum’s main entrance. A sixth overhangs catalogues and information opposite the Museum’s admission desk.
These works date to the last fifteen years.
The artist’s work (Autumn 2018) at the The Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia
The artist’s big hands
Bronze and marble, 2008-2014
An arm stretched out in greeting
The artist’s signature
Technique and Studio
Viorel Farcas will explain the technique he uses.
He will not, however, discuss his work: he will not discuss the type or dimension of the problem he was trying to resolve when he made a specific piece.
He will not discuss the ‘meaning’ of any work.
He will not place any work, or the totality of his work, in a biographical, political, historical or philosophical context.
His focus, he says, is to create and he is content for the interpretations brought to his work by those who experience it.
He is content for the intellectual, emotional and spiritual uses of his work by others for their own ends.
His studio is at the bottom of his garden. His garden, itself, an exhibition space for some of his sculptures.
Technique (a short version)
The artist makes many drawings as an inital step.
He reproduces these in small, three-dimensional clay forms followed by enlarged versions in clay to be cast next in plaster with the size conforming to the design of the finished form.
A rubber mould is made of that plaster cast by pouring molten rubber into that plaster mould.
The rubber hardens. (During the hardening process, the rubber drips out at the bottom of the casts leaving translucent golden orbs).
Into the hardened rubber mould, wax is poured. This, of course, takes on all the shapes and indentations and curves and angles of the artist’s design.
The mould now in wax is dipped in a refractory solution/ slurry/ ceramic shell.
The wax is melted.
Liquid bronze is poured into the empty space left by the melted wax.
The ceramic shell of a mould is broken open to give birth to the bronze sculpture.
The artist standing in his studio, explaining, October 2018
Plaster casts on a table, broken open and with their rubber linings exposed. On the back wall next to the air conditioner, a trumpet-shaped device used to pour into moulds
Three-dimensional clay representations of individual pieces
The shape of rubber drippings left in pails when the moulding in rubber is complete
The artist’s work in his gallery and home in Philadelphia
Viorel Farcas’ work is figurative and expressive.
The expressionism does not take us to the work of his compatriot, the immense sculptural innovator, Constantine Brancusi, whose work is also figurative, in part, and always expressive; but whose impulse was towards optimism and whose surfaces – bronze, marble, wood, stone – are as smooth as a baby’s skin:
Newborn (I), white marble, 1915. Constantine Brancusi, 1876-1957, Romanian. Philadelphia Art Museum
Viorel Farcas’ work takes us to that other modernist and great innovator, Alberto Giacommetti:
The City Square, 1948/49, bronze. Alberto Giacommeti, 1901-1966, Swiss. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Standing Woman, c. 1947, bronze. Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966, Swiss. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Alberto Giacommeti, 1964, gelatin silver print; Budd Studio, New York City, active mid-to-late 20th century. Philadelphia Museum of Art
Giacommeti spoke about his work.
He pared and pared his figures in order to peel away the flesh, to cut away the materiality, to fill the gap between what is seen and what is there. (“Art is the remnant of vision” he said).
Giacommeti promised that if you sat for him, you would become a stranger to him even if he knew you well. He worked with human models and they became unrecognizable under his knife.
He dis-incorporated people. He removed as much of their flesh as he could. He made them anorexic. His figures are soldered to the ground and there are no skyward leaps: he didn’t allow it.
He estranged them – artistically – from themselves, from himself and from the world.
His contexts were blasted heaths. People alone, moving forward alone; sitting alone.
Giacommeti was one of the princes of our darkness: of our psychological alienation in modern times.
The most frequent interpretation of his work is that he is reflecting the suffering of humans and the abandonment of humans by God.
The artist, of course, was an adult through two world wars.
This does not seem to me to be at all what Viorel Farcas’ work is about despite the superficial similarities between the form of their work.
Quite the opposite.
The artist’s big hands
There is a philosophy of life referred to as ‘tragic’.
The definition of tragic here is: neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic.
It is not about sadness but about the recognition that our lives, partly in our control and mostly not, are to be accepted as is. Realistically.
Which does not preclude us from fighting the good fight. On the contrary, it encourages us not to close down in anguish. Existence is believing.
What came to me when I was with these works is that the artist has achieved an expression of this tragic (not sad) reality:
His figures – walking, running, standing still, reaching, contemplating, dancing, kissing, mourning, carrying body parts with the greatest care – are sometimes on a ledge which is narrow – as our lives narrow sometimes – and sometimes on a stage as large as Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage….”.
As our lives sometimes are expansive.
(Until, at last, we die and our cells are recycled and incorporated once again into our enormous stage of a universe).
A photograph in the artist’s gallery of himself as a young man, sculpting.
Note his large hands.
Farcas’ figures suggest a large range of motions and emotions. To reflect the trajectory of any human life.
Detail of the artist in a photo as a young man sculpting
Not all catastrophic.
Not all joyous.
A range. A possibility. A probability. A certainty. The actual and real range of our lives.
Tragic (not sad).
The way it is.
How does this artist achieve so vast a range of expression? In bronze? The opposite of Giacometti’s impulse and achievement.
In the first instance, by choosing to work with figuration whose hold on our culture has been in decline since Jackson Pollock and the New York School.
The body is the seat and fullest expression of our existence: our personal kingdoms: the essential medium of our participation in life.
No body: no life, no Spirit, no soul, no inheritance of DNA.
(You would think this self-evident; but that would be to discount the large influence on those of us in the Christian tradition with its emphasis on the soul and with its promises of the resurrection of the dead and of life after death).
There is also the contrast between the heaviness of bronze and marble and the fragility of the hold of these forms on their earth.
Their demands are not onerous either on us or on their environment.
You could pass them by, waving a hand. Thread your way between them and not feel their weight pushing you down.
This is not so with Giacommeti‘s works: so dour, so poignantly solitary, so intense, so absorbtive of energy as black holes are of light, that you stop and look at them. You are stopped until you have fully looked at them.
Farcas’ figures: arched backs so that the sky can be seen in the curve; hands and legs extended to the fullest; hands with fingers splayed open so that air circulates and the bronze palms glint with invitation;
many figures are stepping off into the world; small leaps into an unknown. Some are in athletic pose ready for a high jump, a sprint, the throwing of a discus, the reach for a kiss;
bodies whose piece parts, even if reorganized and reordered are cradled with the greatest tenderness to restore to the body the possibility of a healing, a wholeness.
Fingers touching with tenderness only.
Giacometti abolished the volume of traditional sculpture. Farcas has followed suit.
But Farcas’ figures have restored a certain sense of that volume in two ways.
First with the height of his figures. Giacometti eschewed height. His forms were small and grew smaller over the course of his life.
Secondly, with the sensuality of Farcas’ figures’ gestures: expansive, sometimes circular gestures of their heads, torsos, arms, legs, hands, fingers.
Expanding with sinuous and vaulting longing towards their own coherent wholeness; towards others, towards the sky; the earth.
These figures are very heavy because they are of bronze and some incorporate marble plinths; and some sculptural wooden stands also.
And this is a contrast with the balletic lightness of their movements.
You don’t have the urge to touch a Giacometti, even if you could. Giacometti’s figures are to be contemplated. If you have the spiritual aptitude, you can accompany his figures, making sure to make no sound, demanding nothing.
You want to touch Farcas’ figures: move your fingers over their flat surfaces. Tickle your brain with the ridges and valleys and little mountain ranges left by the process of manufacture.
Some of these figures you want to cradle. In the curved embrace of others, you want to come to rest as in safe harbour.
On the flat surfaces of some sculptures, you would like to sit; and interlace your fingers with those of a big hand, glinting bronze!
To yet others, you would like to offer a gift, a consolation even. And accept a warning from yet others.
Here is a sculptor whose work expresses our limitations and our flexibility in the context of the human condition.
The human condition being a phrase to encompass our whole environment: natural and man-made, external to us and internal.
The artist’s signature
I appreciate also the artist’s decision to concentrate on his work. Not to spend the time doing the many things he would need to do to display it publicly and to sell it.
Even if I would like as many people as possible to be in the physical presence of this work, I have much admiration for the artist’s decision to focus on his work.
A view of part of the artist’s garden
The artist’s sculptures, preparatory drawings, moulds, completed drawings surround him in his home, studio, gallery and garden. As do the tools of his work.
The artist is in conversation all the time with his creations and their history.
And he has chosen to have them accompany him: to live and work with them in as unencumbered a manner as he can.
The artist’s large hands
The artist’s people, along with the record of their manufacture as it has evolved over time, is a record of what one man has done, against the odds, to struggle against the Fascisms – now rising again in our world – and against paralysis of body and narrowness of spirit.
To our accommodation to the vicissitudes of all of our lives. With tenacity, flexibility, stretching experimentation, and grace.
I cannot wish for other than that Viorel Farcas continue to spend the most time possible thinking, drawing, handling, shaping, creating forms of the layered and rich resonance of human memory, realistic suggestion, encouragement and imagination.
The words which the artist’s figures spoke to me as I left them were those of the British poet, W.H. Auden (1907-1973), an almost exact contemporary of Alberto Giacommeti.
These words bear the insights of all three artists (and of so many others):
“We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.
It is their to-morrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends: but existence is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.”
May 1939, originally published in Another Time (1940), excerpted from Collected Poems: W. H. Auden
The streetside front of the artist’s gallery, October 2018, Philadelphia