Perspectives on Bill Farmer's WorkI've been going to the Antiquarium for the past 12 years to see what Bill Farmer's been up to in his studio. Sometimes I was overwhelmed at what I saw, other times, confused or uncertain, but I was never bored. Regardless, I'm not an art critic, nor am I qualified to comment on someone's life's work. Instead, four local artists familiar with Farmer's work offer their perspective on his art.
Sculptor, professor of art at Bellevue University, Old Market studio
His work is always passionate. He's done religious, politically motivated work, and it all has that intensity that comes from self-belief. He's always seemed unconcerned with a lot of critical and formal questions that most artists ask themselves.
Every sculptor in town admires Bill and his art. There's an intimate nature about his work. It's a part of Bill, and I don't think I've ever heard other artists question whether it was good or not. There's a quality about it that makes it accepted, whether or not it was anything we would do ourselves.
I'm 50 and been doing this since I was 20, and Bill has been doing it twice as long as I have. That persistence to be an artist -- to be involved in some visionary way -- is such an ingrained part of his life. In good times and bad times, it's always been necessary for him to work and he's always done it well -- that's an admirable quality.
Omaha artist, his work has been shown throughout the U.S and abroad
I've known Bill back before there was an Old Market, at least 30 years, starting in the '60s. Bill and Margie are both very involved with the peace movement and various other humanitarian activities. This involvement has infused Bill's work with a spiritual quality.
I don't know if you can peg his style. What's unique is that even though Bill uses a great variety of media -- pen and ink, latex, watercolor, bronze, anything he gets his hands on -- he maintains his focus on the human figure and uses his art as a device to comment on the big themes: war and peace.
It's abstract, but the figure is always recognizable, and with Bill, there's always a different take. It's more emotional than representational.
Nationally known Omaha artist
I think he's one of the major artists in Nebraska and has been terribly under-rated. His art is mainly figurative, expressionist and very spiritual. He studied with Max Beckmann, an expressionist who represents an important period in art history in the '30s and '40s. Bill's thrown his whole self into his work; it's a product of a lot of pain in his life.
His work has always been admired, but I don't think he's received the acclaim he deserves. Certainly the museums here have ignored everyone locally. The worst place to be an artist is Nebraska, because the only work that gets much attention by public institutions is very derivative of national trends. If you don't push your work politically, you don't get anywhere. That's been true for a long time, it was true at Joslyn then and now. They're trying to teach people what 20th century contemporary art is supposed to be, and they tend to follow the party line. Bill's work could never be that confined.
Artist, instructor at Creighton Prep
He was -- and still is -- probably one of the more renowned artists in this area, but especially in the '60s and '70s, when people were doing things with art that hadn't been done before. Bill was among those leading the charge.
I would describe his work as expressionistic, keeping to a figurative content. He was doing a type of art that came to be known as neo-expressionism, with lots of texture, lines and expression in his work, all with an underlying figurative form. He was doing this before it became popular in New York.
He's a very spiritual person with a political flare. He's always been on the edge. For this part of the country, he's way ahead of his time. I don't think he's received the recognition he deserves. But if you're going to live in Omaha or Toledo or Kansas City, you're going to trade the opportunity for gaining sufficient money and national recognition for a better quality of life. Throughout his career, he has been true to himself and has never worried about commercial and material gain.
(back to Bill Farmer profile)
Originally printed in The Reader September 24, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.