Farber on Farber: in his more than 50 years as a film critic and painter, Manny Farber has brought an essentially autobiographical sensibility to bear on a wide range of visual idioms, from process-driven abstractions to rebuslike figurative studies. Here, he tells the story straight
Art in America, Oct, 2004 by Leah Ollman
Born in Douglas, Ariz., in 1917, Manny Farber has had long, prominent careers as both a painter and a film critic. He briefly attended the University of California, Berkeley, playing football there, then transferred to Stanford University, where he took his first drawing class. He also attended, for short spells, the California School of Fine Arts and the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, both in San Francisco.
In the late 1930s, he began to learn the trades of carpentry and construction. In 1939, he moved to Washington, D.C., with his first wife, Janet Terrace, and began making a living in those fields, as well as teaching painting. They moved to New York in 1942, where Farber wrote art and then film criticism for the New Republic. He left the magazine in the late '40s and for the next several decades wrote about art, jazz and film for a wide range of publications, including Time (1949), the Nation (1949-54), the New Leader (1957-59), Cavalier (1966) and Artforum (1967-71). During these same years, he continued, to work in construction and develop as a painter. Farber was divorced from Terrace in the mid-'40s and married Marsha Picker in 1950. Their daughter, Amanda, was born in 1957, the same year that Farber had his first one-person exhibition, at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York.
Farber and Picker divorced in the mid-'60s. In 1966 he met the artist Patricia Patterson, whom he later married and has collaborated with on both critical writings and paintings. In the late 1960s, he and Patterson started to make large, abstract paintings on collaged paper. Notched, rounded, cut into fan or lozenge shapes, and sometimes folded over a dowel, these paintings presented richly textured planes of color--blood, rust, lipstick and fog. The tight geometry of the format reined in the organic flux of the scraped, splattered and layered surface. In 1970, Farber accepted a teaching position at the University of California, San Diego, and the couple moved to southern California, where they still live. Over the subsequent years, he contributed occasional pieces to Film Comment and, with Patterson, City Magazine, but with the move to the West Coast came a concentration of Farber's energies on painting and exhibiting. A collection of his critical writings, Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, was published in 1971 and reprinted in an expanded edition in 1998. Pauline Kael called it "a triumph of personality."