Artist Michelle Farro Finds Gouache Is Right Medium for Expression

Aug 22, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Michelle Farro with her one-of-a-kind wood block prints ‘Cat Lady.’

Designer’s gouache is a type of water media that is not as popular with artists as watercolor because of its opaque and flat textural properties. It’s a thick, refined paint that takes some practice to handle so that it doesn’t streak, flake or stain. For colorist Michelle Farro, its ability to capture light in the subtlest of shades is what drew her to the medium. Her one-woman show “Michelle Farro: New Works on Paper” at the m.t. burton gallery showcases paintings and wood block prints of her gentle expressionism that channels the best of Matisse.

“For the last couple of years, I have been unknowingly influenced by him,” said Farro, explaining that she hasn’t intentionally tried to emulate this early 20th-century master but consistently hears the reference from artist friends.

“I’m an observational painter – I paint what I see, figurative, landscapes and still life.”

This is Farro’s first show in New Jersey since relocating to Whiting from Laguna Beach, Calif., where she attended Laguna College of Art and Design. She also spent a year at the Atelier Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. Both schools teach classical drawing and painting traditions centered on beauty, humanity and realism. Though grounded in these traditions, Farro likes to “leave room for interpretation.”

“White Flowers in Red Vase” is the painting that most reflects the influence of Matisse. “I deconstruct the image and keep testing the color until I get what works. The surface has energy; it feels ‘right.’

“The trick about gouache is it looks light when you paint it, but it dries a darker color. You have to learn what your pigments do in relation to each other.”

One of her favorite paintings is of a textile, “Aunt Jennie’s Nightgown,” that is a familiar remembrance of both her aunt and her mother because her mother also wore it. “It’s faded and really beautiful. Some of my work is autobiographical; I think it has to be if you are doing a visual diary of your surroundings.”

“Still life with Mother Mary and Urn” is of her mother’s dresser and the tchotchkes thereon.

Farro learned realism at her schools but is not a fan of photographic or extreme representation. “The Florence Atelier is a regimented school and was good experience, but I don’t want to paint that way,” she said. “I think I have an intuitive sense of color and color relationships, but my drawing I have to work for. It’s not as easy.”

Farro is continually working wherever she goes. “Nature is the best teacher. I put my observations and landscape studies into a sketch book.

“I think the conversation we all should have is what is image-making in our time? I find I am more interested in playfulness, having an element of that in my work.”

Besides the gouache paintings, Farro displays her wood block prints. She cuts her blocks from poplar or pine blocks she buys at a hardware store rather than use the commercial linoleum blocks that have a smooth surface. “I think it gives more life when the ink is transferred to the paper from the texture in the wood.”

Her “Cat Lady” wood block prints are one-of-a-kind color combinations. “I meditate on the colors and mix them until I get what I’ve seen in my mind.”

Her most ambitious wood block prints are those she made for the Centennial of the Laguna Art Museum and are also available in the museum’s fine art shop. “Diver’s Cove is where I used to go diving and snorkeling, and it’s known for its natural beauty. I used five different blocks (each block is a color) and had to register multiple blocks so the layering of color was more complex.

“I think it’s representational of a California sunset and a night along the coast.”

To see Farro’s refreshing paintings and woodblock prints and to meet the artist, stop at the m.t. burton gallery between 1 and 4 p.m. on Aug. 25. Ceramist Eve Behar will also be demonstrating her craft in the gallery between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The m.t. burton gallery is located at 1819 Long Beach Boulevard in Surf City.

— Pat Johnson

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