Joan Farrel

Ariel Gallery

The subject of Joan Farrell’s paintings and collages is the tacky, glittery surface of everyday life and the desire, fear, and commerce that lie beneath that surface. Speared Heart (all works 1988) demonstrates the opposition of the surface and depth literally: what appears to be a Valentine’s Day candy box becomes, on closer inspection, a heart-shaped funeral piece, with a piercing shaft that is more like a fishtailed worm than Cupid’s arrow. In other pieces, Farrell writes phrases such as “Safe Sex,” “Never Burn Original Mortgage Documents,” and “Fall’s Most Flattering Suits” using glitter or brightly colored markers on a background collage made up of glass shards, paper stars, and color photocopies of orchids and tropical fish; the pieces are often surrounded by a heavy papier-mâché frame.

Bad Credit outlines the title phrase in aqua glitter, against a collage of plastic roses and red candy boxes. The jagged frame is painted in red and pink vegetal motifs and filled with sharp yellow spikes. The combination of lushness and threat in this piece makes the dominant red of both picture and frame seem to refer as much to blood as passion. In Never Burn Original Mortgage Documents, the frame’s spikes are plastic drinking straws painted in the alternating black, red, and yellow bands of coral snakes.

Farrell’s juxtaposition of kitsch and death, sex and money, emphasizes the particular connection of seduction and romance to media-made reality. Many of her title phrases are taken from tabloid newspapers and most refer to the anxieties through which commercial interests manipulate our lives. Farrell’s collages are often like views into a nightmarish aquarium in which the brightly colored fish gaze hungrily at the viewer: in Is your rear end flat or out of shape?, for instance, an orange-and-blue fish with piranhalike teeth floats alongside the newspaper clipping announcing the central question. More often, however, her work resembles a shop window in which tropical flowers signify the conflation of sex and value, as in the piece that bears the phrase “Plus intimate details of their tender love affair” arranged in columns across a field of orchids. These works collapse all of the seduction of advertising and pulp media into a single lurid image. They spell out common phrases and questions in lush floral arrangements that seem more suited to a funeral than a wedding.

Glenn Harper