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A studio visit with artist and upcycler Robert Farmer

Robert Farmer

I’m watching the Simpsons on an overcast March afternoon before I go to see Robert Farmer in his studio. It seems fitting: with his pop-culture obsessions, penchant for the sacrilege, and 80’s inspired adolescent colour schemes, Rob seems like the kind of adult Bart Simpson would look up to.

I could say a lot about his background, but what I’ll say first is: Rob is a cool guy. He’s who you’d meet at a bar and have a totally unanticipated but welcome conversation about why the acid wash trend should’ve died 20 years ago. He has an infectious smile and a raucous laugh; it would be hard not to like him. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rob reminds me a lot of the guys I grew up with in my own rural town. We’re living the same neighbohrhood, and he’s not afraid to tell me where the good coffee is, and where to never go. Mercury Espresso is a local favourite. Rob hosted a Hot Dog show inside for patrons and neighbours.

Robert Farmer Multiples

Robert is a self-made artist, with a few foundation courses from Emily Carr and Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, British Columbia. He used to work in computer illustration, but quit soon after he’d started. He tells me he was working too much and enjoying none of it. I ask him if he’d ever go back to it: “Absolutely not. I’d say: ‘Fuck you, there’s nothing you can pay me’.”

As I take in the space, I’m greeted by a pepto-bismol, Molly Ringwald Pretty in Pink corridor. He later tells me, “Pink is my favorite color. So I thought, why not paint the wall?” Robert Farmer is a house-painter by day, and canvas-painter by night. It’s pretty easy to see the connections between his two lines of work. There’s a perfect palette match between sakura blossoms, hearts and the Laura Ingalls Wilder style dress on an inquisitive looking kitten in his piece Lucky Charms and the wall. Rob tells me; “Sugar is the first drug we’re exposed to,” and I can’t argue with him.

Upcycling plays a major role in a Robert Farmer artwork. As I’m toured around the studio, I’m shocked by how many items Rob has managed to recycle, sometimes even twice. Even his drafting table is a curbside upcycle. Sanding pads from his painting jobs have been his latest effort, since he lives in an abundance of them. Little multiples sit on his wall, featuring middle America idols such as Beavis and Butthead, the Kool-Aid man, Hamburger Helper and the signature hotdog.

Value village canvases are also a favorite, with an otherworldly hotdog foregrounded on a J.M.W. Turner style landscape adorning one of his walls.

Collage using old scraps of comics, roadmaps, and whatever else Rob can get his hands on figure prominently in a portrait of Star Wars’ R2D2. Upcycling art came to Rob in the early stages of the pandemic, and has impacted his process ever since. Stores were closed, and Rob had to use what was immediately on hand. A lot of the time, this meant work materials, or just plain old recycling. He focussed on material exploration, using destroyed art books, comic books and acrylic transfers to get the effect. Rob tells me some of his experiments were just too weird to show. Coming from a man who paints bunny orgies, I had to take his word for it.

I ask Rob about his ideal day. He tells me, interspersed through other conversations:

Waking up to a warm summer day, I’m probably wearing shorts from my night out at the bar yesterday. I’m taking my bike and a beer to Cherry Beach. And I’m going dancing where I’m going to meet interesting people. I like music I can dance to.

I leave with a hotdog multiple in hand. Coincidentally, Rob catches me not two days later eating a hotdog on my work lunch. There’s something poetic about full circle endings.