Abdi Farah aspires to own a New York City gallery. But during a recent phone interview, the artist said he enjoys living in his mom's Dover basement for the time being.
"I get rides and home-cooked meals," Farah said with a laugh. The recent University of Pennsylvania grad earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts and religious studies and won a Scholastics Art and Writing Gold Portfolio award, but doesn't own a car. He doesn't mind, though, since he said he enjoys Central Pennsylvania sights on his bike.
"I love seeing big industrial objects and factories," he said. "(York County) is really a kind of a nice place for an artist to be."
But Farah might be out of the basement before long since he was one of 14 artists chosen to compete on the new Bravo reality series "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," which premiered June 2010.
Farah, who paints, sculpts, illustrates and shoots videos, took some time out from working on new designs to talk about his part-time job, taste in music and what he learned from being a reality TV contestant.
What brought you to Dover? I grew up in Owings Mills, Md. My mom moved here about three years ago . . . in July 2007. I was in college, and I helped her move in. Then, when I graduated from college, I moved back here with her. She has a nice basement and garage and it wouldn't be feasible for me to live in Philadelphia right now. The garage is the wood shop. I have a table saw and all the dirty, messy, dangerous stuff in the garage. More of my painting stuff is in the basement. I'm really enjoying my time (in there) now. During the winter, I was freezing.
What is a typical day in the studio involve? I'm trying to give myself a set routine. I work at Lowe's in (West Manchester Township) in the painting department. That job has taught me a lot about responsibility and keeping a set schedule. I try to take that to my studio schedule. I make set work hours and set breaks. It has helped my productivity. People think that art is free-flowing, free-thinking . . . kind of job.
What helps you get into the creative mood? I listen to a lot of music. I usually start out with stuff that's high energy, something I can dance to (including) techno and hip-hop like Justice and Daft Punk. Other times, I put on a little classical . . . or podcasts (including) NPR's "This American Life" and the "White Horse Inn," where pastors and theologians talk about the Bible. I like (to listen to) Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Ray Charles and people like Michael Jackson.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue an art career? I've always been really artistic. I've always drawn a lot, but it was probably around 10th grade that I began to think of myself as an artist. I went to this amazing place called the George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology in Towson, Md. I saw art as my recreation time during the day. I won an NAACP competition (and) went to Miami (to accept the award). I was perplexed that I won. I sat in the pool later that night thinking that I could make (art) a career.
Why did you decide to audition for "Work of Art?" When I heard about it, I immediately was extremely excited. I've ben a fan of more serious documentary-style reality shows and was jealous that there wasn't one diving into the arts. Last summer, some of my friends at the (University of Pennsylvania) got an e-mail from the chair of fine arts department. I thought, "this is so cool. I have to do this." The show in itself was an amazing opportunity to promote the art world. It's kind of a mystery world that people don't care too much about or don't know too much about, as opposed to cinema or music . . . that are so popular. Art is no less interesting and exciting and fun.
How did you react when you found out you landed a spot on "Work of Art?" I just wanted to start the process. I had no idea I would get on the show. I'm pretty sure when I found out I was on the show, I ran around my house crazily jumping up and down. I just went berserk after I got off the phone.
Did being on the show expand your understanding of art? The whole process, it almost felt like art camp. It's crazy that what we did is going to be on TV. I feel like this entire experience really taught me so much about being an artists in so many ways. I'm a big fan of reality TV. It's better than fiction. When I was on the show, I realized how pure it was -- the producers relied on us. The producers of this show are also the produces of "Top Chef" and "Project Runway." I really love how those shows really give you this . . . pure look at the craft. I love listening to people talk about and do stuff that they're really good at . . . even though I have absolutely no idea what they are taking about. You always think you can do something until you're thrown into it. I can cook scrambled eggs. (Laughs) ("Work of Art") was more than (I) bargained for, but I feel like it was a challenge and helped me improve as an artist and as a person.
What artists inspire you? I'm a huge fan of art, and I'll be inspired more by particular pieces. When I got serious about art . . . I was really kind of obsessed with this artist named John Singer Sargent. There is just so much life in every single piece. I'm also a huge fan of (Vincent) van Gogh. I now love Jackson Pollock. Abstract artists completely change the way we look at art. I'm a big art history geek. I also watch a lot of movies. I love really epic filmmaking like "Star Wars" and "The Matrix." There is some real beauty to the over-the-top science-fiction movies.
Do you have any special plans for the premiere? I feel like I'm more excited to see this show more than anyone in the world is. I think I just got cable, so I'm glad I can watch. (Laughs) Me and my mom might make some tacos. Even before I knew I made it, I thought, "I'm going to be watching this religiously." I think it's going to completely debunk everyone's misconceptions about the art world. People think that it's this lofty thing that only a few people can understand, but all of us know about art. (The show will) completely destroy the misconception about artists' lifestyles. There are a lot of stereotypes. It's not easier. It's not harder. It's just another equally cool way to live.
Where do you think you'll be in a year? I'm waiting to see what happens from the show. Maybe, I can get an audience for my work and start a really productive art career. I would love to move back into a large, metropolitan area . . . to be more connected to art world. I would love to . . . have shows and . . . see other people's shows and do all that good stuff.
What: "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist"
Details: Fourteen artists will compete on the new reality show. Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Jerry Saltz, Bill Powers and China Chow will judge the competition, and former chairman of Sotheby's Europe Simon de Pury will serve as a mentor. The winner gets to exhibit his or her work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and receives $100,000. For details, visit www.bravotv.com/work-of-art.
For details about "Work of Art" contestant and Dover resident Abdi Farah and to look at his work, visit www.abdiart.com.