A New Patent Issued For An Art Form: The Artist/Inventor Turns His Back On A $2 Billion Art Factory
by Michael Kaufman
In preparation for my annual pilgrimage to Basel, I have focused specifically on The Solo Project, which is one of many satellite fairs orbiting together with Art Basel in Switzerland. The Basel brand has metastasized to the U.S. and recently Hong-Kong, bringing with it a variety of wannabes such as the Solo Project. The peripheral fairs around Art Basel are for the galleries and artists who cannot penetrate the rarified atmosphere of the true Art Basel.
My research into artist Simon Raab’s work began innocently with the Solo Project, but intensified when preliminary background information revealed that Raab had been recently granted one of the few patents ever issued for an art form. Patent number 8,420,205 was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a new art medium trademarked as Parleau. Simon Raab the artist, scientist and inventor has worked for more than three decades under the pseudonym FARO. An artist since 1968 and artistic “director” for his art factory since 1980, Raab has spent a lifetime exploring the boundary of 3D reality and 3D virtuality (his term). I discovered Raab’s recent fascination with hand grenades on The Solo Project’s Facebook page. Raab’s Grenades were destined to explode much of what I thought I knew about the “art market” just as they symbolized Raab’s recent break with the art factory paradigm.
Basel advertises itself as rooted in the principle that “galleries play an essential role in the development and promotion of visual arts.” The Baselite council of bishops is well funded by these elite 300 or more galleries. Nevertheless, the center of gravity of the art world is migrating and dissipating like Himalayan glaciers. A shift has occurred from the auction houses to the über dealers like Larry Gagosian and now art fairs. This shift in power center is further accelerated because of the Internet where the power to control markets can evaporate like a morning fog. Raab’s art illustrates that significant art markets also exist separate from what we know as the conventional art market.
Raab explained that FARO, his chosen Nom de pinceau is derived from the Latin root for lighthouse or beacon of light. His fascination with light extends back many years and his artistic and commercial odyssey appears to overwhelm the so-called “mega success” of Hirst and Koons. If we measure an artist by the volume of their work, the variety of their media, the popularity of their work, the dollar volume of their sales, and the substance and consistency of their artistic philosophy, then Raab may be one of the more successful and secretive artists in the history of art.
Raab was born in Toulouse, France in 1952. He was raised in Canada and immigrated to the U.S. in 1990. Raab comes from a heritage of creativity and art. Raab’s mother, Jeannine, lives in Toronto and is a prolific landscape artist, who presaged Raab’s secretive nature by quietly producing hundreds of colorful and mystical works depicting her visions of the Canadian outdoors. She was an acquaintance of Varley from Canada’s Group of Seven and shared their fascination for the local landscape. Raab’s deceased uncle, Ernest Raab was a famous sculptor of Jewish art and created magnificent bronze sculptures and glass alters for famous synagogues and memorial sites. Ernest Raab summarized his Holocaust survival philosophies in his book Violin of Stone. Raab’s aunts were successful fashion designers and Raab’s father Alexandre, was a rose hybridizer who sought the perfect beauty in a genetically manipulated natural art form and was devout student of human history and author of the The Manifesto of Entrepreneurial Democracies. It is easy to recognize Simon Raab’s componentry in this gaggle of defiant survivors, artists and philosophers.
Raab studied Physics and Engineering at Waterloo, Cornell and McGill Universities, and learned the trades of metalworking, glass blowing, electronics, surface physics, laser physics, and electromechanical design. The glass blowing was used to produce figurative forms of art as well as ultrahigh vacuum chambers. Raab built a Field Emission Electron Microscope completely out of glass and one dark night surrounded by the blue coronal discharge of 20,000 volts and the fog of liquid nitrogen achieved a magnification capable of imaging single platinum atoms. The picture of these atoms in their exquisite orderly crystalline repetition formed Raab’s view of life and his personal power to see it. In his Ph.D research, Raab introduced a unique method for adhering artificial metal joints to the body using a surface coating preparation of metal prosthetic implants. The coating knowledge developed over 30 years ago was the progenitor of Raab’s newly patented art medium, Parleau.
This is the age of art factories, a phenomenon found in the studios of Caravaggio, popularized in the last century by Warhol and now exemplified by the successes of Jeff Koons and his factory of 100 assistants and Damien Hirst and his dot making assembly lines. In comparison, Raab, the stealth artist has 5 factories in 3 continents with 1,000 artists and craftsmen who under his direction produce exquisitely precise objets d’arts.
It took some time to examine Raab’s reasons for “coming out” with Parleau in 2006 and therein resides the semiotic significance of Raab’s Grenades. Raab began his clandestine effort to succeed as an artist in the context of the publicity surrounding Andy Warhol’s re-invention of the studio or factory art. Raab’s strategy was formulated in the public conflicts that Warhol engendered. Perhaps it was Raab’s early disdain for the cult figure or simply as Raab noted “Warhol’s individual fame got him a bullet from a feminist colleague which almost killed him. What does that say about fame or feminists?”
Perhaps this is the reason Raab worked behind the name FARO which was destined to become what is likely the most successful art collective (Raab’s term) in the history of art. The similarities between Raab and Warhol begin in their common Austro-Hungarian origins. Raab was fascinated by Warhol’s ‘business artist’ reputation. Like Cubism, which began its life as a criticism only to become a famous stylistic trademark, the description of Warhol as a business artist has now been fully glorified in the well-known business and factory art successes of Hirst, Koons and Murakami among others. Formerly obscure, Raab now has a website, and can be seen on social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest.
Here’s what Raab has to say about leaving his art factory:
“I have come to a late-in-life epiphany. . .I now believe factory art is a lie. I have meticulously managed beautiful and enormously complex pieces of art with the help of many talented technicians, but I never really touched those pieces of art. I realize that my original factory artworks are not art. Koons’ balloon dogs are not art, Hirst’s dot paintings are not art, and Murakami’s steel Pokémon atrocities are not art. My grenades are meant to explode this delusional dollar-awestruck-industrial convention we find ourselves in. Art is made by the hand of the artist, every stroke every chisel mark must belong to the artist. I created “Andy Boom”, a Parleau of Andy Warhol holding a grenade, his sad expression says: “I know I started something awful and I am sorry and with this grenade I will perform Seppuku.”
Raab decided to “come out” as an individual artist (sans factory) in Mannheim, Germany under the enthusiastic guidance of the Galerie Peter Zimmermann. Not coincidently, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler had started the careers of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the same city. Peter Zimmermann noted that Raab’s explosive success with Parleau has catapulted his works in 5 years to Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sale in London in 2012.
What came before Parleau you might ask and what creations could result in over US$ 2 billion in sales over 30 years and still remain completely under the critical and financial radar of the conventional art market? The answer is actually sculptural constructions of mesmerizing complexity and piercingly simple vision. The FaroBrazos and FaroEscaner series create a real and spiritual bridge between our increasingly virtual world and our 3D reality. Raab’s artistic philosophy centers on light and its role in communicating between virtuality or imagination and reality. Raab introduced a limited series of delicate electromechanical kinematic sculptures, which, were designed to be used to “see”. The technology invisibly and subtly communicated 3-dimensionality from the imagination to reality.
Raab says, “Light is the medium and the messenger” as he paraphrases a well-known quote by Marshall McLuhan, the famous fellow Canadian and philosopher. Parleau as a medium is simple in comparison to Raab’s past kinematic sculptures. Multiple layers of translucent polymers are applied to stainless steel and aluminum and then sculpted into abstract reliefs. Raab manipulates ambient light and adds fractured imagery through the infinite lenses of deformed metals and polymers to demonstrate the boundary between the virtual and the real. Most importantly he emphasizes, his Parleau art is his alone, not from the hands of 1,000 technicians in his art factory.
Raab understands the irony of his story in comparison for example to that of “business artist” Jeff Koons who went from Wall Street to factory art, while Raab went from factory art to Wall Street. Raab brought his FARO art collective public in 1998 and sold portions of his studio directly to Wall Street. Raab now owns less than 1% of this art collective enterprise, and summarizes his recent escape from factory art this way:
“My move from corporate powered factory art production to individual art production is a personal statement about the importance of art to transform the human experience. Art must not be fodder for the industrial machine. Andy Warhol took us into the artistic dark ages. I am now a re-renaissance artist. Parleau is all new, like a morning after a long night. Factory art is just that, soulless, flawless, lacking in emotion and character, quality controlled, produced in quantity, branded but really just plain fake art-shit. I applied for a patent on Parleau to demonstrate the absurdity of industrialized factory art. Parleau is personal not industrial. I am a rehabilitated factory artist and I have become radicalized. I want to throw a grenade into every art factory, blow up all the balloon dogs, smear the dots and melt the Pokémon.”