Houston-based artist Van McFarland III died unexpectedly from a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 26, a day after celebrating Christmas with his family. He was 48 years old.
Friends and loved ones will honor his life and his bold, vibrant art in a reception on Friday, 4 to 6 p.m., at Winter Street Studios.
The Austin-born painter was one of the first to move into Winter Street Studios, today a hub for local artists to create, display and sell their work. McFarland was best known for large canvases that burst with joyful hues, mostly an arrangement of intense geometric shapes, a melange of Fauvist flair with Abstract Expressionist tendencies.
"Every time I look at one of his paintings, it makes me happy."
Jenna Jackson, founder and president of PR Productions, fell in love with McFarland's style, becoming one of his biggest collectors over 13 years. The two often joked that her home had become his personal gallery that featured more than 20 of his paintings. Jackson, McFarland and his wife of 13 years, Dawn, had spent Christmas Eve together.
"His work is very much about life, his colors are life affirming," Jackson says. "Every time I look at one of his paintings, it makes me happy. Even one piece he did after friends of him died in a plane crash was a celebration of life."
Jackson describes McFarland as accepting, gentle, sweet and generous, always listening and always in good spirits. In his studio, quotes on his bulletin board and over the door frame that read "No man was ever great by imitation" and "Having fun is in my blood" attest to his quest for originality while never taking himself too seriously. McFarland was the kind of free spirit who would hide self portraits within his works. It was up to the viewer to find them.
"He would show up at my home and office out-of-the-blue, for my birthday or for whatever reason, with a new painting," Jackson adds. "He would never turn down a request to do something for charity."
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison acquired a number of McFarland's paintings to make the courtroom, jury room and offices less intimating to visitors.
In 2009, McFarland collaborated with Child Advocates to craft a bright acrylic-on-canvas inspired by individual paintings created by children who were victims of abuse or neglect. He also donated work and painted live for events that benefited Candlelighters, Canines for Cops and Boys and Girls Harbor, among others.
McFarland dedicated 20 years of his life to his art. He participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions at Houston City Hall, Archway Gallery, Darke Gallery, Elder Street Gallery, Art Car Museum, M Squared Gallery, Bank of America Center and as part of Houston Press Artopia at Winter Street Studios. He created a whimsical canvas-wrapped beverage cooler for Red Bull's Canvas Cooler Project in August.
His aesthetic caught the eye of U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison, who acquired a number of McFarland's paintings to decorate the courtroom, jury room, offices and hallways to make the space less intimidating to visitors.
McFarland attended Memorial High School and studied at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. Sandra Bell, a high school friend, commented on McFarland's obituary that she would often join him at his workstation "because he had such great ideas and I loved to see his work." Fellow artist Camille Pendleton remembers McFarland as kind, helpful and genuine.
In keeping with McFarland penchant for cats, including some 15 strays he took care of and two, Dizzy and George, that he and his wife adopted, the family requests that those wishing to make donations in his name do so directly to the Houston SPCA.