Patrick Farrell was self-taught Milwaukee artist
By Jesse Garza of the Journal Sentinel Updated March 12, 2016
One might easily imagine the life of Wisconsin artist Patrick Farrell as just an illusion.
How else could it be that a boy raised in a trailer park — who never went beyond the eighth grade in school — could grow into a renowned painter, breathing three-dimensional life into oil and canvas with a skill that was totally self-taught?
"He was a remarkable self-made man against all odds," artist and longtime friend Judy Ramazzini said of Farrell, who cultivated his artist's eye through movie house imagery and department store displays while playing hooky on the streets of downtown Milwaukee. "By his spirit of adventure he created an incredible life for himself."
A tribute will take place Sunday for Farrell, who died Feb. 15 in Milwaukee of congestive heart failure at age 75.
"Patrick Farrell is a master of illusion, a super-realist whose trompe l'oeil style seems to deny the obvious fact that his works are 'really' spots of paint on canvas," Welch D. Everman once wrote for New Art Examiner.
Farrell was born March 14, 1940, in Hardwood, Mich., the youngest of four children born to Carmen and Ira Farrell.
The family moved to Cudahy, where chronic illness kept his mother hospitalized for years. Farrell's father, worried about her health and the family's finances, hardly had time to keep a watchful eye on his son, Farrell told the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1977.
Troubled by problems at home, Farrell stopped going to school at age 14.
"Lots of days I'd go to the Boston Store and just ride the elevators up and down all day," Farrell told the newspaper.
He also spent a lot of time in movie theaters, said Christopher Baugniet, who co-founded the RiverEdge Galleries in Mishicot with Farrell in 1984.
"He became so obsessed with the ladies of the silver screen it (later) inspired a whole series of his paintings," Baugniet said.
Farrell worked as a busboy and an errand boy for a record distribution firm and got his own apartment at 17.
Then — without ever taking an art class — he started painting landscapes and still lifes to cover the walls.
"After having lived most of my life in a one-bedroom house trailer, with the john and shower in a public building in the trailer park, I was proud of having my own place," Farrell told the Sentinel.
After stumbling upon an art show at a shopping center and realizing his work was comparable, Farrell decided to display some of his paintings and woodcuts in an art fair at Capitol Court.
"I sold some of the woodcuts," Farrell later told the Sentinel, "but what made me feel even better was that people were actually relating to something I had created.
"Maybe for the first time, I felt that I had some worth as a person."
Soon he was making a living selling his creations to collectors around the country, gaining critical recognition and evolving as an artist.
"For someone who was self-taught, he was a very good business person," Baugniet said. "Not only did he paint pictures, he had to market them."
In the mid-1970s, Farrell traveled to Europe, where he learned to infuse paintings with life by observing life directly.
"That's the way it is for an unschooled painter. ...It sometimes takes years to discover something you could have found out in art school," Farrell said in the Sentinel interview.
Farrell's work — which included his signature subjects, bowls of fruit, vases of flowers and butterflies — has been featured in 35 solo exhibitions nationally and can be found in public and private collections throughout the United States, according to Milwaukee gallerist Tory Folliard.
"Patrick will be remembered as a master of super-realism," said Folliard, whose gallery has represented Farrell since 1994. "His paintings are treasured by collectors all over the country."
Farrell himself was as elegant as his artwork, Folliard said, a thoughtful perfectionist who took pride in what he accomplished professionally without a formal education.
Known to close friends as "Pads," Farrell's pursuit of perfection was reflected in the strides he took to cultivate and maintain his personal relationships, which he reinforced with beautifully handwritten notes, cards, and even formal invitations to lunch, Ramazzini recalled.
"He really tried to create happiness for everyone," Ramazzini said.
"And he did."
Farrell was preceded in death by his life companion, James W. Schroeder.