John Himmelfarb is an established artist whose lush, calligraphic drawings and paintings have always been driven by an unceasing devotion to line. Consistently blurring the boundaries between drawing and painting, Himmelfarb revels in the line’s evocative potential to create a synthesis of graphic sign, text and elusive image that challenges one’s ability to interpret visual language. Himmelfarb’s paintings hurl themselves from the wall with a loose-limbed, exuberant, cock-eyed American happiness which demands attention. There’s nothing reclusive or broodingly Calvinist about Himmelfarb’s art. There are instead visual references to improvisational jazz, overhead railways, and stained glass. Above all there is color—eye-trapping panoramas of the stuff, rich tapestries and luminous shards of joyous paint. Himmelfarb is firmly established as one of the world's foremost contemporary American abstract expressionists.”
Himmelfarb’s images are not just abstract, however, but often thrust figurative elements in viewers’ faces. Sometimes, as befits a former musician, the rhythms of the work become more important than any other element in their composition in moving viewers to enter into the works. As John Brunetti wrote in the New Art Examiner (December & January, 1996/97), “Himmelfarb’s works suggest several sources of imagination—the formal rawness of the Art Brut and CoBrA movements; the improvisational spirit of automatism; the magical properties of hieroglyphs and totems—channeled into a rich personal vocabulary. Line has always been Himmelfarb’s signature formal element and remains so. Bold contours are applied with both speed and deliberateness in his paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics to articulate figure from ground, and, of special importance, to create and direct movement. His diverse body of work is unified by an acute sense for orchestrating a continuous rhythm in his compositions. The tempo of each work is carefully dictated through juxtapositions of several weights of line, whose application varies from the delicate, pencil-fine loops of handwritten notations to the bold, paint-dripping boundaries of a three-inch band.” Over the years, Himmelfarb’s work as taken two predominant forms, the lyric paintings in the Inland Romance series and the linear, calligraphic inventions.
Himmelfarb’s work can be found in the collections of: Art Institute of Chicago; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; Baltimore Art Museum; The British Museum, London; Mary & Leigh Block Art Museum, Northwestern University; Boston Public Library Print Collection; The British Museum, London, the Brooklyn Museum; the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; Cleveland Museum of Art; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Milwaukee Art Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Art; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea.