William Farley was a great choice to direct a film about Jerry Ross Barrish. They are both artists who came from the working class, they both worked in sculpture and in film. It gives Farley an insight into Barrish as a person as well as an artist that others, no matter who talented, might miss. When I spoke with Farley on August 19, 2015 about PLASTIC MAN: THE ARTFUL LIFE OF JERRY ROSS BARRISH, I most wanted to talk about that coincidence. Or was it synchronicity?
We went on to talk about how Farley’s talent had been recognized by others before he himself saw it, the synchronicity of circumstance that took him from a steel factory to a studio, the politics of the art world that judges a work by its materials, the conservative bent of the gatekeepers of the art world, the advantages of dyslexia, and why this was the greatest collaboration in which he’d ever been involved.
PLASTIC MAN: THE ARTFUL LIFE OF JERRY ROSS BARRISH is the story of a bail bondsmen who used his business to help the
protest movement thrive during the turbulent 60s here in Bay Area, while also pursuing his passion for art in many different forms. The film traces his life as the dyslexic son of a prizefighter with a fondness for gambling, and a mother who taught him how to play lucrative poker, to his first inklings that there was an artist inside him struggling to get out. He decided not to fight it. Financed by his bail bonds business, and without formal training, he started making sculptures, and then, while seeing what an art school could do for him, made his mark as a filmmaker, though one marketers couldn’t figure out how to sell. His sculpture, to which he returned, consists of whimsical figures and piquant vignettes using found objects as his medium despite the politics of an art world that won’t accommodate brilliant figures crafted from the plastic detritus he finds in junkyards and on the beach. The documentary ends with Jerry moving onto monumental sculpture, and a vindication that surpasses even the support of the art academics in the film who praise his work. Farley himself attended art school on the G.I. Bill, and, like Barrish, started in sculpture before moving on to film.
Farley’s previous work includes WALT WHITMAN’S SONG OF MYSELF, THE OLD SPAGHETTI FACTORY and Shadow and Light, the Life and Art of Elaine Badgley Arnoux.