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Home Is Where the Art Is

Dave Moyer's house doubles as a canvas and brightens up the neighborhood.

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At the end of a street in a neglected, gray neighborhood sits a house with colorful "farbels" adorning it.

What is a "farbel" exactly? Tucson artist Dave Moyer said he got the term from a woman who was watching him paint his trademark swirly patterns at an art fair. At one point, she exclaimed how much she adored "those little farbels" he was doing. Needing a word to describe his art, Moyer adopted the term. Thus, "farbelism" was born.

In September, Moyer started work on what could be described as his grandest project to date: He's treating his house like a big canvas, embellishing its walls with his unique form of art.

"I want them to go, 'Whoa, that's cool,' or whatever the equivalent is in their vernacular," he said of people passing his home. "So long as the reaction's positive, I don't care what it is."

Neighbors are noticing. Moyer, 45, said people have praised him for raising property values around his corner home, at Linden Street and Sixth Avenue. He regularly gets honks from motorists, he said.

"I think it's a good thing," said 43-year-old Dan Dorsey, who hopes to become president of Moyer's dormant neighborhood association in January. "It really adds some spice to the neighborhood.

"I find that people don't--in this particular neighborhood as a whole--have a lot of landscaping and things like that. When you drive through the neighborhood, it tends to not have a very colorful appearance."

Neighbor Robert Woodard seemed a little overwhelmed by the bright paint, but had praise for Moyer's originality.

"It's something different," Woodard, 60, said. "If your friends come by looking for ya, you can say, 'Look for Dave's house.' I like it; I really do."

Moyer's 34-year-old girlfriend, Nicole Houston, credited him with inspiring others to add dashes of color to their outdoor Christmas decorations. And according to Zalman Berkowitz, a 28-year-old artist who lives down the street, the paint job has built "a sense of community" in their "diverse neighborhood."

Moyer is an agile guy who works on communication towers in the sky when he's not painting. The self-described "preacher's kid" was born in Ekalaka, Mont., and attended his first year of school in Scotland. He said he received art instruction at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., after a brief stint as a "party major" at the University of Vermont. Moyer started "farbelist" paintings in 1982 and has kept a steady stream of works flowing ever since.

In addition to his art, Moyer is tuned in to political events. He said he tries "to keep politics and art separate," but his home has more than a few bumper stickers that give away his activist nature. Moyer said he succeeds in separating the two worlds because his pieces don't contain explicit messages. According to him, "farbelism" is all about color and experimentation, not specific meanings.

"I try to do something different each time," he said. "A lot of art is message art nowadays. I'm not interested in a message; I'm interested in art that's interesting and beautiful."

Moyer's works line the interior of his home, displaying the many themes he's played with over the years. Sifting through his archives, he was full of ideas for future projects and criticisms about past ones. For a while, he toyed with Native American textile designs, giving them a "farbelistic" edge.

His inspirations are many, so for a long time, he said he didn't know how to label his artistic style. He credits M.C. Escher, Frank Stella and Larry Poons--among others--with influencing his art. In addition, many of his pieces are reminiscent of Celtic knot work, with its sinuous, interconnected lines arranged in dense patterns.

Moyer's art has been displayed throughout North America. Locally, he said, he started showing at Solar Culture, a community gallery and musical venue, in the late '80s. Solar Culture's director, Steven Eye, gave a glowing appraisal of Moyer.

"I have known Dave for over 16 years, and during that time, he has shown us all heroic dedication to his vision with an unwavering stamina that has truly inspired all of us artists in the downtown community," said Eye, 47. "Dave works with his own unique pattern that he uses to make into his own vocabulary of shapes and colors. Looking at this pattern helps us to open up to the ancient memory that is stored in our cells."

Nowadays, Moyer said he prefers to put his art on the Internet because it "takes the middle man out of the equation." The curious can take a look at the progression of his home at farbel.livejournal.com, which all started with simple geometric shapes that he's been painting his pattern over.

Moyer has many plans for his home and art. He'd like to install lighting so his "farbelistic" house can be visible at night. He also wants to convert his back room into a two-story art studio overlooking the Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson. Lastly, he expressed interest in painting the bottom of someone's pool, saying it's something he's always wanted to do.

Moyer also said he enjoys trading artwork for various items. In the past, he's given away paintings for a piano, shoes, plants for his yard and the solar panels on his roof.

"I would like to barter for services," he said. "I would love to have a lawyer and a doctor--stuff like that."

Moyer's house, like a giant billboard, might attract some of the services he's looking for. But people like Eye see his home as more than a mere advertisement.

"Being courageous enough to act and create a difference shows that you care passionately about life, and you are doing your best to offer love and commitment," Eye says. "Dave is brave enough to paint his love on his house--that is an inspiration to us all."

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