A born builder on a budget, prolific artist Farrell Hamann has created his own fantasyland in his cramped Sacramento apartment-studio, filled with fanciful castles and whimsical chateaus.
Squeezed around the couch and coffee table, they vie for space with mammoth mosaics and kinetic sculptures that bring out instant giggles and a sense of perpetual playtime.
The results of his vivid imagination pack his living room, his current "living museum." If only somebody would take some stuff off his hands, he muses.
"I need more room to work," he said, surrounded by his sculptures and mosaics.
Mia the pug and two cats compete for space among the plaster palaces in an ever-expanding village. Panels of one mosaic total 48 square feet.
"I'm really eccentric, too," said his poet- artist wife, Linda Wilberger Hamann, of basically living in a studio that's a work in progress.
"Nothing surprises me."
For many years, the Hamanns had their own studio-museum gallery in the old Stanford Building. But via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, Farrell has embraced social media as a way to share his work worldwide.
"Just Google me," he said when asked for his best Web address. "I'm everywhere these days."
Familiar in Sacramento for his many TV appearances and unusual artwork, Hamann is best known for his mosaics. Oprah Winfrey and Richard Simmons each own one of his precious "eggs"; the White House collection has two.
Channel 3 (KCRA) dubbed them "the American version of the Fabergé eggs."
"His mosaic work is strikingly beautiful," said gallery owner Kathy Caitano, who showed Hamann's sculptures at her gallery, Artistic Edge in Sacramento, earlier this year. "His other stuff is unique and quirky. It's all one of a kind."
Hamann's work has popped up all over Sacramento, occasionally in galleries but mostly in public places. For example, he's shown large plaster pieces at the Pavilions shopping center and at a La Bou cafe near his Arden Arcade home. Two child-friendly interactive sculptures – including one made for marbles to race down spirals – entertain young patients at UC Davis Medical Center.
"I don't particularly like museums," he said. "I prefer my work to be where there's a crowd and people will see them."
Hamann, 61, also has produced many bold abstract paintings. But lately he's been enamored with plaster and gypsum.
For his whimsical work, Hamann finds most of his materials at home-improvement stores.
"It's amazing what you can do with this stuff," he said while breaking open yet another big bag of Fix-It-All plaster patch.
Or sometimes, projects start in the Dumpster. A block of salvaged Styrofoam, shards of broken crockery, a discarded doll; such ingredients can really fuel his imagination.
He prefers Fix-It-All to straight plaster. Fibers in the mix allow it to be drilled, sawed, filed and sanded.
"I spread it out in big sheets," he explained, "then cut it with a butter knife. Once it hardens a little, you can stand it up on edge."
That's allowed him to build 3-foot-tall fortresses that can fit on a tabletop. His castles and chateaus feature a multitude of balconies and sweeping staircases. Each plaster brick is carved and tinted, or painted with acrylic. The building process often takes months.
"It's very labor-intensive," he said.
Hamann usually makes a paper pattern before construction. With breakaway fronts like those on dollhouses, his works are architectural miniatures that invite a little princess to play.
"The neighbor's 3-year-old daughter likes to come over," said Linda. "She loves to play with the castles, putting little dolls and toys in the rooms."
Hamann likes a challenge, too. Traditional mosaics are too simple, too flat; he prefers curves.
So he started putting mosaics on anything round. From fragile eggs to giant exercise balls, his mosaics come in all sizes, but usually one shape – round.
The late Makepeace Tsao, a well-known local gallery owner and artist, dubbed Hamann's round mosaics "spheres of influence." Bowling balls, beach balls, pingpong balls; all have been painstakingly encrusted with tiny bits of cut tile or porcelain, then grouted with Portland cement.
"His work takes time and great detail," Caitano said, "and yet it comes across as more playful and deceivingly simple."
It fits Hamann's personality, she added. "He has a very comedic sense about him. He can have you in stitches."
To support his art, Hamann tried comedy, writing one-liners for late-night TV in addition to two books. He has lived in Paris and Alaska. He worked as a fisherman and an ironworker. After several years in Santa Barbara, he settled down in Sacramento 22 years ago while building an ever- expanding body of work.
"Nobody ever does just one thing," he said.
His many jobs and sense of whimsy play into his art. So do more building materials. Webbed fiberglass drywall tape creates a rough- textured grid to anchor the plaster, especially on curved surfaces.
"You need something for the plaster to cling to," he explained. "This tape works great."
He uses a variety of tools from the hardware department, too, as well as from the kitchen.
"I'm always trying something different," he said. "I just experiment. I know a lot of people may have more talent than I do – but I'm harder-working."