Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Connection Between Jane Freilicher and Fairfield Porter

A few posts ago I announced that I have been awarded a residency on Great Spruce Head Island, once the vacation home of Fairfield Porter who hosted numerous characters from the New York School of painters and poets, namely James Schuyler who had a room reserved at both the Maine and Southampton home of the Porters.

Fairfield Porter was an artist that only seemed to grow in importance after his death—like so many artists and writers. While alive the kind of art he pursued had no purchase, no level footing amongst Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollack was an acquaintance and neighbor of Fairfield Porter on Long Island (as was Willem de Kooning)—yet the two were worlds apart.

Firstly, he was viewed as a hobbyist. This was mostly due to the fact that he owned an island. He came from a wealthy family and in truth didn’t have to work or earn money. Yet he lived relatively modestly. Among the Bohemian crowd he circulated with, he was a bit of a dad, okay, a bisexual experimenting dad, but that’s not so unusual really. He loved widely, lived expansively. And never seemed to give up on his friends. His artwork is described as representational, his subject matter that of everyday life. The kids sitting in the living room reading, a boy and girl under a tree, a vase of flowers on a table, the Spruce Head house, the island in sunlight, a girl on a bike, friends.

James Schuyler with Fairfield Porter's daughter Katherine
Keep in mind representational encompasses impressionism. There is still great mystery to these pictures, a feeling that there is more than meets the eye. The images are not quite in focus, separate, alone.

on the island
Jane Freilicher also took the more conservative route. So many of her friends were into abstract—why didn’t she just go along or fall under their influence? What caused her to keep to her own path? One that didn’t get as much attention, reviews, shows.

From her New York Times obituary: Ms. Freilicher had her first solo show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1952. In a review for ARTnews, the painter and critic Fairfield Porter called her work “traditional and radical.” Her paintings, he wrote, “are broad and bright, considered without being fussy, thoughtful but never pedantic.”

Ms. Freilicher also counted among her circle of admirers the New York poets Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch and, above all, John Ashbery, who wrote frequently about her work and was the first to buy one of her paintings.

The dominant style at the time was Abstract Expressionism.

“Realism is the only way I can do it,” she told Mr. Porter, who became a good friend as well as a critical champion, in a 1956 ARTnews article. “Every so often I get an anxious feeling and would like to produce that bombed-out effect of modern painting. Maybe my form is too closed. I feel a certain desire for exploding a picture the way some artists do. Can you explode a painting realistically? I don’t know.” She passed away December 9, 2014.

Early Fall, 2013

Jane’s subject matter mirrors Fairfield Porters, the extraordinary ordinary.

Fairfield Porter painting Jane Freilicher       
Fairfield Porter Archive, The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
Right now I am applying for an arts grant from the city of Chicago. These are highly sought-after and fiercely competitive. In retrospect much of my work seems pedestrian, lightly topical. Vignettes, flashes of everyday life. Remembrances. I just hope that I don’t have to wait to die before my work gets appreciated.

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