Jane Freilicher: Parts of a World
On ViewKasmin Gallery
January 21 – February 27, 2021
A quintessential New York School painter, Jane Freilicher (1924–2014) is now being exhibited in a small but very graceful show at Kasmin in Chelsea. Freilicher, a quietly brilliant painter of interiors, is represented here with 14 still lifes that show the full spectrum of her work from the 1950s to the early 2000s. The muted hues of her paintings, combined with a high lyricism for which she was known from the beginning of her career, invests her work with a poetics that can only be admired, on both a thematic and a technical level. The early works in the show indicate that Freilicher was a master of her chosen medium—oil paint—from the start. Moreover, Freilicher’s work feels of a piece: the earliest efforts are joined with the latest, a full half-century later, in a quiet purpose that makes Freilicher stand out from the more consciously energetic, effusive efforts being made by other artists in the mid-century.
The still life painting Blue Table (1966) consists of an angular corner of a blue table supporting a white ceramic vase holding three red flowers, while off to the right side we see a narrow window opening on to a brown and green field. A light tan strip is found in between the two expanses that make up the vista; it lightens, in color and spirit, the edgewise view of the outside world that makes its way into Freilicher’s small room. A painting done two years later, Still Life with Yellow Flowers (1968), emphasizes the yellow flowers issuing from a glass vase that rests on a yellow cloth on top of a wooden table. A white curtain hangs from above on the right, while in the background of the picture we see a white window frame surrounding a bit of dark green grass. This painting, like Blue Table, relies on the intimacy of an enclosed space and its relationship with the open beauty of both the flowers and the exterior view we see. Thus, Freilicher’s ability to merge the indoors with the outdoors in scenes of unusual beauty make her a painter of real achievement and clarity.
Another painting, Untitled (Still Life with Large Plant and Cityscape) (ca. 1990), is notable for its quiet simplicity. Freilicher employs a burnished red for its floor and rug, along with reddish buildings seen through the four windows facing the back of the painting. A plant made up of long, slender leaves rises out of a brown cup held by a blue ceramic dish, all sitting on a table, while hanging above is a spray of green leaves seemingly floating in the air without visible support. This magical act gives the painting a sense of otherworldly energy, despite its relatively conventional setting and feel. The weather beyond the deep red buildings looks gray and cold. The painting is about color tonalities as well as contrasts of emphasis, with a nod, once again, to the relationship between the interior and the world outside—although here Freilicher seems to privilege the interior. A more unusual picture, Seashells and Forsythia (1983), consists of white shells and pale green sprays of forsythia arranged in a dark, nearly midnight-black container. The contrasts between Freilicher’s colors are exquisite.
Untitled (Plates with yellow & black) (ca. 2005) freely experiments with four expressionistically rendered plates, topped by an expanse of black. The plates are stated in an equally expressionist band of yellow that moves across the bottom half of the painting. The approach here is more free, more reflective of the abstract expressionism that was contemporaneous to the beginnings of her career; however, the precision of the plates’ design, with their sketched-in decorative patterns, has a specificity that goes against the more general flair of the painting’s background. Freilicher’s visual strength was always based on precision—measure and restraint—so the relative freedom of handling found in this painting is unusual. But it feels all the more original here for the chances the painter takes in stepping away from her usual approach. It is not easy for work of this sort to stand up to the vicissitudes of time but, the unspoken, and to some degree inherent, traditionalism we feel from the start in Freilicher’s paintings makes it clear that we are in the presence of a visionary classicist, someone whose long career can stand up to extended scrutiny.