At 84, Jane Freilicher understands more than most painters that the landscape, whether urban or pastoral, is humankind’s living record. For over 50 years she has painted the vistas seen from her homes in Water Mill, Long Island, and Greenwich Village in New York City, and in doing so, movingly witnessed these disparate environs as they have changed.
Freilicher’s most recent exhibition at Tibor de Nagy—where she has had 21 solo exhibitions since 1952—included 19 works painted between 1963 and 2009 that chart her fixation on these two locations, and captured her deft reflection of many artistic influences. In the large, bold and handsome landscapes Afternoon in October (1976) and Quality Farm (1963), she borrowed the saturated pigment of the Color Field painters for her treatment of manicured grass as a thick nerve of bright, uniform, snap-pea green. In these paintings as in newer canvases that depict the half-trimmed, half-wild Long Island landscape, Freilicher uses distinct, Post-Impressionistic brushstrokes to depict bunch grass and shrubbery.
As this exhibition makes clear, tracing a bridge between domestic interiors and the wider outdoors is a signature gesture for Freilicher. Many of the best paintings of the last decade hone this theme, with potted flowering plants or a diverse bouquet of arranged flowers nesting in the foreground, while a gauzy, dreamlike cityscape or landscape is draped behind them. As with Bonnard, one of her heroes, Freilicher’s works hum with vibrant color, but the exhibition included recent paintings, such as Harmonic Convergence (2008), Hydrangea (2008) and Window (2009), which also feature neutral, earthy tones. The flowers’ petals are rendered in explosive colors in these paintings, but the vases, the tables they sit on and the background forests or boxy assemblages of urban buildings are direct descendents of Giorgio Morandi’s pacific compositions.
These somber works, however, did not dominate the exhibition. Rather, the space was filled with spring in full eruption. Freilicher’s paintings offered a reprieve from the lingering winter and faltering economy. One sensed how landscapes and flowers have the power to arouse an almost primitive predisposition toward vitality and unadulterated joy.
Photo above: Jane Freilicher: Harmonic Convergence, 2008, oil on linen, 24 inches square; at Tibor de Nagy.