Important Art by Jane Freilicher
A green glass vase with thin stems of purple irises sits in the foreground of the painting, perched atop a windowsill. Looking out the window, which is the entire canvas, the viewer can see the close and crowded buildings of New York stretched before them. Lights flicker in windows, smoke billows out of smokestacks, clothes on lines seem to sway, and the sky turns a dusky purple. Freilicher's brushstrokes are loose and casual, which creates an impressionistic sense of the constantly changing and vibrant city, but the tones of the colors are somewhat muted, as if to suggest that at dusk the city becomes quieter and takes on a more meditative mood.
Early New York Evening reveals Freilicher's keen eye for composition; the slender irises in the foreground parallel the Con Edison smokestacks on the horizon, but as art critic Peter Schjeldahl notes, "She values color and tone, over line and shape, as primary sensations of the eye," and thus avoids being overly cerebral. The hazy, diffused colors and lines seem to collapse the boundary between interior and exterior. As much as it seems that Freilicher set up her easel in front of her studio window to paint the scene before her, she admitted, "I'm quite willing to sacrifice fidelity to the subject to the vitality of the image, a sensation of the quick, lively blur of reality as it is apprehended rather than analyzed. I like to work on that borderline - opulent beauty in a homespun environment." Observation and memory blur in her depiction of Greenwich Village.
Freilicher's penchant for painting flowers and intimate interior scenes is apparent in this early work. A large, honey-colored wicker chair fills the picture plane but is slightly off-center; diffused shades of taupes and grays comprise the background. A vibrant shawl in swirling patterns comprised of orange, blue, red, and gold drapes the back of the chair, and sitting atop the chair's seat is a glass vase filled with pink and white chrysanthemums and one single yellow rose.
With the vase of flowers taking the place of a person in the chair, this piece easily demonstrates one of the most salient aspects of Freilicher's oeuvre - that she rarely includes the human figure in her interior scenes. Instead, people are merely hinted at and evoked. Freilicher wants us to imagine the person who arranged the flowers and set them there in the chair and draped the shawl on the back. Art critic Tim Keane notes that "her pictures seem to be oblique self-portraits of the painter blissfully alone in a room of her own." The alluded-to human presence along with the loose, almost frenetic brushstrokes gives the work vitality, which set her apart from some of her more cerebral, analytical aesthetic influences like Giorgio Morandi and Édouard Vouillard. Indeed, art critic Xico Greenwald says of Flowers in an Armchair, "the intimate little scene seems born of a process that flows from seeing to feeling to painting."
Freilicher is just as renowned for her pastoral Long Island landscapes as she is for her domestic urban ones. In Quality Farm Freilicher divides the canvas roughly in half between sky and soft grassy fields. The sky is a cloudless gray-blue, suggestive of a slight, misty chill in the air. At the horizon line scattered trees dot the landscape and frame a classic white farmhouse on the right and another roofed structure on the left. The farmhouse appears well-lived in thanks to details such as patches of foliage on the roof and the walls, an old car in the back, and laundry swaying in the breeze. Separating the viewer from the farmhouse is a large expanse of field, bright green in the center and becoming wilder and more variegated in hue closer to the viewer.
Poet John Ashbery once called Freilicher's style "a slightly rumpled realism." The subject matter is banal, and this Long Island farm isn't immune from the passage of time; however, Freilicher's style elevates the quotidian scene and offers innumerable points upon which to meditate and wonder. As Nick Obourn describes, 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... [and] uses distinct, Post-Impressionistic brushstrokes to depict bunch grass and shrubbery." In its focus on a quotidian subject but one elevated by a witty, urbane eye, Quality Farm is an exemplar of Contemporary Realism - expressionistic paint handling combined with a good-natured commitment to reality as perceived by both eye and mind.