Abstractions in the Work of Jane Freilicher
In 1957, shortly after Jane Freilicher and her husband Joe Hazan rented a home on Flying Point Road in Bridgehampton, the painter began composing abstracted landscapes, straying from the smaller more representational images of domestic interiors and still lifes for which she had become known. Employing larger canvases, she experimented using loose, colorful brushstrokes that referenced her rural surroundings. Kasmin Gallery is exhibiting a selection of these large-scale paintings in Jane Freilicher: Abstractions – a body of work that remained relatively unknown until the 2006 exhibition Near the Sea: Paintings 1958-1963 held at the artist’s former, long-term gallery Tibor de Nagy.
A darling of her peers, Freilicher was the muse of poets John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler and friend to artists such as Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers. O’Hara was the first collector of her work, and he also collaborated with Ashbery, Koch and Schuyler on the film Presenting Jane that joyfully celebrated her, while he wrote poems in her honor (including one that took the visual form of her face).
As part of this loose group who would go on to become known as the New York School, Freilicher began showing at Tibor de Nagy in 1952. At the time, it was considered by The Arts Digest (predecessor to Arts Magazine) to be “one of New York’s youngest galleries,” showing emerging artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, and Kenneth Noland. Freilicher broke away from the dominant Abstract Expressionist style favored by many of her peers, and presented sketchy, color-dominated interiors and cityscapes. James Fitzsimmons covered her first exhibition for Arts Magazine, noting:
This is Miss Freilicher’s debut and it is an impressive one – because of her more recent paintings. In these she communicates more than a feeling of conviction, as is sometimes done by artists who have nothing else to communicate; she communicates feeling as well… If Miss Freilicher can keep this up, she should go places.”
By 1960, she was showing the more abstract works now installed at Kasmin, and they were generally well received, with the change in style largely attributed to the influence of her time spent on the East End. A reviewer “BB” from Arts Magazine wrote:
In this recent exhibition Miss Freilicher, one of the best and best-known young New York painters, presents a new series of paintings which are the result of perfecting a fine technique… Her colors – even the dominant white of Near the Sea – seem to be those observed in the sootless country, not from the paint-makers chart. Form is entirely composed by color, and, as are the other elements of Miss Freilicher’s painting.
After these exploratory forays, Freilicher returned to her more representational works, although she continued to paint landscapes throughout her life. And, her use of bold, unusual color combinations, perhaps honed through these experimental years with abstraction, continued to define her work. “I couldn’t find a kernel in that kind of painting to split open.” She said, referring to Abstract Expressionism.“ I have to struggle to make something coherent, so the work engages me and leads me into some kind of excitement… I felt I couldn’t find a struggle within Abstract Expressionism.” Her abstract paintings, which would have aligned her more with her peers, show a majestic use of color; but perhaps she returned to her preferred subjects because her palette and color sensibility was more unusual and challenging in the world of sight, rather than the realm of the abstract.
Jane Freilicher: Abstractions was on view at Kasmin Gallery (509 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001) through April 22, 2023)