Lindsay Frei . . . from page 1
Frei’s work wasn’t always so raw. “I had a very traditional training. I used to have a specific formula for what made good art. Right after art school, I realized I was good at my craft but I wasn’t sure if I was a good artist,” Frei says.
While it’s common for artists to actively experiment with subject and style, Frei’s process evolved from technical to personal. “I started out doing still lifes [in part] because I wanted to create art that would sell. I really enjoyed them and enjoyed the problem of figuring out how to paint something on a two-dimensional surface.” What began as an interest in one of art’s customary, yet difficult subjects, eventually turned into something entirely different. “Then I realized that the way I was setting them up was not normal. I remember painting these tomato slices and they started to become anthropomorphic to me, as if they were fighting with each other.” It’s this recognition that served as the gateway to the artist’s signature figural pieces.
By detecting human qualities in non-living objects, Frei realized her work had the potential to explore decidedly psychological elements of human existence. “That’s why I began painting clothing, because [clothes] are tailored to a particular person. Then I started to realize that everything was figurative to me, and that I had been avoiding the figure in my previous work.”
Her full-scale investigation of the human figure then became the vehicle for uncovering the beauty and frailty of life. “My figures have always been kind of hidden by fashion: sunglasses, scarves, etc.” While artists throughout time have often bypassed such items as obstacles in the path to human anatomy itself, Frei appears intensely interested in how and why clothing mediates our psychological existence. “This current work is about that vulnerability of exposing yourself to people, both literally and psychologically,” she says of the work that has been produced since her MFA.
“Give” (36” x 48”), pictures a figure at close range, from the head to just above the navel. Placed on a sterile gray background, the figure’s arms intersect the face in the act of pulling a shirt above the head. The only indication of gender is a black bra exposed underneath the upward moving shirt. Colorful tattoos adorn the figure’s arms and stomach, inviting viewers to take note of elements apart from the movement. Often, there’s an inherently seductive connotation to the act of undressing, and the history of art is replete with examples of the artist’s voyeuristic gaze. What we see in Frei’s work, however, is akin to an artistic investigation in which the forms—and psychological implications—of clothes are conflated.
For many of Frei’s paintings, movement is far more interesting than stasis. “I love those in-flux moments because it’s even more vulnerable than simply being exposed. Because people have a choice, they are in a moment where they can either open up or shut down, but that moment of choice is when and how we reveal ourselves to other people,” she says.
While Frei’s subjects are often suspended in time, still more interesting are the works in which she has added to or painted over the original figure. In ”Interchange” (36” x 36”), we see this effect. A fully painted figure in a quarter-profile view gazes downward, outside the picture plane. His chest is bare and his entire left arm is covered in tattoos. A light source from the right side of the image forces the figure to cast a dramatic shadow. Adding to his haunting presence is a second figure who looms above, stretching a shirt horizontally over the entire canvas. The second figure’s face and hands are all that is immediately recognizable about the sketched figure, although subtle indications of his bodily presence loom above and in between the figure placed beneath him.
The process of crafting and reworking a painting signifies the continual evolution of the self in social, personal and psychological interactions. “This series of paintings and photographs uses images of various states of undress as a metaphor for the difficult binaries inherent in seeing and knowing another person. It is inside/outside, disappearing/emerging, secret/revelation, visible/invisible,” Frei says.
A Utah native, Frei completed her undergraduate degree in painting at the University of Utah in 2000, before moving to the small artist community of Helper, where she lived from 2001-08. She later gained representation in California, and moved back to Salt Lake City, where she’s contemplated the local art scene. “I want to be part of a current conversation. Utah has a really strong landscape, still life scene. It was important for me to show the work here. I do think there are a lot of interesting figurative artists here, but oftentimes figurative art is very polished and doesn’t engage the audience. I get the criticism a lot that I only pick the attractive models, and while there is something that is attractive about them, perfection is not what connects you to other people, vulnerability does.”
Frei currently teaches painting at the University of Utah and is Artist-in-Residence at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Her solo exhibition, Inside Out, at the Alice Gallery in Salt Lake City, runs through Jan.15, 2016. An opening reception is Friday, Dec. 4, from 6-9 p.m. Bronwen Beecher and Stephen Keen will provide musical accompaniment.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Patterns of Life
Michael Coles and Nathan Florence at Modern West Fine Art
Modern West Fine Art is showing a new collection of work from photographer Michael Coles and paintings by Renaissance man, Nathan Florence, who’s certainly no stranger to the pages of 15 Bytes. The artists’ work, while stylistically different, complements each other well and creates an insightful window into rural culture and landscape.
Michael Coles’ work captures the dusty skies of the rural West and the defiant spirit of those who endeavor to live there. His work feels right at home at Modern West, not in small part because that’s exactly what he’s capturing, the new West, the amalgamation of traditional life imbued with the confident swagger of a pickup cowboy. These moments are a reflection of his own process, which is still in large part shaped by traditional film development and not quite ready to fully embrace the digital revolution. Coles’ black-and-white silver gelatin prints demonstrate, in both subject and form, the bridge that so many artists, and particularly western artists, face as the future seems so present and the past becomes ever more distant. Viewers of his work are invited into that dialogue and offered an opportunity to a part of the conversation that Coles himself seems to moderate.
Over almost a decade, 15 Bytes has featured work by Florence as he’s exhibited not only paintings, but also expanded his reach into film and community activism; a long stretch from his early academic endeavors into medicine. Florence’s work continues to reflect the expanse of the Utah wilderness he loves, incorporating into the naturalistic scenes patterns and colors that further shape his unique vision. Consistent as well is his use of applied pattern, which overlays his figures, cutting into the negative space and weaving the subjects into a palpable intimacy. This intimacy he says, “is what drew him in” to figurative painting in the first place. It wasn’t until later in his exploration that landscape painting began to catch his eye.
I got interested in painting by looking at legendary figurative painters, John Singer Sargent, Odd Nerdrum, Waterhouse, it's a long list. I wasn't interested in landscape paintings at all, but started looking at and painting landscapes as a way of learning about painting. Plein air painting demands certain things of you that are helpful to understand. I painted mostly landscapes at the beginning of my studies and when I got bored, realized that I needed to come back to figures. So now it's both.
This experimentation can be seen clearly in all of his work as we see Florence dive back and forth between a vast expanse of mountains and the delicate shoulder strap of a dress; each focus taking on its own voice and at times combining to harmonize in beautiful ways. Watching Nathan Florence’s work evolve continues to be an engrossing journey which he welcomes the viewer to join.