Joanne Freeman: In Conversation

Joanne Freeman: In Conversation


Joanne Freeman: In Conversation

August 25 Art Review: Paintings in the key of Dylan anchor strong lineup at UMMA

August 25 

Art Review: Paintings in the key of Dylan anchor strong lineup at UMMA


Walking into the main gallery of the University of Maine Museum of Art and being greeted by Joanne Freeman's work is like sitting back after a hard day and turning on some great music; on the one hand, it's calm and relaxed, but it also moves.




WHERE: University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor

WHEN: Through Sept. 21

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday

INFO:; 561-3350

Some things transport you by changing the place you are into precisely where you want to be. This is what Freeman's paintings do.

They are significantly-sized elegant white canvases with just a few loops of color: red, blue, teal, purple, yellow and so on.

Each is handsome, but as a group they exude a powerful sense of symphonic calm.

They have the rhythmic feel of Morris Louis, but most resemble Brice Marden's looping canvases from the 1990s.

Freeman directly references musicality in her work. In fact, the strongest piece in the show is titled "Three Chords" -- a direct quote of Bob Dylan.

Considering the work's proximity to Marden, this is a little weird, since one of Marden's best known paintings is "The Dylan Painting" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Marden was married to Joan Baez's sister and was close to Dylan and other folk artists.)

By referencing Dylan, Freeman is opening the door to references and comparisons. Is she doing a Brice Marden cover? If so, why not? What musician, after all, hasn't covered Dylan? If it's a tribute, then it's an elegant tribute -- whatever the mix of Dylan and Marden and anything else.

Musically, the three-chord thing has meaning on its own. The basic classical music progression of sub-dominant, dominant, tonic (4,5,1 / F,G,C, etc) and rock 'n' roll use these same three chords for the same reason: If you play those three major chords, you hit every note in the major scale and thereby absolutely establish key.

Freeman's use of cool and warm loops on white is like establishing a musical key -- particularly since they are internally-structured abstract works. They might seem loosely improvised, but don't fool yourself: Freeman cuts out guides for the loops and clearly works her colors and textures with a demanding appetite for perfection. She is not after fussy evenness, but the richly-textured and complex subtlety of a master painter.

While they stand strongly as a group, her weaker works prove Freeman doesn't have a simple recipe for success. The pieces with angled edges, for example, feel much stiffer than the ones with only swooping curves. Here again, Freeman seems to be tapping into musical technicalities. After all, distortion (like on Dylan's electric guitar) is a sine wave whose top curves are cut off by a flat ceiling; and Freeman's curtailed forms look just like such electric signals.More »



Three Chords

Joanne Freeman

Folk-rocker Bob Dylan’s lyrics “All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth” reflect the spirit and pared-down approach to art-making embraced by New York City-based Joanne Freeman.  In Three Chords, Freeman exhibits a new series of oil paintings that pay homage to the formalist abstraction of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, and also offer a distinct contrast to the reductive nature and purity inherent in early modernist ideals. Curving and looping bands of cool red, Mediterranean blue and vivid yellow intersect and overlap in a vibratory dance. Freeman’s compositions are simple and direct. The forms that inhabit these canvases (several of which are elegantly shaped) create dynamic interactions—the hard-edged thickened lines quiver, rotate, stretch and sag. Lines flatten as if they have been pulled taut and ground the composition as they hug the edge of the picture plane.

Freeman describes her process as “a controlled approach to mark making” and often employs sign maker’s tape to mask out various areas before applying successive layers of oil.  While the artist’s lines appear to be whimsical gestures they are in fact hard-edged creations. Interiors of the curvy and slumped lines often reveal thin transparent passages of paint, the colors burnished and blotted to create varied effects.

Joanne Freeman received a B.S. in Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin and a M.A. in Studio Art from New York University.  Her works have been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions including Lohin Geduld Gallery, NYC; Elizabeth Harris Gallery, NYC; Marc Jancou Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland; The Painting Center, NYC; and the Queens Museum.

George Kinghorn, Director and Curator, University of Maine Museum of Art

WIT, 2013, Curator Joanne Freeman

WIT, 2013, Curator Joanne Freeman


The Painiting Center

547 W. 27th Street

New York, NY.

January 29 thru Feb 23, 2013 

Wit is defined as a natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humor. Abstract language is not immediately associated with humor, as pictorial and narrative language can seem more accessible.  Why certain shapes and colors appear humorous can depend on context, cultural associations or individual experience. But some of the reasoning behind wit is not tangible, or explainable, some things are just inherently funny. 

Analyzing wit in reference to abstract art and language is a sure way to diffuse its potency since its delivery feeds on the novel and unexpected. Disruption of the status quo helps to define humor. The modernist aesthetics surrounding form, balance and proportion established in the early twentieth century, still provide a common language and reference point from which to view abstract art. This shared visual language has become part of our collective consciousness and dictates our expectations. By manipulating our preconceived standards and altering our assumptions, abstract art can surprise, reinvent and communicate wit.

The conversation between artist and viewer is enhanced by qualities of recognition and discovery. A small gesture like a nod or wink can provide a link with the mindset of the artist and set the tone of the conversation. It is a mistake to polarize humor and intellect since they work best in unison. Wit suggests qualities of the human spirit in an overly synchronized world, be it the slip, the twist, the pratfall, it's the imperfection that identifies the personality.

The artists selected for this show share a sense of humanity and amusement that resonates in their work. You could call it a "twinkle in the eye" or a "joy" that permeates through what they do. I think of it as an inner wit that can't be kept down, as long as someone is willing to play.

Joanne Freeman 2013

Participating Artists


Marina Adams

Polly Apfelbaum

Joanne Freeman

Joe Fyfe

Barbara Gallucci

Phillis Ideal

Jonathan Lasker

Sarah Lutz

Doreen McCarthy

Mario Naves

Thomas Nozkowski

Paul Pagk

Fran Shalom

Stephen Westfall