In his work we see visionary, contemporary, biblical and mythical references juxtaposed with dislocating shards of horizons and splashes of colour – see, for example, Phoenix, Cain and Abel, Ventersdorp where fields of sheer colour appear in incredibly bright contrasts. Friedlande seems quite at home, therefore, also in the metaphysical tradition where the atmosphere is really the story – in his works the atmosphere is often meditative, and often vulnerable, and speaks of a moment that is an entire time-universe. We recognize some of it, but always only half-recognise and have to ponder the full story ourselves.
His method is interesting. Working from abstraction to figuration, he finds the hidden narrative embodied in the gesture of making the first marks on a canvas. In this way he proceeds to find, in the image suggesting itself from the gesture and the colourfield, some emotional, physical or mental association. He manages a sort of objective correlative (see TS Eliot) for a psychological state that will later, as the painting proceeds, remain as a central thrust in the work.
After this first “looking for” the image, he elaborates further, finding the figure and the ground, and often reworks through many stages to find the final picture (see the very enlightening stages of work in progress also shown in this exhibition). His methods involve grappling with the paint in all its physical possibilities: scratching, washes, gesture, overpainting and impasto. This entails that painting as material and as a thing to be worked with, generates the heat of the story – and in this sense he is truly a painter’s painter, whose homage to Robert Hodgins, Francis Bacon and I think also Judith Mason is apparent. Easel painting today is sometimes placed on the back burner insofar as ever- new hierarchies of art genres and methods emerge in a so-called democratic postmodern art scene. Nonetheless, easel painting often makes a welcome comeback (especially figurative painting – think of Bacon, Freud and the New- Expressionists) and it is a long tradition honoured by committed painters all over.
And this tradition is also about solving difficult aesthetic problems – and one will often find the artist grappling with layers of paint which we as viewers may see as layers of meaning, This is, I think, where the tension in Friedlande’s work originates from:
Tension in terms of Perspective - things are placed in disparate ends of possible perspectives and in this way suggest disorientation, a state of mind: the beast within lives in a disorientated space. Dislocating perspectives hint at essential voids, angst and uncertainty.
Tension between people – like characters in a wordless play, they exchange glances with each other, with us – giving no more than hints and leaving us guessing. The images of people tell open-ended stories; even if they are types (capitalists, dreamers, KGB agents, biblical figures). These broken bits of story are sufficient to leave chilling possibilities as hints without actually giving away the dénouement of the drama.
Tension in time: even though the works seem to suggest frozen moments, they have a newspaper strangeness that make the moment into seemingly recognizable narrative impulses. There’s always the tension between recognition and the unfamiliar.
Tension between man and beast (are the animals commenting, or are they telling the real story? Are they innocent or menacing?) They are hovering, intruding, balancing, strange, sometimes menacing, bringing an array of surrealist associations. Tension between figures: why can’t they make contact? Why do they suggest some unspoken currents at the margins of consciousness? Tension in apprehension: why do I feel that I keep running into a riddle when looking at the work? Is it because the work does not reveal if I am looking at some universal, desperate moment, or at something more urgent, more poetic? Therefore one is not sure if this it irony (suave and clever) or the feeling of being lost (intimate and personal).
In the end, Friedlande’s works define their own state of being, and each painting is completely its own universe. The very tensions that destabilize looking also captivate and tantalize the viewer into wanting to look more.