Sam Friedman’s artist statement for Love Songs, a solo exhibition of paintings and works on paper that opened at Library Street Collective on February 11, mentions the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi Sabi as an influence in his work. This world view exults the “transience of imperfection; a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” It’s hard to discern much imperfection or incompletion in Friedman’s imposing acrylic paintings, with their crisp, technically rigorous paint handling. Every mark bears an identical edge that somehow holds its own amid countless other razor sharp edges. Despite this uniformity, areas of Friedman’s paintings break down into surprising illusions of space, dazzlingly beautiful gradations, and vibrating forms that actually seem to move before the eye, and stay burned upon it. You see Friedman’s snaking forms gestures across white walls for several moments after you’ve turned your gaze away from the work.
Friedman wrings a surprising range of surface effects from a severe economy of techniques. Every one of his identically edged marks is, apparently, applied the same way- in one single, virtuosic stroke that embodies hand skill and discipline. While each painting contains a huge number of nearly identical marks, no mark is valued over any other. This doesn’t flatten the composition, or render it uninteresting. Friedman’s democratic approach to mark-making lets your eye take in both the whole of the work, and miraculous openings into smaller, more intimate moments. It’s an unusual painter who creates such an impression of deep space, foreground and background, with such a uniform, crystallographic approach to the picture plane.
Passing from the gauntlet shaped front space of Library Street Collective, where Friedman’s large paintings are displayed, into the more spacious back room of the gallery which houses a collection of smaller works on paper feels like leaving a dazzling, noisy city for a vast, light filled meadow. These works feel both more personal and riskier. This might be due to Friedman’s use of a larger range of media (acrylic, spray paint, silkscreen ink). His subject is a factor, as well- the sun setting over a body of water, revisited again and again, the horizon line splitting each piece into perfect halves that meet precisely at eye level. These works present an eternal template on which Friedman proceeds to meditate on the spatial layers he applied with such closed-loop certainty in his large acrylic paintings. The more organic forms- tall grass, flower petals, atmospheric effects- combined with the unavoidably vernacular icon of sunset over water presented on poster-scaled formats, while not mind-blowing in quite the same way as the paintings, feel vastly more personal. Friedman’s mastery of abstraction comes full circle in these works. The same blunt formal power and ease with materials shows up in them, with an added dose of freedom. The smaller formats and organic, representational subject matter seem to allow Friedman to play a bit more with imagery and surface effects- there’s a feeling that the stakes are lower here, or the imagery more deeply felt.
One wonderful thing Friedman’s paintings and works on paper have in common is the above-mentioned whiff of the vernacular. The large, abstract paintings have the dizzy free-fall atmospherics and sophisticated, ambiguous movements of album covers and Trapper-Keeper designs from the Seventies and Eighties, revisited with the same depth and grandeur one felt, mesmerized by them, as a young kid. Friedman’s works make it as if these foundational images grew up with us. The works on paper similarly shadow mass-produced movie or art posters. They communicate in the same language, with the same saturated, iconic forms that, in Friedman’s hands, take on a breath-taking, mature refinement.
Sam Friedman: Love Songs is on view at Library Street Collective through April 8, 2017.