A RARIFIED AIR BY SHARON EDELSON
Eric Freeman's diffuse paintings are not unlike the artist himself. Stand back and you see bands of hazy color. Get closer and you see their construction and feel the hand and compassion of the artist. But the paintings - and Freeman - never completely come into focus.
Their beauty comes from "the volatile mix of the ineffable and the physical," writes Ross Bleckner, the Minimalist artist who has been a friend and mentor to Freeman since he took up the paintbrush, in an introduction to the catalog for the upcoming show of Freeman's work at the Bjorn Wetterling gallery in Stockholm . "The beauty of these paintings is that they so succinctly and clearly seem to reconcile those two worlds."
Nursing a cup of hot chocolate in a SoHo cafe on a frigid day, Freeman, 32, is surprisingly self-composed for a young artist on the cusp of a career turning point. The Wetterling show opens Thursday and will be followed by a solo show at the MAry Boone Gallery here in September. His paintings are collected by people like Kelly Klein and Stormy Byorum, and his company is sought by Calvin Klein and Bob Colacello.
Yet Freeman is unpretentious, even slightly apologetic, about his growing success.
"I've been painting seriously for 10 years," he says. "I wasn't an overnight sensation. People want instant recognition. They're part of the scene and want to be hot really fast, which is fine. That's not really my thing so much."
ERIC FREEMAN AT MARY BOONE BY EDWARD LEFFINGWELL
Recasting the 19th-century quest for the sublime, Eric Freeman marshals fields of electric color and optical effects in the service of an abstracted landscape. Of the five vivid, oil-on-linen paintings included in this show of untitled works dated 2003, four are 8 feet square, and of those, three express the distinct horizon-centered orientation of a landscape with a central darkness disclosed as though from between thin, parted lips. The paintings' upper and lower halves seem symmetrical and appear to swell out horizontally from the support, expanding through sometimes hot, often acidic hues that resolve into thin bars of graduated color that bracket the upper and lower edges. The fourth, identified by gallery coding as 8628, suggests some distant kinship with Rothko in a thick, burning-red band across the painting's center. It shifts to darkest blue-black and fades to a lighter, almost periwinkle blue.
If Freeman achieves the sensation of compelling illusion by modulating his palette through gradations of light and color, these works are at once resolutely hand-painted and virtually without expressive gesture. The surfaces instead reveal the careful accumulation of paint in regular tracks laid down by Freeman's broad brush as it is dragged without interruption along the painting's width, leaving parallel lines of paint the width of a thread.