April 26, 2014

Deportraiture – Barbara Friedman

Recent paintings and drawings
April 20 - June 29, 2014

Barbara Friedman's profile on this site

Barbara Friedman Big Collar 1 oil on linen 60 x 48 in 2014
Big Collar 1 oil on linen 60 x 48 in. 2014

Big Collar 2 oil on linen 60 x 48 in. 2014

Big Collar 3 oil on linen 60 x 48 in. 2014

 Barbara Friedman - catalog - Deportraiture April 2014

Portrait of Gertrude van Limborch
(after Thomas de Keyser) oil on wood 24 x 18 in. 2014

Over the past two years I’ve parked my easel at the Brooklyn Museum, often in front of Thomas de Keyser’s portrait of Gertrude van Limborch (1632). When I am there I paint my own versions of the portrait, letting my rendition verge on disappearing, or else allowing some features to spring into focus, in a way that threatens to make the source unrecognizable.

These “versions” of the de Keyser contain a trace of Gertrude van Limborch’s face. She is the touchstone for any variations I produce, as the subjects are in other portraits from that era. My purpose in working from these old paintings is to serve both their makers and their subjects: not just to bring de Keyser back into view but van Limborch too, and every other person now long dead who was lively and aware when the painters portrayed them.

Another presence is my mother, who used many aliases during her eventful life. It was only after her death that I discovered that as a child she went by the name Gertrude. She invented so much about her life that her adult existence became a distorted portrait she had painted of herself, barely showing the girl Gertrude she had started out as.

One prominent feature of many of these paintings is the Dutch ruff collar. This was a big starched and pleated collar, a style that lasted from about 1550 to 1650. A “pinwheel” around the neck, the ruff was also used on sleeve cuffs. The discovery of starch allowed ruffs to be formed in elaborate figure-eights. The ruff held one’s head up in a haughty pose, aristocratically, with obvious appeal for wealthy Europeans of the time. Queen Elizabeth I wore a ruff, but she issued decrees that limited the size and even the colors of ruffs that could be worn by commoners outside the royal court. In some of the newest paintings from this series the collar is extremely exaggerated.

Although these paintings still riff off my museum studies, they play more aggressively with scale and color, and bring the ornate ruff collar into the territory of gender, class, and body issues.

— Barbara Friedman, April 2014

Portrait of Gertrude van Limborch
Thomas de Keyser
(Dutch 1596/97–1667) at the Brooklyn Museum

Cropped Gertrude
oil on linen 48 x 16 in 2014

The “portrait” has been Barbara Friedman’s idiom of choice in recent years, and yet portraiture is only one dimension of what the critic Lilly Wei calls, without exaggeration, a “formally inventive” approach to painting. These are instinctive and erudite paintings, and they summon a formidable range of strategies. Friedman sets up her easel in museums and pretends to copy the old masters, a trope she associates with “lady” painters. Then comes a subtle but unrelenting process of distortion, destruction, and recovery.

Friedman is a professor at Pace University, a resident of lower Manhattan, and a veteran of the East Village scene. I met Barbara a few years ago when she visited our showroom in Bushwick. Soon after that she became represented at our gallery, and since then she has also showed at Valentine, Studio 10, and Storefront Ten Eyck. Her unearthly portraits have cast a prolonged gaze into this inscrutable demimonde. They are tuned to the habits and the jitters of people who prowl the galleries of Brooklyn and downtown at the present time. And this quality sets them off, distinguishes them as a keen synthesis of painterly and temporal issues.

We are thrilled to be opening Deportraiture on April 19th, a large show of Friedman’s recent work. This show will occupy the front and back rooms of our gallery, it is a thorough display of the work of a painter who has already made a strong showing in Brooklyn. We are honored and proud to host this show, and I hope you will join us for the opening.

— Ethan Pettit, April 2014

Portrait of Gertrude van Limborch
(after Thomas de Keyser) oil on wood 24 x 18 in. 2014

Portrait of a Dutch Woman oil on linen 48 x 46 in. 2014

A Ruff Meditation

Ethan Pettit

The salient of that febrile mind that tossed and turned between the afflatus of Shakespeare and the appearance of Isaac Newton, was the ruff collar. By some accounts an article of fashion not to be outdone until the 1970s, it was a sartorial pinwheel that couched the head and doubtless gyrated to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.

At the dawn of empire it sprang from the throat. “Sooner may one guess who shall bear away The Infanta of London, heir to an India,” wrote Donne, than one may guess, “What fashioned hats, or ruffs, or suits next year our subtle-witted antic youths will wear.”

They wore the ruff for about another twenty or thirty years, until the middle of the 1600s. It was an Elizabethan accessory that survived the Thirty Years War, the Eighty Years War, the Civil War, for it was laden with starch. The ruff went out of fashion as the scientific awakening began, but long before the time of the Bach family and the awakening in arts and letters that is still with us, or should be.

In the Meditations Descartes says not simply that he thinks therefore he is. Had he said only that he would have vanished. He says more poignantly that he exists because he can be deceived. If all that he knows and feels is suspect, then he is deceived. But for something to be deceived there must be something to deceive, hence something exists. Here is the astringent reduction, the first picture of the “thing that thinks” which Spinoza would rehearse as well somewhat later.

Most careful attention must have been paid to the head when it had lost trust in its body and the world around it and knew not yet what laws governed bodies in the world. Hence the accordion that unfolds from the neck and buffers the brain in a provisional sphere.

And even among the protestant divines of New England, with their immensely complex interior lives, you find that radiant countenance framed in the ruff. Though here the broad flat collar largely replaced the ruff, still it is on the first governor of Massachusetts. On John Smith of Virginia it is, shockingly, as bizarre as the headdress of Powhatan.

It was in the other Dutch colony, the one north of Flushing Avenue, that Barbara Friedman’s unearthly portraits drew attention to the reflexes of the picture-viewing public. It was an unnerving appearance. And in this new range of portraits her distortions are joined to a beguiling anachronism, a separation of the head by a device from the far side of the modern repertoire, and which sweeps away with not a little pomp all of the tropes that are supposed to populate a canvas.

Portrait of Gertrude van Limborch
Thomas de Keyser
(Dutch 1596/97 - 1667) oil on canvas, 1632

Gertrude with Green Collar on Red
oil on linen36 x 27 in. 2014

Big Portrait of a Dutch Man (after Jacob Backer)
oil on linen 48 x 46 in. 2014

Big Collar with Child oil on linen 27 x 36 in. 2014
Big Collar 4 oil on linen 60 x 48 in. 2014

Interleaf Drawings charcoal on glassine on paper 2013

Gertrude’s Collar Over an Alpine Village
oil on linen 2012-14

Gertrude’s Forehead oil on wood 24 x 18 in. 2014