Art Chronicles: Jane Freilicher 1924 – 2014


I first became aware of Jane Freilicher through her presence in Frank O’Hara’s poetry: Interior (with Jane); Chez Jane; Jane Awake; To Jane, and in Imitation of Coleridge. I didn’t immediately know that she was a painter, one of several whom O’Hara befriended, supported, reviewed and who became poetic muses in his verse. Grace Hartigan – For Grace, after a Party – was another; as was, perhaps most famously, Joan Mitchell, in Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s.

Painter Among Poets was the title of Freilicher’s last, 2013, show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York; Poet Among Painters, the title of Marjorie Perloff’s  1977 critical biography of O’Hara. New York Poets: New York Painters. The Scene.


When she was eighteen, Jane Niederhoffer, as she was then, eloped with jazz pianist Jack Freilicher, whom she married and later divorced, having met, through him, the saxophonist Larry Rivers when both men were playing in the same band. Freilicher occupied herself during band rehearsals by sketching and painting and Rivers, interested in both Freilicher and her artistic talents, followed suit. It was the painter Nell Blaine who suggested the pair sign on to study with Hans Hoffmann at the Arts Students League of New York. That would have been in 1947.

During the next couple of years, she met O’Hara and the other leading poets in what came to be termed the New York School – Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery and, a little later, James Schuyler. All four men were familiar with the art scene, all, save for Koch, regularly wrote art criticism and reviews, and O’Hara was actually employed at the Museum of Modern Art. There is some small confusion over to which of them she sold her first painting, Ashbery or O’Hara.

By the early 1950s, she was fully immersed in the New York Scene and had met fellow artists Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler, all three of whom were attempting to negotiate a stylistic space for themselves amidst the often aggressively male Abstract Expressionism that was the predominant fashion at the time. Strongly influenced by the Bonnard exhibition at MOMA a few years previously, and aware also of the work of Vuillard and Matisse, Freilicher’s riposte to abstraction was a lyrical, light-diffused and vibrantly coloured series of still lives and landscapes that remained at the heart of her work from her first solo show at Tibor de Nagy in 1952 until her last.


Keeping out of fashion, she suggested, gave her the chance to have the freedom to fool around.

I’m quite willing to sacrifice fidelity to the subject to the vitality of the image, a sensation of the quick, lively blur of reality as it is apprehended rather than analysed. I like to work on that borderline – opulent beauty in a homespun environment.

She also said …

I suppose I think more in terms of colour than of line …

… a statement I used as an epigraph to my novel In a True Light, which is, in part, about the New York scene and Greenwich Village in the 50s, though the character of the painter in the novel is more like an amalgam of Mitchell and Frankenthaler than Freilicher herself.

And, finally, here are the last lines from a  poem by James Schuyler, Looking Forward to See Jane Real Soon.

Jane, among fresh lilacs in her room, watched
December, in brown with furs, turn on lights
until the city trembled like a tree
in which wind moves. And it was all for her.




Resnick & Nottingham

lonely hearts 2

Self-serving it may be, but I’d like to draw attention to a recent piece on Tony Beale’s blog, Home Thoughts,  in which he writes at some length about the pleasures he has derived from reading the Resnick novels, in particular their depiction of the faces and places of a Nottingham that has changed in many ways between the first – Lonely Hearts way back in 1989 – and the most recent, this year’s Darkness, Darkness.

Tony also discusses the novels in comparison with those by Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and others.

The post can be found here.

Art Chronicles: Malevich at Tate Modern



In a not dissimilar way to Tate Modern’s Arshile Gorky retrospective in 2010, its current (till October 26th) – and, it seems to me, if you have any interest in 20th century art, unmissable – Malevich exhibition shows him moving through a range of early influences as he searches for a style of his own. So, as with Gorky, there are brushes with the Post-Impressionism of Cezanne and then the early Cubism of Picasso and Braque, as he moves towards a personal form of abstraction which takes him in a very different direction, leading to his famous, or infamous, Black Square, which seemed to block out/black out all that had gone before: an iconic full stop that would propel him towards the splendour of colour and form that he was to call Suprematism.


To stand in Room 7, at the pivotal centre of this exhibition, is to be surrounded by a glorious and controlled outpouring of image and ideas that was to dissolve only a few years later in the wake of Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.


Painting died, Malevich said, like the old regime, because it was an organic part of it.

He taught, and, when his work resumed it signalled a return, under the increasing strictures of Stalinism and Socialist Realism, to landscape, figuration and portraiture. With his death in 1935, his work all but disappeared from view, only re-emerging, in part, in the 1950s; it was not until the 1980s that his Black Square painting would be displayed again.



Old School Fashion Man

So there I was, striking what someone called my Old School Fashion Man pose down in the South of France at Villeneuve Lez Avignon (see here) …

… and here are some of the results, from the lens of Icelandic photographer, Nanna Dis …

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014


France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

Considering what she had to work with, pretty impressive you might agree. Please take the time to check out Nanna’s web site

At the Movies : “Ida”


Two scenes from Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida :

Scene One :


In the first, the car has stopped at a fork in the road; the younger of two women, Anna, kneels in front of a crucifix embedded in stone, hands together in prayer, the grey of her novice’s uniform merging with the stone itself, the grey of the empty field, the surface of the road; the older woman, Wanda, stands by the car, smoking, maintaining distance, disbelief. Beyond and behind them both everything is swathed in mist. Poland some time in the 1960s.

Taken to a convent as a young child after her parents were killed during the Nazi occupation and brought up Catholic, Anna has just learned – weeks before taking her final vows – that she is a Jew. Propelled by Wanda, her aunt and sole surviving relative, she has set out to discover the truth of what happened to her parents. A journey in which she will seek to discover the truth about herself.

Another scene which I can only describe, not reproduce :

Ida, with Dawid Ogrodnik and Agata Trzebuchowska


Left alone by her aunt, Anna/Ida has gone down into the ballroom of the hotel where they are staying, drawn by the music of the young saxophone player who had earlier hitched a lift in their car. He plays Coltrane’s Naima, talks to her as a young man would to a young woman. Do you ever uncover your head, he asks?  Do you realise the effect you have upon people?

Upstairs, later, alone in front of the mirror, she uncovers her head, takes down her hair.


Pawlikowski’s film is, I think, a small masterpiece, beautifully, carefully acted (by Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna/Ida & Agata Kulesza  as Wanda) and carefully, beautifully shot in overlapping shades of grey; each shot, each scene beautifully, exactly framed – perfect in its composition, but, like, say, a solo by Thelonious Monk, often coming at you from an unsuspected angle, encouraging you to look – listen –anew.