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Comments by Dr Greg Kerr

“The artists work is a celebration of the medium of oil paint and its capacity to both refer to the familiar (the artist delves into art history and personal experience) and evoke novelty through unusual and expressive explorations of the South African landscape and the human figure as well as objects used daily.

Each work can be enjoyed from a distance as well as close up. Emphasis has been placed on the tonal composition first and then the linear. The first priority of colour is its capacity to suggest temperature and thus spatial tension. The artist has focused on a dynamic combination of glazes against impasto. The result is a joyous indulgence in the richness and musculature of oil paint.”

Dr Greg Kerr (for GordArt exhibition - 2007)

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Extract from opening address by Louisemarie Combrink.

Exhibition at North-West University Potchefstroom campus with Gordon Froud (20th May 2010)

The work of this artist can be described as neo-romantic. We enter, here, poetic visions of dislocated figures in apocalyptic landscape settings.

I like to pin a few words onto my feelings about his work:


Friedlande plays with evocative images, sometimes suggesting vaguely familiar worlds and words. But because the images are so evocative, they remain fragmentary and open-ended, like bits of language half-understood - which make sense nonetheless.

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.

Other articles:

  • Lance Friedlande: an artist of fragments and poetry

    Johan Myburg on the 2008 Fried Contemporary Exhibition

    From an early life as a child Lance Friedlande has always been fascinated (and mesmerized) by painting. He had an uncle and an aunt, Kenneth Bakker and Bernadine Biden, who instilled in the young Friedlande an awareness of painting, of the qualities of paint and moreover: a life with paint. These two people he regards as the earliest influence on his own artistic career.

    After Years of “selling his soul” in a career in business Friedlande returned to painting and specifically the exploration of the painterly qualities of oil, colour and technique. In his own novel way he grappled with these aspects and came up with his own form of expressing landscape and the human figure. In this exploration Friedlande studied amongst others the work of other artists – especially the work of De Kooning and Bacon.

    His last solo show was last year at Gordart in Johannesburg.

    The new work in show today is a perpetuation of his constant exploration and effort to push the limits. A while ago the mere thought of monotypes would have been far fetched. But he did some graphic work recently at David Krut in Johannesburg and surprised himself at how much he enjoyed the process and working on paper. Always open to new possibilities and always keen to take risks, this printmaking experience has proved to be a new point of departure in his work

    Friedlande’s landscapes with figured are evocative scenes – celebrating the South African landscape with acacias and curved horizons – but more than this. He depicts a specific tension, something of which the viewer was vaguely aware of but could not pinpoint. Studying his work one recognizes aspects of instability in the landscape; in the relationship between people (Race Day and The two Faces of Fate) or in the way people are dealing with and in their surroundings. It is the body language (or the secret language of the body) that Friedlande manages to portray the tenderness of the unspoken and the unspeakable. And the manifestation of tension.

    Friedlandes world is not flat, is not even. His figures live in a world that could destabilize them instantly. They could fall off at any time. They inhabit a fragile world. Living aware of their own fragility. (Greek in Decline).

    Whereas Friedlande has shown in previous work his skill of painting skin and flesh, with this exhibition he reiterates his ability to play with temperature. His use of colour (and he is not scared of using colour) raises the temperature in his work – creating a sense of a hostile environment or adding to the inner turmoil of the figures inhabiting the landscape.

    His work is meticulous yet not overworked. He maintains a remarkable balance between the painted surface and what lies behind the applied paint. As if the artist allows the viewer something of the process, something of what is not said. In doing this Friedlande’s work gain a palimpsest quality. Nothing is simple. Nothing is legible at face value alone. There is a layer of meaning. And meaning is always instable

    What Friedlande does is to “interrogate the opposing forces of balance and disorder” and to offer us his “search for the elusive moment when the painting comes together in disorientated harmony”

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