by Kathy Weinberg
Over the clanging of china plates and cutlery, pots and pans in the kitchen, and voices of the clientele reverberating against the high tin ceiling, perhaps you can detect a murmur coming from the art work lining the walls of Perimeter Gallery, which shares its space with the restaurant and food market Chase’s Daily. Freddy LaFage has created a new group of paintings — after a twelve-month hiatus — over another twelve-month period; the time span relates the work to a calendar cycle. The show’s title, Murmur, and the artist’s statement, refer to the difficulty of not only finding the time to work that many artists face, but also suggests that he has been struggling to hear and decipher the erratic murmur of his muses.
LaFage’s previous works have been colorful, delicate, and bold, with a palette directly taken from his love of early Sienese painters. This group of work departs from that association, but maintains the layered sophistication, simple shapes, and abstracted approach using multiple, direct marks. In Seven Steps, stairs and steps lead up a mountain shape, coming from nowhere, leading higher, surrounded by a dense green fog of buttery paint and allowing a hint of the underlayers to show through — one of the more interesting features of LaFage’s works. The layers are the traces of the artist’s journey and we climb the steps with him.
LaFage’s artist statement that accompanies the show tells of the struggle to find the time and the process of letting ideas emerge for a body of work. One of LaFage’s strong suits in previous work has been to create intricate abstractions with the intense charm of Paul Klee and a free form wonkiness that makes the work come alive. His agitated line is ever-present in this work: there are no hard edges or definite forms. In The Thing Is, triangles are cut off at their edges, stacked up, their points flattened. Red on red, a plane or rocket takes off through or over a thicket of black marks, like houses below, or black brick field with red mortar. Here, nothing ever really is, or isn’t, anything. The artist surprised himself, improvising as he went; as viewers we share with that process of discovery through variations in scale, color, presentation and levels of finish.
In December a pink “sky” interrupts a surface heavily underpainted, the colors muddied, then overpainted with small white circles. The colors are disharmonious greens and pinks. It is as if the painting, begun in one spirit, ended in another to tie it together with one emerging theme in the show: the presence of a distant mountain peak.
A large, mural scale paper installation (paper salvaged/gifted from a former Moss factory employee) hangs high on a large brick wall in the front of the space. The paper edge meets and traces the brickwork up to the ceiling. The work hovers like a stage set or performance piece, and has all of the permanence, or lack of permanence, that those genres imply. Roughly painted, it is a giant sketch and lacks the subtle power that LaFage commands in his small works. The painted paper contrasts against the brick and forms a pyramid, a mountain peak, or a series of inverted triangles. The triangle emerges as one of the themes of this show, a repetition of geometry that wants to transcend itself and represent something. The scale betrays an unequal trinity of the artist, his evasive muse, and the bitch, Goddess Time.
16 Steps, a tiny, mostly blue painting, is a classic modernist gem. It feels like a dock at twilight, the spare sense of architecture, the merging of water and sky, is an abstraction that is on the verge of falling apart or coming together. We catch our view of it at a moment when it balances.
Murmur, at the entryway with subtle, layered rich colors, is a delicate work that gets lost in the crush of people waiting at the door. It deserves a more prominent place, and a chance for the forms to play off of and challenge the neighboring paintings. Here geometry becomes a squadron of planes with a raindrop pattern resembling bombs, but rendered with delicacy so the image falls back into patterning and paint with a murmur, like a memory.
Smack Dab, a vivid red flash of a nuclear blast is almost a cartoon in the simplicity of the drawing, but is redeemed by an underlying earnestness: that first hand eye witness account of an artist who has traveled a long way to deliver a message. It has a visionary quality, reminiscent of a William Blake drawing, or is this Brancusi’s Endless Column emerging from hell?
There are many delicate joys to be found in Murmur. Perhaps the title refers to the figures emerging from the primordial paint and soft edge geometry in The Fall of Icarus, a family group, man, woman, child with an Icarus quietly tumbling out of pattern and geometry, into focus. I cannot help but think of Adam and Eve struggling for form, from mud and rib, in this post, late Guston era — no Eden — artists still wrestle with concepts of abstraction and figuration and the zones where they overlap. There is a dedicated and earnest artist at work here, one who is open to discovery. The arrival of figures on the canvas from an artist that has been primarily a non-figurative painter signals new possibilities. I came away with a sense that this show is a place holder, a rehearsal for another show, one that I can imagine some time in the future when the artist climbs those steps, and comes back down with the lesson taken from that peak, and has the Time again to flesh out his themes. I look forward to that.
Murmur, a solo exhibit of Freddy LaFage, continues through November 29, 2015 at Perimeter Gallery.
Perimeter Gallery at Chase’s Daily
96 Main Street, Belfast, Maine |
Open 7am to 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and 8am–2pm on Sundays. Free.