by Hearne Pardee
January 19-February 24, 1996
Nancy Friese's paintings and prints have been exhibited in over 20 one-person shows and in 100 group shows nationally and internationally. Her works have been included in shows at the Barbican Center in London, Brandts Klaedefabrik in Odense, Denmark, Chrysler Museum, Everson Museum of Art, Herbert Johnson Museum of Art, North Dakota Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, and Tokyo's Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Giverny Grant, and a Blanche E. Colman Award for painting. Friese has an M.F.A. from Yale University School of Art and studied art at the University of California, Berkeley and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. She resides in Rhode Island, and teaches at Rhode Island School of Design.
Nancy Friese carries on an American tradition which finds in empirical observation the capacity to move both inward and outward to unexpected destinations. From Japanese gardens she has returned to her own neighborhood in coastal Rhode Island, but wherever she paints, thereีs an animistic quality to the universe Friese depicts, something like Charles Burchfield's, only without his reclusive darkness. Friese's horizons are broader, recalling the gestural style of Abstract Expressionism yet linking in form and color more to the European modern tradition. To describe her skies, one reaches further back, to the warm glow and exuberant energy of Tiepolo. Indeed, there's an operatic quality to these paintings, in their large scale, in the grandeur of their gesturing trees, and in their lyricism, which sets life on a plane of heightened emotional intensity.
This intensification begins in the sky, in the layering of clouds, where Friese indulges in playful improvisation, using light and shade to generate space; this luminous drama is picked up in the billowing foliage of trees and bushes and then reflected in the water. Her impulse like the wind, sets the landscape in motion. Friese's paintings which are vertical or square emphasize the interaction of the sky with the land and sea. Trees reinforce the vertical connection with their anatomical complexity and strength.
Her drawings reflect the effort of reconciling the demands of the robust American landscape with the harmony of the European landscape tradition. Areas of shadow stand out as flat shapes interlocking with masses of foliage or passages of open ground; linear gestures likewise assume independence, as branches interweave with each other and crisscross streamers of cloud. None of these suggested structures is solely sustained, as though the constant change of the landscape and its overwhelming demands keep adding new sources of interest and possibilities of form. Light emerges as the unifying force overriding all complexities and links her to the Luminists, some of whom worked in the same coastal regions over one hundred years earlier. The dark clouds that roil the atmosphere in Surrounding Shadow, the strongly contoured bushes in Shadow and Light and the calligraphic branches of Winter Tide maintain a direct, material resistance to facile resolution.
The reconciling of disparate elements, as though reconstructing a remembered dream, is the source of Friese's originality and invention. The fugitive effects of light and shade lend tangible form to her own lyricism and endow the everyday with something exotic.
Hearne Pardee is a painter, writer, and curator and a contributor to Art News.