Don Freeman: My Familiar Dream

Branch #8 (milkweed on white)Chrysanthemum #1001Branch #7 (Eucalyptus on black)

Stepping into The Gilded Owl gallery in Hudson, New York – it takes a minute to process the eye-feast of art, furniture and objet. The walls reveal a fascinating, stunning show by Don Freeman: “My Familiar Dream / 1992-2018.” Best known for his lyrical, painterly works of still life and architecture, Freeman is a celebrated American photographer splitting his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.

From his explorations into hand-toned, monochromatic images to his works utilizing architectural blueprinting, he constantly pushes the envelope on what a photograph can be.

Enamored with the large, unyielding petals of chrysanthemums and roses, the kind he saw in Japanese woodblock prints and fabrics, Freeman befriended neighboring upstate-New York gardeners and was moved to try his hand at backyard floriculture; steps that were the primer for the Black and White Flowers series. “Having photographed flowers and floral arrangements for Martha Stewart Living, other garden magazines and books for many years – see “Styling Nature,” Rizzoli 2016, for one – I wanted to escape the confines of color and styling, and shoot a series entirely in black a nd white – in simple compositions, without effort and in natural light,” comments Freeman. His work in this series is sensuous and organic, rustic and romantic, with each image feeling both simple and complex.

Flashing back to the edgy and exciting New York City art scene in the 1980s, Freeman was working with large-scale silk screens, which left him with acetate positives of his images. Inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s early blueprints at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and in a move both artistic and unique, he took the acetates to a blueprinter and began experimentation. His Blueprints works depict angels, branches, statues, columns and patterns of robes from The Vatican; all things he found ethereal and that made a statement about existence. A “washing” of the ink after printing provided a softness and had a blurred, watercolored effect. The unstable process of blueprinting was what intrigued Freeman, “I encouraged people to hang them unframed and let them fade outright, leaving only my signature and mark on the front, but people found them beautiful and protected and preserved them. To this day, there are many around just as I printed them 20 plus years ago,” he recalls.Joan of Arc, BlueprintBranch #6 (Pompoms on white)Rhododendron #1037

An ongoing project born of walks through the woods of upstate New York, the Branches series is graphic and bold, perhaps a reflection of Freeman’s formal training as a graphic designer. “I like the idea of coming face to face with something beautiful, without anything coming between the image and me. I often carry around a white card when I go on walks through the woods and use it as a background to isolate the branches I find, like a portable studio,” Freeman notes. His Branches works show a striking contrast, both within the photograph itself, but also in how Freeman presents them collectively, alternating the black-and-white backgrounds in a checkerboard pattern.

Having spent decades in the darkroom – he now dabbles, with hesitancy, in the digital world – amassing a collection of images he refers to as a “Noah’s Arc” of sorts. While inspiration obviously comes to him in many forms, cinema was and remains a major influence in his work. Of singular importance was Tarkovsky’s film “The Mirror” (1975), a visual narrative combining past and present, dreams and reality, color and black and white, all themes fundamental to Freeman’s oeuvre. It’s a body of work that leaves many excited about what comes next.

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