Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nancy Friese’s Landscapes

December 1, 2009 by  
Filed under landscape painting, notable painters

Nancy Friese Clouds 2005, oil/linen, 15 x 22 inches

Nancy Friese is a leading landscape painter and printmaker who paints outdoors from direct observation, often of the Rhode Island landscape, where she also lives and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. She has also traveled widely to paint views from such places as Japan, Pont-Aven and Giverny, France, her native North Dakota and other scenes around New England.

Unlike many other contemporary landscape painters, like Rackstraw Downes, who paint with a more objective, naturalistic approach, Ms. Friese unapologetically paints in a bold expressive manner. She uses brilliant color and broad, painterly brushwork and surface texture but appears to remain faithful to the view. I imagine the scene looks like she paints it. The foliage and other shapes are likely drawn faithfully to represent their specific forms however she is also interpreting the shapes gestures, relationships and color to transform the view into pictorial wonderment. Her use of saturated, trippy color, particularly in the intense greens, may at first seem or jarring to landscape painters with a more tonal or traditional temperament but if these paintings used more sober, naturalistic tones – I worry it would suffocate the new life she is bringing to the scene.

This approach show affinities with such painters as Vincent Van Gogh and Charles Burchfield not only for their use of color but how they transformed views of their immediate surroundings to such lasting poetic resonance and visual power. Her subject often seems commonplace, only a few trees, a field and maybe some water – enough of a subject for many painters but she takes this a step further with finding the lyricism in the the changing light and other animated vagaries of nature such as constantly moving clouds and wind through the tree branches. She appears to be looking for what the landscape might reveal to her emotions as much as her vision.

Light Falls 2005 oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches

The art historian and critic, John Arthur said of Nancy Friese’s work in his 2006 essay,
Nancy Friese and the Practice of Plein Air Painting, for her show at the Pepper Gallery in Boston:

“… The American practice of plein air painting-from the oil studies of Frederic Church, the western paintings of George Catlin, the watercolors of Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran, to the directly observed canvases of Rackstraw Downes and other contemporaries-remains a significant factor in our visual heritage. Importantly, while attitudes toward the environment have radically changed during the last half century, images of our natural surroundings have taken on a new luster in contemporary American art. And even though the breadth and history of these long and continually evolving phenomena have rarely been acknowledged by the art world, the lure of the physical and sensual exhilaration of the one-to-one encounter with nature that lies at the center of plein air painting shows no signs of diminishing.

Rather than following the course of naturalism-as have Rackstraw Downes and Peter Poskas, for example-the directly observed oils and watercolors by Nancy Friese tilt toward gestural rendering, heightened color, and implied animation. Such expressionistic interpretations are all too easily overlooked in discussions of the plein air tradition, even though it traces back to those charged drawings by Claude and mystical watercolors of Samuel Palmer. In our own twentieth century art there are the sensory illusions of Charles Burchfield, the Maine abstractions of John Marin, and Nell Blaine’s effervescent views of Gloucester. One senses a dialogue with these artists of the past in Friese’s watercolors, paintings, and prints.”

Light of Spring 2005 oil on linen, 15 x 22 inches

“… The poetry of Nancy Friese’s scenes, which are rendered with great self-assurance and painterly flair, lies in the fusion of empirical observation and the ambiguities of persona suspended just beneath the surface of all perceptual painting.”

Avondale Farm Preserve Fall
Left Painting 72” x 72”, Right Painting 72 x 72 inches
Oil on Linen Diptych (2007)
(Click image for larger higher resolution version)

Another remarkable aspect of her work is the scale of some of her plein air work, as in her 72 inch square diptychs of the Avondale Farm Preserve. I can’t imagine the practical difficulties of painting that large outdoors.

Avondale Farm Preserve Winter
Left Painting 72” x 72”, Right Painting 72 x 72 inches
Oil on Linen Diptych (2008)
(Click image for larger higher resolution version

Sometimes you can be lucky find great views from a window and keep all your indoor comforts intact. An interesting side note, Nancy Friese had a studio along with several other artists painting views from the 91st floor windows of the World Trade Center. All her paintings in this studio were destroyed during the Sept 11th attack. A 2002 show called “Re-Imagining New York” of nine landscape painters who lost their studios at the world trade center was held at the North Dakota Museum of Art, you can read about here.

Across the Bay 2005 oil on linen, 15 x 22 inches

From her website bio:

“…Friese’s paintings and prints have been exhibited in more than twenty-five solo shows and 170 group shows, nationally and internationally. The recipient of several prestigious competitions and awards, Friese has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, including the Japan-US Friendship Commission Creative Artist Fellowship. She was granted a Lila Acheson Wallace Giverny Fellowship, a Blanche E. Colman Award, Pollock-Krasner Foundation funding and a George Sugarman Foundation Grant for painting. Artist’s Resource Trust (A.R.T.) funded her exhibition and residency at Trustman Gallery.”

“… Nancy Friese received an M.F.A. in printmaking from Yale University School of Art and studied in the graduate painting program at the University of California, Berkeley. She studied painting and printmaking at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and was a recipient of a Yale University Summer School of Music and Art at Norfolk fellowship. She has a B.S. from the University of North Dakota.

Her paintings and prints are represented by Pepper Gallery in Boston. Prints can also be found at Mimosa Press in Tulsa, art4business in Philadelphia and Riverhouse Editions in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her artworks can be seen at A member of ArtTable, she resides in Rhode Island and North Dakota and teaches at Rhode Island School of Design.”

She has an upcoming show at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010 in Kansas City organized by the Curator Barbara O’Brien.

Moving Light 2004 oil on linen, 24 x 29 inches

Emerald Necklace Muddy River #4 2008 oil on linen, 16 x 24 inches

Path & Pond 2003 oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches

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4 Responses to “Nancy Friese’s Landscapes”
  1. This work is so rich and vibrate. Makes me want to go outside again.

  2. Nancy Macko says:

    The color in these paintings is so scrumptious I just want to live inside them. There is such a mastery of technique that the paintings look casual, relaxed, when in fact they are clearly carefully crafted and highly abstracted. Simply put, they are gorgeous!

  3. Brett Busang says:

    I think Mr. Arthur has overstated himself. Ms. Friese’s landscapes are exuberant, to be sure, but they can be curiously static and, at their worst, no more or less garish than cotton candy.

    In a technical sense, she misperceives the landscape. Whenever she confronts brush, scrub, or grass she doesn’t tell us anything about how it grows. And she renders it in a generalized sort of color which is out of synch in spatial as well as chromatic terms. It is important to create a sense of movement – which she does gesturally, but, in my view, that is not enough. In what direction is this particular landscape rolling? She fails to show us time after time. I fully understand the imperatives of “expression,” but expression must be served by a knowing hand and eye.

    Having attempted to expose what this artist lacks, I should probably moderate my criticism and acknowledge what she can do well.

    I think Path and Pond, Across the Bay, and Light Falls are effective images. They have real joy in them. And the color makes sense. In larger works, she doesn’t hold things together quite as well.

    I’m going to sign off now and possibly regret my candor.

    • Larry says:

      Please don’t regret your candor – your comment here is insightful and well said. I’d love to see more discussion like this. However, I’m not sure that Nancy Friese is that interested in having her painting succeed in the more traditional landscape concerns as you mentioned. I’m not sure that is the best move on her part, I’m not convinced of the need to seem “primitive” or to throw out the need to properly read space, light and form. In Van Gogh’s paintings -the way he draws with the paint as well as the emotional impact of his design made up for any lack of clear spacial reading and such – I suspect that is the area she goes after as well but less successfully. That said, I still love many of her paintings. I like that her work breaks a few landscape rules and like you said there is a real joy and life to the work that makes up for technical shortcomings.

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