History, as an immaterial concept and tangible phenomenon, routinely informs and excites curious minds. Studied intellectually and lived in situ, history provides a thoroughly malleable backbone for deciphering and decrypting the various milestones and misfortunes of past civilizations. History is constantly in flux and almost always at odds with the lifestyles and societal zeitgeist of proceeding eras, acting as a reference point for knowledge and change, for better or for worse. Selections 2012-2016, Walnut Contemporary’s newest exhibition profiling Canadian artist Carole Freeman, sees the noted painter whimsically subverting the history of her homeland and chosen profession with the zeal of a transgressive visual polyglot.
The exhibition is pulled from three disparate yet thematically sound series, with each collection of works enthusiastically dealing with history in one form or another. The first, and most pertinent to the artist’s practice, “Dear Art World,” series sees Freeman dressing up quotidian subject matter in the guise of legendary portraiture. The painterly efforts of Vigee Le Brun and other courtly artists, as well as the illustrious reputations of their historic sitters, is effectively debased when recontextualized with less-than-noble contemporary subjects. Collectively, Freeman breathes new life into her museological inspirations.
“The Green Couch,” series, the second in curator Ibérina Raquel Vilhena’s excursion through Freeman’s oeuvre, sees the artist illustrating the downtime of her art school pupils. Reclining and resting on this peculiar piece of furniture, Freeman captures a more arbitrary sense of time with these ordinary images of youthful hijinks. However, the artist finds a clever way to complicate these seemingly slice-of-life compositions by consciously appropriating historical paintings in the background, as if these recumbent students will amass to similar notoriety.
Where “The Green Couch” sees an introduction into the more personal history of Freeman, “Something About Winnipeg” solidifies it. A monumental painting portrays the artist’s imagined retelling of the Manitoba capital’s formation by creating a bevy of miniature tableaus that depict an exciting, yet abstract narrative. Bears mingling with humans and explorers uncovering new terrain are just two of the various chronicles visualized in this playful painting. Moreover, a large triptych and focal point to the exhibition, portrays the legacy of her respective lineage. Freeman dedicates a larger canvas to her father, a working dental surgeon during World War II, and his inventive use of accessible airplane parts as dental appendages. Here, the artist brings light to a particularly compelling historical contraption that personally resonates with her own immediate ancestry.
Carole Freeman, 48 Portraits (a preview of 12), 2016, acrylic on mylar on panel, 7″ x 5.5″ each. Left to right: Etienne Gaboury, Rachel Brown, Guy Maddin, Mira Spivak, Marcel Dzama, Deanna Durbin (from the Something About Winnipeg series).Courtesy of the artist and Walnut Contemporary
Selections 2012-2016 provides an amusing and mischievous history lesson that mostly evades factual truths. Instead, Freeman uses her highly developed visual skills in order to entice a viewer unlike any textbook or documentary before her, providing an engrossing antidote to clinical factuality.
Installation view of Carole Freeman, Selections, 2012-2016 with Critic in His Words, 2013, acrylic and graphite on mylar, 36″ x 82″ (left) and Father of Invention, 2012-16, acrylic on mylar,3 panels 42″ x 82″ each (right) at Walnut Contemporary. Courtesy of the artist and Walnut Contemporary
*Exhibition information: Augustus 4 – 27, 2016, Walnut Contemporary, 201 Niagara Street (entrance at side lane). Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 1 – 6 p.m.