Carole Freeman, an internationally recognized contemporary figurative painter, spoke about her work and process in the List Art Building Wednesday evening. Accompanied by visuals of her paintings, Freeman reflected upon her development as an artist from childhood to the present. During her talk, she emphasized her most recent exhibition, “Unsung,” which is a series of portraits of lesser-known figures and “unsung” heroes whom Freeman sought to commemorate.
Freeman’s past work has drawn on a wide range of inspirations and includes portrait series with themes including celebrities, residents of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Freeman’s friends on Facebook.
In introducing Freeman’s presentation, Professor of Visual Art Leslie Bostrom described the focus of “Unsung” as “portraits of heroes” and “people who Carole thought had fought the lonely fight.” Represented among these figures are a variety of backgrounds and vocational pursuits, but Bostrom added that the subjects all share an ability to “move a populace to think in a different way.”
During her conversation, Freeman provided context about her practice as an artist and the story behind each portrait. In the process of choosing and researching potential subjects for the 24 pieces that make up “Unsung,” Freeman said that she realized the candidates reflected current political and social issues in the United States. “I then knew what I wanted the show to be,” Freeman said. “A ray of hope in the current mess.”
Freeman was vocal about the political interests of her art but noted that while she wanted to “respond to current events,” she was not interested in documenting the present state of politics or presenting a protest. Instead, Freeman said she sought to “create an antidote — something beautiful with a positive message.”
While the inspiration behind the exhibit roots itself in contemporary politics, the works span multiple historical eras. Subjects include activist Sylvia Ray Rivera, writer
nd abolitionist Frederick Douglass, broadcast journalist Amy Goodman and 9/11 first responder Mohammad Salman Hamdani, among others. Freeman said that the breadth of her focus posed some problems in the painting process as reference photographs were often limited and of varying quality or color scheme. Nonetheless, Freeman painted each subject in full color in accordance with a desire for the portraits to appear “jewel-like” and to maintain “a look of immediacy and freshness.”
The portraits in “Unsung” share something of a family resemblance and were described in Bostrom’s introduction as being painted in an “exquisitely quiet way.” Each portrait contains a figure surrounded by space, a composition that gives the pieces what Freeman referred to as a “humbling” effect. In the exhibition itself, the 12-by-9 inch paintings are hung side-by-side in simple white frames.
Anna Steinberg ’19 came to the lecture after meeting with Freeman for a class in the visual art department. While Steinberg noted that her own work is quite different from Freeman’s, she said that “every artist is trying to better the world in some way” and added that Freeman is one example of how artists can achieve this goal.