Home Magazine Joanne Freeman: the power of simplicity

“Like most urban kids I grew up in the back seat of a car, hyper aware of signage and neon”, American abstract painter Joanne Freeman (b. 1954) claims. Roaming and listening to music were a paramount in forming her early identity. Winner of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant 2021, Freeman serves as the Vice President of American Abstract Artists founded in 1936 and based in New York City where she lives.

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Freeman's canvases reflected the massive scale of architecture, advertisements and media found in the contemporary urban environment. Initially influenced by the symbols, signage, light and shadow, on the white facades of ancient buildings or on the streets of New York, her paintings and drawings incorporate forms found in architecture, design, popular culture, and art history. An example is Covers 13 - Yellow (Abstract painting), 2014, part of a series titled “Covers” (she often works on more than one painting at a time), which pays homage to the graphic style of mid-century album covers. Freeman wanders between limited choices of early printing technology, such as Gouache on handmade paper and the intaglio printmaking technique called Aquatint - a variant of etching - visible in Covers 3 Ultramarine (Abstract print), 2017. This limited edition was printed with VanDeb Editions on 100% beveled rag paper. Freeman uses loose grids and tape to mask out shapes and employ hard edges, working with random lines and shapes, placing down a shape and then building upon it.


Joanne Freeman, Covers 13 - Yellow (Abstract painting), 2014. Gouache on handmade Khadi paper, 13 × 13 in 33 × 33 cm, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman.


Her visceral compositions and pure saturated color mimic the low-tech graphics utilized in mid-century media and allude to the color field painters of the same period. Circular, curvilinear and overlapping lines and shapes, forms that are geometric, but they don’t interact in a geometric sense, in the manner of Ellsworth Kelly, John McLaughlin, Paul Feeley and Kenneth Noland. The reductive formal language is her inner structure against a spontaneous gesture.


Joanne Freeman, Covers 3 Ultramarine (Abstract print), 2017. Aquatint, 28 × 26 in 71 × 66 cm, Limited edition set 2 of 20, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman. 


Joanne Freeman, RB3 18 (Abstract painting), 2018. Gouache on handmade paper, 18 1/10 × 18 1/10 in 46 × 46 cm, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman. 


As noted by curator George Kinghorn: “the forms that inhabit these canvases create dynamic interactions - the hard-edged thickened lines quiver, rotate, stretch and sag”. Like Covers 20 Red A (Abstract painting), 2015, presented by IdeelArt in the show “Action Painting or a Glimpse into the Emotion” (2019). Freeman’s painting becomes, consciously or subconsciously, a visual record of the action, of her emotions, past and feelings. An eternal dance between the sights and sensations. The scale and proportions of the paintings relate directly to her body proportions and her own arms reach.


Joanne Freeman, Covers 20 Red A (Abstract painting), 2015. Gouache on handmade Khadi paper, 20 × 20 in 50.8 × 50.8 cm, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman. 


Her artistic practice includes a lot of curatorial projects (the latest: “Beyond the Gendered Lens: From the AAA Exhibition, Blurring Boundaries, to a larger discussion of Women in Contemporary Art”) and panel discussions. 

Although Freeman’s formal language could be considered minimalist with roots in the language of Modernism, it’s not cold or rigid. A sense of a "joy" permeates through what she does and her artworks, through careful observation, share some magic with their tactile hints. Simple, direct and innovative compositions form an interplay with a space of elegant randomness and oddity, leading you into the unknown.


Joanne Freeman, Covers 13-Purple B (Abstract painting), 2014. Gouache on handmade Khadi paper, 13 × 13 in 33.1 × 33.1 cm, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman. 


Find here more artworks by Joanne Freeman available on Kooness.

Cover image: Joanne Freeman, Covers 13 - Red Yellow A (Abstract painting), 2014, Gouache on handmade Khadi paper, 13 × 13 in 33 × 33 cm, Courtesy IdeelArt, © Joanne Freeman. 

Written by Petra Chiodi

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