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"For me, the face tells everything," says Carole Freeman, a Winnipeg-born painter now based in Toronto. "There’s such a variety of faces in the world and such a variety of stories behind the faces."
"I think we all wear our lives on our faces."
Freeman, who works primarily in portraiture, will be talking about her art at Friday’s Art Talk/Art Walk at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café.
The painted portrait been used through the centuries to express the swagger of status, power and wealth, as well as deep subtleties of character and feeling.
Some of Freeman’s work involves taking a genre with historical roots and adapting it for the digital age. In 2010, she started developing a series of paintings based on images from Facebook.
In Friend Me: Portraits of Facebook, the faces — some brooding, some smiling, some striking an ironical pose — will feel familiar to anyone who uses social media. But there is also something different about them, something that comes out in the layered medium of paint.
"People take so many photographs these days," Freeman says, "and when we’re looking at Facebook we scroll through them really quickly."
At the Friend Me exhibition people stopped and looked, she says. "The paint strokes, the way the paint is applied have something to say about that person," she says. "A painting draws people in."
While Freeman carefully paints each person, the works as a whole became a portrayal of our complicated relationship with digital technology. Though social media’s barrage of imagery can sometimes feel overwhelming, Freeman finds connection as well. Messaging each person she painted with his or her image, she ended up in some personal and poignant exchanges.
Freeman has also created painted images of famous people. In the 2010-11 series, If the Paparazzi Could Paint, which was shown in conjunction with the Toronto International Film Festival, the smooth, glossy surfaces of celebrity shots become more complicated and textured.
Freeman’s new one-person show, Something About Winnipeg, opens at Gurevich Fine Art on Nov. 4. The title came out of a conversation with gallery owner Howard Gurevich. "I said, ‘Well, you know, Howard, it’s going to be something about Winnipeg.’ And then we just stopped and looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it!’"
Freeman studied at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art and then went on the Royal College of Art in London, England. She never returned to Winnipeg to live but comes back every summer for visits.
Her Winnipeg works, which draw from her own memory and from the Internet’s endless bank of historical information, cover everything from cinnamon buns to catastrophic floods. Freeman also includes 48 portraits of important Winnipeggers. Working in the grey-scale associated with old newspaper and archival photos, she has crafted images of people such as philanthopist Muriel Richardson; Justice Murray Sinclair, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Sir William Stephenson, the spymaster who was thought to have been one of the real-life inspirations for James Bond. That one surprises some people, Freeman says. ("From Winnipeg, who knew?")
Some of the other portraits are purely fictional. Referencing a pair of images by Early Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, she's created a resplendent yet goofy Duke and Duchess of Winterpeg, complete with crocheted nose-warmers. (She admits to wearing one herself as a teen.)
"I wanted to address the history and culture of Winnipeg, but from a personal viewpoint," Freeman says. "I’m hoping that the personal will be a little bit universal."
"We’ve all experienced skating at 40 below."
In all her paintings, Freeman searches for something in a face that speaks to her — and which she hopes will connect with viewers.
"A portrait goes beyond realism to a sense of mystery, timelessness and quiet," Freeman says. "(It’s) a drawing out of what is distinctive about a face."
"For me, it’s that mystery that draws me to portraiture."
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.