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An Artist Who Takes Care of It All

By Addison Parks / January 31, 1991



JON FRIEDMAN has always been happy working in more than one camp. He appreciates and understands and loves what it means to be able not only to experience many things, but to share them as well; and he does them and shares them with an exuberance that is wonderful to behold. Many of the camps that Jon Friedman works in are opposing ones, and some of these oppositions are more dramatic than others. Some are camps within camps. Some overlap. He is a painter, sculptor, writer, teacher, illustrator, and photographer. Art is the big camp here, but he involves himself in others as well, like politics. It may seem strange that sculpture and painting could be so separate when they seem like just different mediums, but we like to camp.

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Within painting alone in this century there have been numerous divisions. We have had abstraction and figuration; Modernism and Traditionalism; Formalism and Expressionism, to name a few. More than most, Jon Friedman has tried to work in harmony and understanding with all of these camps, and he has had to pay the price.

It is baffling to Friedman that in order to get some kind of recognition for the things he does he should need to limit himself and commit to a camp; that we can't trust someone who can see and stand on both sides of a line. If he won't take a side, we won't have him. Isn't that how we define ourselves, after all, by the sides we take? Jon Friedman has had the courage to respond to all sides of life and art and revel in them through his work despite prevailing tastes or attitudes. He has been his own artist, and has had the generosity of spirit to give everything he has to give. Receiving is our department.

It isn't hard to see that this artist appreciates so many things. Looking at his pastels we become awed by just what pastels can do, their velvety way of describing light, the way they build to a richness that is nothing short of delicious. And these are fluid, striking, astute observances of the way nature behaves, the way water ripples or branches look against the sky. Friedman doesn't hold anything back to make his drawings as inspiring as what inspires him.

BUT off in another studio, down in the basement of where he lives on the Upper West Side in New York City, he is letting other delights command his attention: The way a coil of copper can be just that or a bumble bee, or a piece of wood can become a woodpecker. He is making things with his hands, inventing, playing, and losing himself in a labor of love.

The art world just doesn't have the spirit to tolerate something that could be so cornball. Who cares about bumble bees and woodpeckers? These sculptures are so beautiful and delightful that given the time they could melt down anyone's sad art pretensions, but they've only been shown in Chicago, and even those good people can't quite figure out where Friedman stands.

There is such a steadfast thrill and optimism to Jon Friedman and his work that we must be thankful that they are their own reward. He is not straddling any fences; he is walking among many camps and passing through the lines. So he doesn't fit; Jon Friedman is taking care of it all.

This series showcases artists at work. Each essay is succinct, introductory, and captures art in motion before labels are applied.