Rural vernacular

Contemplating Linden Frederick at CMCA
By ANNIE LARMON  |  June 3, 2009

art main
"GRANGE," Oil on linen, 22 x 22 inches, by Linden Frederick, 1996. CREDIT COLLECTION OF MARY HERMAN + ANGUS KING

A documenter of the contemporary American experience with portraits of our most mundane infrastructure, Belfast-based Linden Frederick has been chosen as this year's distinguished artist by the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport. In the show honoring his selection, 35 oil paintings explore 23 years of Frederick's observations. Painted from unconventional perspectives, and often bathed in a moody light only nostalgia or memory can impart, the canvases honestly and inquisitively represent mostly New England landscapes. Although he studied abroad at the Ontario College of Art and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Frederick is a distinctly American painter.

Clearly influenced by other Maine-inspired artists, like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, Frederick has mastered a painterly realism that reads like a photograph yet maintains expression. He beautifully renders minute details with confident and smartly placed brushstrokes, and his attention to light and control of palette is unwavering. Looking closer at a painting reveals decisions to let washes show through to reflect light, and areas where color is simply blocked in, without articulating detail.

The exhibit's inclusion of 16 studies with their respective final paintings is an illuminating supplement to the show. Often reading like finished works themselves, these significantly smaller oils on panel or board illustrate Frederick's process, working out light, palette, and compositional relationships before approaching the larger canvas. Working from photographs, notes, and sketches taken at the sites of Frederick's subjects, these studies serve as the blueprints of his initial creative response.

While the title of the show announces "You Are Here," Frederick distances himself from the places he paints, suggesting and speculating at someone else's familiarity with a landscape or building. Homes, gas stations, and fairgrounds are depicted from a transient perspective, often including the street that divides the viewer from the subject in the foreground of the paintings. Roads and highways create movement and direction in Frederick's quiet scenes, pulling the viewer past the subject and emphasizing that while you are here, we belong elsewhere.

This element of pause is a resonant commentary on our contemporary itinerant culture. In isolated moments of structures and landscapes we hurry past, unremarkable buildings become monumental; TVs and streetlights are beacons. A sense of loneliness pervades the canvases, expressed not by human gestures, but by the structures that support us, left unattended or unnoticed.

Though Frederick paints rural and urban scenes, none of the works featured in the show explicitly depict a human figure. There is a vaguely eerie human presence that lingers in the glow of interior lights, headlights, and televisions, however, often the brightest light source and focal point of the paintings. This implied presence nudges the experience of the intimate landscapes toward voyeurism, and adds an enigmatic quality to the sites Frederick chose to render.

The habitual setting of dusk or dawn reflects the liminality inherent in Frederick's work, which resides in first impression or passing glance. While his blunt representations may be unforgiving and precise in their realism, his use of light is often dramatic, encouraging an emotional response to otherwise unexciting imagery. "Junction," painted in 1999, depicts a snowy country road passing a Gulf station. The headlights of three cars pierce the dirty muted landscape. An inviting wash of yellow sundown glows from the horizon, eliciting the relief of returning home after a long day, or coming in from the cold. Frederick's success at capturing exactly a warm winter twilight makes the ordinary scene so familiar, we think, this could be home.

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