It may surprise you to see a photography gallery having an exhibition of paintings–it certainly surprised me after 34 years. But the desire to show the work of Jon Friedman has been building for years, and I decided the time was now. The easy thing to say would be that the work is so photographic that the explanation for this departure lies in the work’s similarity to photography. But, actually, it is the differences between what Jon does and what photography does that is ultimately what this show, and my desire to do it, is about.
Jon Friedman and I have been friends for decades, and I have always loved his paintings. I own quite a number of them. On the surface of it, both he and I love landscapes, or, more accurately we love the land that spawns the landscapes–the islands off the coast of Massachusetts, Cape Cod (where Jon lives for most of the year ), the Hudson Valley, and a list of the great unspoiled places that are this nation’s treasures. We both photograph them, and what we see and are so specifically drawn to are very similar.
I am satisfied with the photograph as the end result, but Jon, who is an excellent photographer, is not. The photographic record is just the beginning of the process of creation of extraordinary simulacra which are about what the subject was and then becomes under his hand. I have often said to Jon that he should display his photographs, to which he emphatically replies, “I am not a photographer. I am a painter.”
The first impression is likely that there is a strong affinity between what Jon and many photographers whom I admire and show do. But the resemblance really does end there. The differences rest both on the surface and in the underlayers of paint that make up the material presence of the work. The different layers of Jon’s paintings work in very different ways. The underlayers are smooth and subtly shaded, giving us the assumption of mimesis, while the upper surface is far more textured and idiosyncratic, full of paint strokes, lustily applied. Precise decisions have been made about how the subject is presented in paint on the surface, yet the viewer always perceives this in terms of the original subject which retains its natural tactile intensity and aliveness. It’s as if Jon is knitting together the illusionistic depiction of the natural world with the material application of the paint to his surface. The experience is exciting, clearly familiar, but the intelligence and passion behind every stroke separate this work from pure optical verisimilitude.