June 25, 2013

A Conversation With Christine Frerichs

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with artist Christine Frerichs before the opening of her solo show at Gallery KM on Saturday, June 15th.  A few beers were imbibed and a good conversation was had.  Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Frerichs approaches painting with an eye for design and an acute understanding of how materials can be used to elicit a guided response from the viewer.  Much of the work I saw walks a delicate line between abstraction and representation in a way that establishes an entry point without being excessively inviting.  There is an inherent willingness to embrace spontaneity in the work, but the literal and figurative realization of form through a self-imposed structure creates a beautifully conflicted narrative that is emblematic of life in general.

Studio view.  Work by Christine Frerichs.

Frerichs' work contains these amazing moments where materials break down and reveal themselves in their former state.  A visual representation of the way in which memories and experiences compile themselves to form the person we somehow become.  One section of the gallery features a collection of ten paintings aptly titled The Conversation (#1-10).  There is a consistently buried structural foundation that is present throughout the series, but the repetition is not off-putting.  Rather, it seems to function as a reminder that people are forever imprinted by the decisions made or not made within the time we are given.  As each subsequently numbered painting should indicate, there is a linear progression as the series continues.  Beginning with The Conversation (#1), the inception of Frerichs' life gently gives way to adolescence, early adulthood, and so on - each painting extracting the most potent aspect of the memories associated with these points in her life.  The series ends on a cliffhanger with the painting The Conversation (#10) and the artist in present day.  There is an aphorism that comes to mind, and bears mentioning -  "If we distance ourselves too far from the past...we are bound to repeat it." Frerichs seems to be keenly aware of this.

The secondary gallery features a number of smaller works and one large painting that is comprised of two canvases.  The later statement may initially sound like an inherent contradiction, but I asked Frerichs to provide contextual insight into how this and other choices were made.

Studio view.  Work by Christine Frerichs.

Easton Miller: Whether it is a specific palette of colors, or the recurrent symbol beneath each painting in The Conversation series, there are repeated elements throughout your work.  When did this method first become a tool you were interested in using within your practice?

Christine Frerichs: For the past 5 years, I've been using motifs in my paintings such as storm clouds, patterns of lines and dots, symbolic colors, and abstracted forms that reference the human body, all to represent recurring themes and feeling I've experienced in my life with pleasure, loss, vulnerability, and control.  the newest body of work, The Conversation, is a series of ten mid-sized mixed-media paintings that use these colors and forms to tell the story of reconciling and expressing the various sides of oneself on an emotional level.  The repetitive controlled line work that functioned as veils or obstacles in my work from 2009-2012 is present in this new series, through often serving as a 'backdrop' or 'open curtains' to more playful and improvisational imagery, such as the full color dancing line seen in (#1) and the thickly painted beam of light in (#2) which both reappear in different forms throughout the series.

EM: Are there specific connotations behind the colors you choose, or is your process of selection more general?

CF: The palette for these paintings is determined by personal associations I make with each color, and I'll use each color as a stand-in for a particular person, place, object, or feeling.  So for example, the mixed blue represents a cool, controlled figure, the vibrant warm red represents intensity and strength, and the flesh tint is custom-mixed to match to my own skin color and represents the surface, corporeal version of myself.

EM: Based on the level of consideration you've placed on your color selections I would assume that scale holds an equal level of significance in the work?

CF: Definitely.  Ultimately, these paintings are portraits, so I reference the human body by beginning each work with a thick layer of acrylic modeling paste, which I carve grooves into, creating a figure 8 patten.  The measurements of this figure 8 is based on my own body, with the top loop at eye level and the base loop at my navel.

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

EM: There is an inherent build up of emotional and aesthetic layers in your paintings - how do you view this compilation on an ideological level?

CF: With this body of work, I wanted to find a way to create abstracted portraits that do exactly what you say - describe at once the physical and emotional aspects of oneself through the use of symbolic color, form, and composition.  Instead of the body acting as the exterior shell for one's interior thoughts and feelings, I wanted to try flipping it inside out.  So the abstracted body form in these paintings is the base layer and superimposed on that textured foundation is imagery and mark-making which oscillate between spontaneous eruptions of color, light, and form as seen into controlled lines and patterns, reflecting the range of form that emotion can take, both in a painting and in our lives.  Anger, as with joy, can erupt explosively as exaggerated performance, and too as a restrained seizing of the body.  My use of materials also reflects this idea of a range of self and our capacity for transformation on an emotional level.  Oil paint and spray paint are stretched to their physical limits, transmuted into thick clotted dabs, thinned and thrown from a bucket, or carefully layered in translucent veils of glassy color.

Studio view.  Underpainting by Christine Frerichs.

EM: It's obvious that you have a deep routed fascination with the associative properties of materials.  As a 'materials nerd' myself, I have to ask what you've used to create the sense of depth in the black areas in many of your paintings?

CF: I use a paint material I developed in 2008 called Activated Carbon Paint (ACP).  This deep matte black paint is made with activated carbon, a porous material used primarily in water and air filtration systems, oral ingestion for poison treatment or overdoses, and gas purification.  Visually, the use of ACP alongside vibrant colors creates an incredible sense of depth and contrast in the paintings.  Metaphorically, it furthers the content of transformation and renewal.

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

EM: I love the tension created between the borderline scientific approach to your material development coupled with the romantic reasoning behind your decisions.  Speaking of coupling, could you talk a bit about how you came to the decision of presenting two canvases as one painting, and what the significance of this gesture means to you?

CF: As you mentioned, the 'paired' paintings are made by placing two stretched canvases of the same size side-by-side with their edges touching.  I began working on them a year ago, concurrently with The Conversation series, as a way of exploring the relationship between two people - two 'bodies' - as opposed to the singular portrait in The Conversation paintings.  These paired paintings also use imagery of storm clouds, the sea, abstract symbols of color, light, and darkness, to express the experience of connecting on an emotional level with another person, and feelings of vulnerability and intimacy.  The human body, represented as a textured figure 8 pattern underneath the painted imagery in The Conversation is also present in these paired paintings yet there are two 'bodies' now, one on each canvas.  Visually, I wanted to use this sub-texture to bring the focus to the 'center' of the paired paintings, where the two canvases/bodies meet.

Left: Christine Frerichs, The Conversation (#1), oil, acrylic, and ACP on canvas, 44 x 34 inches, 2012-13
Right: Christine Frerichs, The Conversation (#2), oil, acrylic, and ACP on canvas, 44 x 34 inches, 2012-13

EM: What was the impetus of this decision?

CF: The formal structure of the paintings were inspired by two things.  One was spending much of this past summer on the East Coast in Fire Island and watching the way the tides moving in different directions met in the ocean and how those crosscurrents would sometimes meet gently and other times with friction.  Two Friends at the Sea and Pair (The Talk 1 and 2) are portraits of that dynamic that occurs between two people in a relationship.  The other inspiration for the form of these paired paintings is Brancusi's sculptural series The Kiss (1907-1925).  The way he composed and sculpted the embrace of these two figures is so tender, with their arms crossing over one another's bodies, binding the two two together.  It's  a simplistic form, clunky even, yet the way he used so few marks and forms to lock these figures together feels elegant and extremely emotive.  I reference Brancusi's composition with my paintings Pair (The Kiss 1 and 2) and use two thickly painted beams of colored light (a motif seen in The Conversation) as the two crossing 'arms', which creates that intense connection between the two canvases.

Christine Frerichs, Pair (The Kiss 2), oil, acrylic, and ACP on two canvases, 11 x 17 inches, 2013

EM: I see an intense connection between all of the works regardless of their spatial proximity to one another.  That said, there is definitely less of a direct narrative in the smaller works than what I've seen in many of your larger paintings.  Do you notice a difference in your approach with the more diminutive works - both aesthetically and ideologically?

CF: I approach both my larger and smaller works in a similar way, in terms of my use of color, how I compose an image, what meaning it carries, and the emotion I'd like to get across to the viewer.  I would say that one difference between my 8.5 x 11 inch paintings and these larger ones is the relationship between the canvas size and the size of one's body.  Once a canvas becomes the size of one's body or the size of a doorway, for me it becomes less of an 'example' of a person, and more of an abstract embodiment of that person (or people).  I see the 8.5 x 11 inch paintings more as diagrams or letters, because of their relationship to the familiar size of a sheet of paper.

EM: Well...we've covered process, palette, ideological/aesthetic associations, and scale.  I'm pretty satisfied with the way things have gone.  Do you feel good about it?

CF: I do feel good (laughs).

EM: Thanks for taking the time to peel back some of the layers in your work!

CF: It's my pleasure, thank you for the chance to do so!

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

As previously noted, Frerichs' work is currently on display at Gallery KM in Santa Monica until July 27th.  In addition, Gallery KM will be hosting an artist talk and exhibition walk through on Saturday, June 29th at 5:30 pm.  Frerichs is also exhibiting in a group show at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin until June 27th.

As is the case with almost all art documentation, pictures do not do the work justice.  If you happen to be in either city during the aforementioned dates I strongly encourage you to set aside some time to see the work in person.

**If you can't attend the exhibition, but you'd like to see more of Frerichs' work - you can do so at

Easton Miller is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles, CA.

(Image at top: Christine Frerichs in her studio.)

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