Visual Arts

Linden Frederick and the Magic of Realism

Wedding Night (partial)

There is a love in Linden Frederick's paintings – a love for, in the broadest sense, civilization and, in the narrowest sense, for the virtues of merely hanging in there.

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are moments at dusk or in darkness when a single light glowing from the window of a store or apartment in an otherwise deserted street evokes the kind of emotion (or so we can imagine) our unimaginably distant ancestors might have experienced when, starved and frightened and cold, they first sighted in the far-off distance the fire at the mouth of a cave. And yet, because 60,000 years of human history have passed, and because we are now blindingly, blaringly surrounded by light and stimulation in our every waking moment, these solitary illuminations can simultaneously evoke in us the opposite feeling: not of relief, but of unspeakable and unshakeable loneliness.

This desolated welcome, and the tension it creates in the viewer, is one of the paradoxical “double feelings” that characterize the paintings of a new American realist named Linden Frederick, and that account in part for the eerie power of his work. His work’s effect on the viewer is burnished by his oil technique, but the technique serves as underpinning to, rather than as the point of, his art: Everything painterly in his paintings is subsumed in fealty to the power of reality – a reality that is uniquely his, but also uniquely American.

Everyone is Gone

In Frederick’s deeply mysterious oil painting Wedding Night, the deserted street is in an American small town, most probably somewhere on the East Coast, and the solitary source of illumination comes not from a home, but from a bridal shop. It's a one-story Mom and Pop operation in a cheaply constructed, part- brick, part-clapboard building fringed by an old-fashioned awning and featuring in its window angular mannequins posed so as to “look” not at each other, nor at the window shopper, nor at the viewer, but at nothing at all.

The shop is attached to a rambling old house in which, it would appear, nobody is at home, and down the block – where, among the other old-fashioned frame houses that are depicted, one can also imagine a dimly lit tavern, maybe, or an old-fashioned ham-and-egger luncheonette – everyone is gone, as well. There is only one car on the street that appears to be occupied; its headlights are on, but it seems to be idling at the curb, going nowhere.

It is right around sunset, and the store could be recently closed for the evening or – because the long window glows with a buttery light -- still open. There’s something melancholy about the latter possibility – the bell that will break the oppressive silence of the street when you open the door, the glaring fluorescence inside (that golden light is likely reserved only for the display window), the single indifferent salesperson, and the distinct possibility that you would be the first, and final, customer of the day.

But it is a “wedding night”, after all. And, in the ironic title and the subject of Frederick’s canvas dwells the second doubled feeling: This is a store that exists only for reasons of love and joy, yet whatever wedding and marriage that will follow may have a long road to travel from the straitened circumstances implied by the little shop and the slow-moving, small-town street where it is located.

Or perhaps that is looking at it from the wrong angle entirely. The couple getting married this very evening are already done with the little shop; they are about to move on to bigger and better things, while the shop, dependent on a perhaps dwindling pool of customers, may be the entity facing a dreary future. Somewhere, on the other side of town, there is a joyous wedding party, but this shop and its owners will play no part in it, or in the lives that will follow.

But there is, at the same time, something touching about the scene, in the stubborn way, perhaps, in which this small store holds out against the enveloping night, or in the lovingly rendered, classically American small-town street scene itself, which, in its very ordinariness, is extraordinary. And yet it wouldn’t seem extraordinary at all if we lived in the neighborhood of the bridal shop.

Frederick’s painting is not a “meta” work of art -- in other words, it doesn’t, as has been the fashion in recent decades, seek to call attention to its status as a painting. Rather, it attempts to evoke in the viewer the precise emotion he might feel if the scene depicted were actually encountered. But the likelihood that any of us would have encountered this scene, whether in the present or the past, and think anything at all of it, is rather slim.

All Souls Day

And who can blame us? If we’re not in the market for whatever’s being offered, we quite sensibly just drive past it.

Seen in this way, Frederick’s subject matter would seem to be the preciousness, and fragility, of civilization, that elaborate and imperfect structure that all of us depend on and all of us, as a result, inevitably take for granted. In another of his paintings, All Souls Day, the theme is reiterated: In a dark wood, the sky a deep indigo so dark that it is even difficult to see the outline of the trees, we can just barely glimpse the outlines of some small houses. From one of them, a welcoming light is glowing. All else is encroaching night.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.