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

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image