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Joel Fremion Retrospective

FWMoA show gives Fremionís work a new perspective

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Artists cannot thrive unless they are, eventually, given the opportunity to produce a distinct body of work guided by their voice and vision, not crowded out by a group or constrained by a themed exhibition. The Fort Wayne arts scene has not offered an abundance of these opportunities due to its relatively little exhibition space, and the economics of running a space for the visual arts tending to pull them into the most commercial realms possible, mainly group shows.

However, now and again, an artist is given the opportunity that allows the Fort Wayne audience to see their work in a new light, more fully rendered conceptually. Joel Fremion has recently received this opportunity with not only a solo exhibition at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, but a traveling retrospective with catalogue. This exhibition truly changes the way that Fremion's work is seen and elevates the relevancy of his work.

"Joel Fremion: Master of 21st Century Collage" (open through January) is an exploration of the artist's use of collage in a relatively underused media of fabric to produce incredibly detailed environments which play with the boundaries between abstraction and realism, both in the mind and in the image itself. While there are many references in the museum's descriptions of the show to classic artists associated with collage like Picasso, Braque, Motherwell, and Cornell, this viewer could not escape the visual references to two artists who are not known for their collage work, but in their explicit questioning of "what makes us think that something is real" ó the contemporary alternative realism masters, Chuck Close and Vik Muniz.

Both Close and Muniz challenged the viewer and the institutions of the art world by working with unconventional materials to make images of very prosaic scenes, leaving the viewer stunned by the process "behind" what they were seeing, much more than what the images were conveying. In a very similar vein, Fremion's fabric collage/assemblages represented in this retrospective are mostly of portraits, landscapes, and still lifes which do not present a great deal of conceptual ground in their choice of subject, or a particular viewing of a subject to confer alternative messages. The content of the images are themselves the resting points, as Fremion takes the viewer on a tumultuous journey. Multiple patterned fabrics appliqued into an image use Hoffmanian push-pull techniques to make the works appear to contain incredible depth.

Pieces like "Penrod Arts Festival" and "Freimann Square, Mad Anthony Wayne" are both examples of this cool, collected energy in Fremion's work. Not needing an energetic scene to transmit the power of his process of creating, Fremion sagely chooses moments of calmness to carry the seemingly chaotic combination of fabrics in his work. Curiously, there seem to be more deliberate visual connections to the impressionism and Picasso's cubist sculpture. The former connection, which references an impressionist artist but has visual queues to the post-impressionist Cezanne, appears in "Tribute to Daniel Garber", an image of what would be a quiet lakeside landscape with a large tree in the foreground. Due to Fremion's process, the environment is spatially fragmented into hundreds of shards, with the tree including patterning which gives the scene a small life, like the rustling of leaves. "Tribute to Daniel Garber" would seem to be one of more important works explaining Fremion's style most opening in its inability to accurately reference impressionism. Due to the collage/assemblage process which necessarily fragments space into planes, a la cubism, Fremion's work is temporary trapped in the "now" of post-impressionism-onward, not being truly capable of visually referencing the art historical cannon prior without being inextricably anachronistic.

Fremion also makes a direct image of Picasso's bronze sculpture "Head of a Woman," based off of his then-lover Fernande Olivier. In Fremion's version, perhaps referencing a trip to see the sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the image clearly imitates the form of the bust, with its torqued style and unmistakable rhombic eyes, but also warm tones that would seem to be reflections off of the cold surface of the bronze which would only be picked up by experiencing the piece in its environment.

Also included in this inspiring retrospective, Fremion produced a number of images of local artists, like Cary Schaefer and and Jody Hemphill-Smith, in their studio or in the act of making. These intimate portraits are incredible both their construction ó the fact that Fremion was able to so accurately produce likenesses through small pieces of fabric ó and in their referencing what Fremion was doing in their creation, the laborious process of pieces a realistic image together. These images of the artist working then become both portraits of other artists, but embedded in the image, a kind of self-portrait referencing the work Fremion was doing in their creation. This image of an image is a theme repeated in selected still-life images Fremion produced as well. All of these intricacies, both in Fremion's processes and in his choices to produce, lead the viewer into an appreciation of the artists work.

Like any well-curated retrospective, "Joel Fremion: Master of 21st Century Collage" adds new dimension to this artist's work, explaining the "Why" just enough to get the audience hooked without giving too much of the "How" away. If our arts community is going to truly succeed, it will need more exhibitions like this, to incentivize more artists to struggle through the ups and downs of the art world to reach the point of retrospective.

"Joel Fremion: Master of 21st Century Collage"
Fort Wayne Museum of Art
November 10-January 27, 2013
For more info: www.fwmoa.org

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