October 4, 2013

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Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets

The painter Jane Freilicher met poet John Ashbery in New York City in 1949. A the time she lived upstairs from Kenneth Koch, who would become known—along with Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler—as a member of the New York School Poets. Though best known as wrters, all four members of the New York School were deeply interested in art (Ashbery and Schuyler went on to be art critics, and O’Hara worked at MoMA). By the early 1950s they had become part of a group associated with the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, which included painters such as Larry Rivers, Fairfield Potter, and Freilicher. As friendships between the writers and artists developed, so did an impressive sense of genre-crossing inspiration: Painters portrayed poets, and poets wrote about painters. Some, such as Joe Brainard, who arrived later, would become both a painter and a poet—and a frequent artistic collaborator to boot.)

Tibor de Nagy recently focused on one particular artist and her poet peers in the spectacular show Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets. The resulting catalogue features reproductions of Freilicher’s landscapes and still lifes, all of which have, like the New York School poets’ work, a beguiling mix of intensity, intelligence, and apparent ease. Here, we also find portraits of Schuyler, O’Hara, Ashbery, and Koch. This alone would be a treat, but the writing—reproductions of letters written, and poems about Freilicher (e.g. Schuyler’s “Looking Forward to Seeing Jane Real Soon”)—bring the sense of friendship, gossip, and idea-swapping to the forefront. As a writer, Freilicher is charming, insightful about her work, and a true wit. As Ashbery writes to her in a 1960 letter: “Dear Jane, Your letter came yesterday and it is already required reading in my set—Harry Mathews and Kenneth Koch both fell under the table in the restaurant where we all ate last night while reading it.”

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