Christine Frerichs, Beacon, 2017
64 full color pages
Introduction by Deb Klowden Mann
Christine Frerichs, Serenade, 2015
50 full color pages
Essay by Ellen Caldwell
Greeting the Dawn, Seizing the Night: Christine Frerichs’ Serenade
by: Ellen C. Caldwell
Looks like tonight
There should be a moon
Down in lovers' lane
There you go daydreaming
When it's time that you obeyed
That sunrise serenade
-Sunrise Serenade, lyrics by Jack Lawrence, c. 1939
Christine Frerichs’ Serenade at Klowden Mann features a series of monumental canvases paired in two’s. On love (for Agnes Martin) opens the show with two canvases of soft pastel hues and peach colored elliptical lines. These are warm, open, and inviting, as opposed to the darker charcoal lines in many of Frerichs’ other works. This piece mimics Agnes Martin’s classic minimalist dotted lines, but imbues them with great movement and playfulness set against a light pink and white surface. Similarly, her other artistic nod Warm Winter Kiss (for Constantin Brancusi) is also a lighter pink and white-toned work that is more animated in feel. There is a softness in these paintings, recalling the innocent and often magnificent love we feel towards those we respect and admire.
In all of Frerichs’ works, viewers can immerse themselves in another world – not just of sheer abstraction, but also of their own thoughts, feelings, and moods blended beautifully and wonderfully with that which the artist has laid bare for us. Staring into such works also allows one to see faint references scattered throughout – the deep turquoise and brilliant fuchsia dots in the bottom of Aubade (2) can recall a twinkling ocean under a vast night sky while the pastel lower portion of Serenade might recall a scattered beach. And then there are works such as The light between us (Lake Tahoe) in which Frerichs has quite purposefully infused her abstracted work with a distinct lakeside skyline.
These are landscape paintings reimagined in a beautiful way – they are both figural and a-figural. Using softer, less jarring, and more subtle tones than in the darker Nocturne and Doorway, Frerichs’ warm tones here invite introspection and reflection.
Frerichs cites Constantin Brancusi for his influence on her canvas pairings. Specifically Frerichs saw Brancusi’s 1916 sculpture The Kiss as an inspiration for her partnered work. The Kiss unites two angular, cubic limestone figures together forever in a frozen kiss and embrace. In ruminating on love for this series, Frerichs uses this sculpture as a jumping off point.
Two of the larger pairs in the show include the exhibit’s title-inspiration Serenade and Aubade (2). Named for a lover’s song, the former at dusk and the latter at dawn, these paintings truly encapsulate and set the stage for the show, bringing viewers full circle, through the cycle of the day, from dusk to dawn and back again and through the cycle of love, the show’s true underlying theme.
In Aubade, Frerichs covers her two canvases with saturated and pastel hues. The bottom begins as a darker combination of blues and purples transitioning into a fabulous burst of white and warm peach light at the top, as if mimicking and capturing the dawn to which the song is sung. Serenade offers a counter, moving in the inverse, from dark at the top of the canvases to a fading light at the bottom, as if the sun is setting below our horizon line. In these works, Frerichs creates two distinct allusions quite profoundly—both the exquisite beauty of sunrise and sunset that we are privy to twice a day if we so chose and the explosive nature of the serenade and aubade.
Her canvases are so closely joined that in some pairs that it is almost impossible to see the line distinguishing where the two meet, as if just a faint suggestion of separation. Whereas Brancusi carved two figures from one piece of stone, Frerichs, perhaps more realistically, offers one unified coupling from two distinct canvas beings, as if they are in the throes of love and in the process of melding and molding together. At times, thick layers of paint almost bridge the gap between the two surfaces.
Traces of Frerichs’ past work are definitely noticeable in the current show, though she explores an elegant subtlety in this new body. She invokes the same figure eight, elliptical shape employed in her past paintings, but this time she has opened the shape up, as if to split it in half and invert it between the two canvases. The spliced and open parts of the central “eight” more outward toward the exterior sides of the canvases and the curvature of these numeric bodies come together and straighten towards one another where the canvases unite, as if in a shared embrace.
These distinctive shapes are a driving force in her paintings, quite literally moving energy – hers and ours – through her work. Loosely measured and sketched in charcoal on canvas, she aligns her body with the monumental canvases and begins the inner “eights” measuring the top of the curves at her eye level, the cinched midsection at her heart, and finally her navel as a counter below. She builds the shape out from there, echoing and enlarging it as she goes.
Next comes acrylic modeling paste that Frerichs spackles on, carves out, and molds to her charcoal-sketched groundwork. The charcoal is at times picked up into these curvatures, offering a dark grey undertone to the sculpted base of the paintings. These often show through the paint, revealing the layers of her process, as if an x-ray of the painting on the painting’s surface. And as she paints, the colors catch on these grooves in wonderfully spontaneous ways.
In Rosalind Krauss’s “Grids,” she famously analyzes grids as the subject of twentieth century art and as an artistic mechanism that “functions to declare the modernity of modern art.” Interestingly, Frerichs’ elliptical shapes are a form of anthropomorphized, feminine grids that provide the substructure for her works. Besides its function as an icon of modernity itself, Krauss argues,
the grid announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse. As such, the grid has done its job with striking efficiency. The barrier it has lowered between the arts of vision and those of language has been almost totally successful in walling the visual arts into a realm of exclusive visuality and defending them against the intrusion of speech.
Frerichs’ works, however, break this mold. If part of the grid’s function is indeed silencing, Frerichs collapses that notion by inserting figurative elements and suggestions of landscapes, re-inscribing her grids with a combination of the verbal and the visual.
In The light between us (Lake Tahoe), viewers can imagine the idyllic skyline suggested above a serene lake. Frerichs applies warm yellow ochre tones to suggest the water’s sandy edge in the bottom foreground – and this is the shore that greets viewers and welcomes them to step into the painting. She stages this beautifully with the physical and figural landscape only taking about one third of the lower portion of the paired canvases. Frerichs creates a cyclical dynamic by opening the area above the into an abstraction more typical of her other works, recalling a wildly abstracted sky, which no longer seems as much of an abstraction with the landscape underlay beneath.
The texture, substructure, and three dimensionality of Frerichs’ underlying grid structure, and in turn her paintings, is everything. It helps to establish such a strong sculptural element throughout her show. Here, Krauss’ argument is relevant again:
Logically speaking, the grid extends, in all directions, to infinity. Any boundaries imposed upon it by a given painting or sculpture can only be seen—according to this logic—as arbitrary. By virtue of the grid, the given work of art is presented as a mere fragment, a tiny piece arbitrarily cropped from an infinitely larger fabric. Thus the grid operates from the work of art outward, compelling our acknowledgement of a world beyond the frame.
Frerichs’ molded cinches at the center of her elliptical grids feel like they are physically pulling and moving us through her paintings and into an infinity beyond the canvas.
In the gallery’s smaller project room, Frerichs offers a collection of journal-like expressions, musings, and wanderings using some of her distinctive styles on much smaller letter sized canvases. Blue Moon features four dots that are reminiscent of signs and symbols from her 2013 show The Conversation where she used certain colors as symbolic “stand-ins” for people or places. Double Beacon and Buoy are equally intimate and intriguing paintings suggestive of nostalgic love for a specific time and place. One gets the feeling that these have both wooed a piece of Frerichs’ heart, much like Lake Tahoe and Agnes Martin. The paintings in this back room are warm, experimental expressions, both nodding to her stylistic past and also offering possible signs of things to come in Frerichs’ future shows as she continually evolves and grows her style and subjects.
These ongoing notes and aesthetic wanderings are improvisational gems where Frerichs openly explores relationships and places with emotional resonance. And the intimacy of these small, delicate works offer viewers another layer of depth through small moments of contemplation.
Frerichs tows a beautiful line between abstraction and figural representation here, and her dance between the two prompts viewers to look deeper into her paintings, imbuing more of the works with flights of fancy as we imagine our own landscapes and lovers where they might not be and as we invest our own memories and sanguine serenades into the brilliant stages she has set for us.
 Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October 9, (Summer 1979): 50.
 Ibid., 60.