lady painting

 

Aug 2004 Journal

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Art notes

Psychiatrists warned that as survivors and refugees from Nazi Germany entered their 70s and 80s, memories of past trauma, withheld as they coped with re-adjustment to new patterns of life, would come flooding back Similarly, the work of many artists from this background was expected to vibrate with dark and portentous images surfacing from the past.

But for veteran Austrian-born artist Lily Freeman, whose aptly named latest exhibition Happy Paintings was held at Burgh House, Hampstead, the tales of the Vienna Woods are still relating their joyful message. Her oils and watercolours resonate with the pleasure the artist clearly takes in the natural colour of the great outdoors, whether it is a remembered village in Austria, a Prague scene or the now more familiar white fake bridge over the lake at Kenwood. Dazzling sunsets, harmonious cloudscapes with gentle colours merging into the ether, these seem to be her romantic preoccupations. But for me, the harder-edged scenes of riverside houses are particularly interesting.

Lily Freeman, whose paintings have been shown here and in Continental Europe, emigrated first to Holland and then to England, spending seven days in a little boat on the English Channel being machine-gunned by German planes. She speaks of - but doesn't paint - her miraculous escape, her immediate internment as an enemy alien, watched over by soldiers with bayonets, and her short time in Holloway Prison. She married a fellow refugee, Fritz Freeman, and they started a business importing salami. Once, after she heard that her parents had been shot into a mass grave in the former Yugoslavia, Lily painted that terrible event from her imagination. Today she admits that her paintings are all optimistic - 'because that is what you wish for.'

While many pundits believe that photography has made realism in art redundant, it was refreshing to see the high standard of super-realistic portraiture this month at the National Portrait Gallery's BP Portrait Awards (on until 19 September). Homage to the Old Masters, an occasional hint of a Rembrandt in the subtlety of skin and eyes, does not devalue the originality of Maeve McCarthy's Self Portrait, for instance. Others, like Mary-Jane Ansell's Portrait of Josie, a little girl with pigtails and upwardly wistful glance, have an almost liquid appearance, as though they were poured onto the canvas. Jonathan Yeo's Rt Hon Paul Boateng shows a kindly, indulgent, almost self-indulgent politician with hands clasped in a thoughtful pose. A surprising number of the 54 entries on display at this annual competition, which this year attracted a record 955 entries, are self-portraits, demonstrating perhaps the introspective nature of portraiture. With such a remarkable array of talent and sheer industry, how do the judges pick a winner?

Well, in tune with British social awareness, unsurprisingly the winning portrait has a moving and affirmative theme. The young Scottish artist Stephen Shankland won it for The Miracle, which portrays his wife Kelly and son Connor, born prematurely last year and not expected to live through the night. The painting is a tribute to the fighting spirit of Kelly and their son, now a robust 17 months old.
Gloria Tessler

previous article:Jazz under the Nazis
next article:Sights, sounds and smells of 1920s Berlin