Art and the City

Artist Portrait: Robert Freeman

A photo of Robert Freeman with a painting.

Do you belong here? It is the question implicit in Robert Freeman’s elegant and often lofty “Black Tie” series.

What began as a satire of the African American middle class has become an expression of appreciation of the elegance of the evolving social structure. For him, “it takes maturity to understand those relationships, and a integral knowledge and feel for what to express.”

Robert Freeman doesn’t set out to tell a story. He begins each work with “scribble”—large impassioned swirls and slashes. Before long, a narrative begins to emerge. Figures take on personalities and a conversation with the painting begins. The intrigue grows and the work, as a complete whole—composition, color and tonal quality—evolves to tell its own story—on stronger and stronger terms. 

Robert Freeman grew up in DC and graduated from Howard University. He went on to Boston University for advanced studies in art. There he received a strong foundation in academic drawing, composition and other traditional disciplines. He later studied abstract expressionism with the painter, Philip Guston.

You see both influences in his work: the discipline of drawing from observations, especially in his portraits, and the electric pattern of lights and darks throughout each of his landscapes.  All of this comes together in his Black Tie paintings and prints. Moving figures emerge from the suggested space in a dance of mysterious energy—a timeless and tireless whirling and spinning—a Jazz composition that becomes the essence of Cool, the “in crowd.” It becomes, at the same time, a universal portrait of the human instinct to share an essential identity—the elegance of belonging. Right here.

You can see his signature work this month at Zenith Gallery. (See, At the Galleries.)

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art

Bob Freeman (see Artist Profile) told me that he usually has trouble letting go of a painting. Somebody has to sayenough, and then take it away.

How many artists have the same problem? I just took a knife to a self-portrait because I just couldn’t make it work. There was something wrong with the proportions…or something. No matter how much I worked on it, I couldn’t get it right. Then a day or two later, looking through old image files, I came across the original portrait of eight years ago. Loose and free, the color tones and brush strokes were balanced and convincing throughout the whole canvas.  It was good, darn it. I should have stopped right there.

Last week, I had to send out a jpeg of a landscape I’ve been working on for years. I looked through the same image file and guess what? I sent them a picture of the painting as it looked five years ago because I like it better. The painting as it is now is okay, but I should have stopped way back then and started a new one.

It’s an inability to be satisfied, to resist the diabolical temptation to not mess with it…do a little more…and then maybe a little more…and still, not quite right…maybe…  It’s common to other artists: writers, musicians, poets and anyone involved with the arts. If you don’t like the changes, you stop and return to the earlier version. Not so with painting. When you keep adding pigment on the same canvas, there’s no going back.

At the Museums

National Gallery of Art West Bld.
7th and Constitution NW
Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections traces the Byzantine visual arts from the fourth to the 15th century—from the pagan world of the Roman Empire to the opulent, yet spiritual world of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Over 170 rare works bring you the exquisite splendor of the Byzantine Empire: sculptures, icons, mosaics, frescoes, manuscripts, metalwork, jewelry, glass, embroideries, and ceramics…it’s all there. –Mar. 2.

The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Romedetails the history and worldwide acclaim of this marble sculpture that has touched almost everyone since it was discovered during excavations in Rome in the 1620s. It is believed to be a Roman copy of a Greek bronze original, created in the 3rd century BC. 

This is a very special work of art. There have been countless other statues and paintings of dying warriors that just don’t strike you the same way. So what makes it so personally affecting? Many opinions are offered of course, but you need to see it yourself. This may be your only opportunity.  –Mar. 16


At the Galleries

Robert Freeman
Zenith Gallery
1429 Iris St, NW
- March 1, 2014
The title and theme of the show “The Powerful Strokes of Robert Freeman” provide an insight into the work of this nationally known and collected artist. (See, Artist Profile.) His commanding forms in striking contrasts, with warm touches that draw you nearer, and elegant applications of gold leaf, are self-assured and intriguing, but not imperious. In addition to being in the collections of major museums he is a member of a group of African American artists known as the Freedom Place Collection.

Open Fri & Sat, 12 - 6:00; or by appt, Margery Goldberg, 202-783-2963

Multi-Artist Show
Hill Center Galleries
 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
– Mar. 2
This is a must see. Sandy Barrett Hassan exhibits her very expressive “Quilts in Color.” Jacquelyn Flowers’ paintings in oil and acrylic are also about color and texture. Enjoy the exquisite variations of Nancy Freeman’s cabbages. Also, twenty-five artists show their work in The Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL) exhibition juried by Nicky Cymrot and Alan Braley.
Honfleur Gallery and The Gallery at Vivid Solutions
1241 Good Hope Rd., Anacostia
—Feb. 10
“Common Ground”
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, painter, and Michael B. Platt, photographer, have combined their visual languages to create a common space. The excellent resulting works show that common ground can serve as a mode of action as well as a space.
Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah’s  Morocco and Turkey photographs are created through in-camera multiple exposures. The series reflects her continuing consideration as to what constitutes “home.”
Urban Photography
Prince George’s Community College
(Largo campus)
The Marlboro Gallery
- Feb 27
Recep: Thurs, Feb 6, 6 – 8.
(Snow Date Feb 13)
If you get a chance, take in the “DC Urban Explorers Photography Exhibition.”  Look for a different take on the familiar, and hidden, in the DC metropolitan area, with shots that stand on their own as art.
Along the River, oil on canvas, 62" x 41"
Golden Necklace II, Oil on canvas with gold leaf, 48" x 36"
We Wear The Mask, Oil on canvas, 61" x 37"
Red Dress, Oil on canvas, 64" x 40"

A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim can be reached at Jim’s award-winning book, “A Haunting Beauty” can be acquired through

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