Herbert Freeman: Truth and Vision
Herbert Freeman speaks like a preacher, talking about truth and vision, about right and wrong, about God and God’s creations. When addressing these issues, his words are heartfelt, his voice filled with emotion. He uses his paintings and drawings to enhance his message; like diagrams, they bring clarity to his complex world view.
Freeman, who is 59 years old, lives in Orlando, Fla. He is self-taught and has been making art for more than 30 years. Life has not always been easy for this artist. At times he has been homeless and up until recently, he sold his work on the streets of Orlando. Yet Freeman has touched many people and he has his supporters. One friend, James Lane, has collected many of his works with the sole purpose of preserving them. It was Lane’s efforts that brought Freeman to the attention of the America Folk Art Society. In addition, Lane introduced Freeman’s work to Shari Cavin and Randall Morris, who now represent him at the Cavin Morris Gallery in New York City.
Some of Freeman’s drawings are portraits depicting people he has encountered, while other works resemble maps or charts used by a teacher. All his efforts are intensely focused. In them we see the concentration of an artist deeply connected to his vision.
Freeman works on a range of found materials. He has used wood, cardboard and other random surfaces as a base to draw and paint. Friends bring what they pick up from construction sites as a gesture of support and encouragement. Freeman is exceptionally talented at adapting to whatever surface is at hand. He can create images with a range of mediums, from paint to markers, but he says he feels at his best when using a pencil.
Most of Freeman’s portraits are simple and straightforward. A face fills the page, either with eyes wide open, staring out at the viewer, or with eyes closed as if the subject is deep in thought or meditation. Sometimes a name will be written above the head, or maybe a word that suggests a profession or a calling is inscribed.
When the word, “teacher,” is written, is the artist telling us this is an actual schoolteacher or a person of great wisdom – a teacher of life? His figures are presented with such dignity that one can imagine that all his subjects are wise and empowered with exceptional knowledge.
Nobility is seen in the gallery of Freeman’s portraits. Some figures are dressed in what appears to be royal attire; at other times the hair is rendered as a halo or crown. In these works, we see an artist with the greatest respect for humanity. He shows the benevolent and inner beauty in the faces he renders.
While Freeman’s figurative work is almost classical in approach, he also makes drawings that are distinctly complex and esoteric. With a personal iconography, Freeman creates diagrams that illustrate his ideas. Here we see the artist using words and images to guide the viewer. “The All Seeing Eye,” “Truth,” and “Vision” are titles often written on such works. In addition, the face of a clock or a large eye is presented as a symbol waiting to be deciphered.
Herbert Freeman gives us two worlds to consider when we encounter his art. He depicts the human figure, something that is familiar and tangible. On the other hand, his charts/diagrams are abstract and conceptual – like road maps drawn to enlighten. This creative output reveals an artist inspired by intellect and motivated from the heart.
Thanks to the Folk Art Society for sharing this with us.
Scott Rothstein is an artist who writes primarily about self-taught art and artists informed by traditional culture. His own work can been seen in several American museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rothstein has lived in Philadelphia, New York City, New Delhi, and Tokyo. He is currently based in Bangkok. He blogs at Art Found Out.