A letter written while looking: Sarajo Frieden at the LACMA Art Rental and Sales Gallery

Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 228) 2011/2012
acrylic on paper
41 1/2 by 29 1/2 inches

Dear Sarajo,

I saw your paintings at LACMA today (Friday, December 7). They look as though you make decisions as you go, perhaps as though if you make a mark you regret, you find a way to use the mark to good effect, maybe through repetition, or by abandoning a pattern you were developing. (regret is too strong a term to use in art making, but I can’t think of another)

In Untitled, No. 217, while the scored paint on the right stands out because of its texture, it does not feel contrived or self-conscious. It looks, well – not impulsive exactly, but as though you had to do it. (apply emphasis to “had”)

Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 220) 2011
acrylic and cut paper on paper
30 by 22 1/2 inches

This is true also of the oblong half ovals that overlay the (roughly) geometric pattern at the bottom. (Are you familiar with the writing of Alfred Jensen? Your paintings remind me of his. I also think of Steve Roden looking at your paintings. Not because I sense a working system behind your choices, but because your choices are idiosyncratic in the way both these artists’ decisions are.)

In this piece, as in several others, you set up a horizon incident (or two, or more) and you play with it, and with my expectations of it. I begin to look for bilateral symmetry – you lead me to expect this – and I find instead near repetitions, moments that remind me of each other, but are altered through some process of your design. I mean design here not in the sense of making a pattern, but intransitively, as to make a plan; I see your intelligence at work in these paintings, I sense there are reasons for your choices, even while I do not know them.

Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 231) 2012
acrylic on paper
29 3/4 by 41 1/2 inches

Speaking again of 217, the weight is even throughout. As I write this I step back and I see a blobular area of darkness on the right that is held on place only by association: an angular form on the left quotes the weight (but only some of the darkness) and this form descends, narrowing to meet a gondola shape that arcs toward, but does not meet the blob. The two are separated and joined by my friend, the scored paint. (Yay. Right here it is like the return of the motif in music.)

Indeed, several of your moves remind me of music: theme, variation, dissolution, a scherzo and then a return that is informed by one’s time with the piece. This is similar to how composers destroy and then rebuild us: as one listens the music reconfigures our understanding to suit the requirements of their music. (exaggerated for emphasis – no one is hurt by music, or art. It’s about teaching language, right?)

The upper left and right corners I find remarkable, too: the two areas feel the same, yet nothing matches; the pink-orange on the left pops, the greys and yellows unify while they occupy different shapes. While overall left and right take similar shapes, the puzzle pieces that make them differ in size and form.

The near doubling of image, shape, and color in the paintings at LACMA, and the repetitions that don’t and do continue, they lead me on, they reassure me even as I am deceived, and I’m reminded how much I like this dance, and how willingly I embrace the deceptions and the assurances of art.

Sincerely yours,


Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 217) 2011/2012
acrylic on paper
41 1/2 by 29 1/2 inches

Dear Geoff,

I want to thank you, first for taking the time to see my show at the  gallery at LACMA, and then again for writing something thoughtful about it. I see a lot of work– in person, in books, perusing the net–and additionally read reviews of work, yet have much less experience reading what someone has written about my work—a very different experience!

I found your letter/comments very interesting—somewhat like flying over a landscape while listening to someone else describe the view. How they experience it, what aspects stand out and so on, might feel oddly familiar and yet completely different. How I love that!

Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 214) 2011
acrylic, collage on paper
22 1/4 by 15 inches

A number of things resonate: the use, the abandonment, the possible resurrection of marks; the mention of the work of Steve Roden and Alfred Jensen (two artists whose work I love/admire, though I’ve had more opportunity to experience SR’s work in person), the reference to music (as I find it an art form that you inhabit in a non-language form much the way painting functions for me—although as I write this I am also partially disagreeing with it!), the way you’ve described that nothing matches, that it’s a dance that a curious and astute viewer can engage in and possibly (maybe sometimes?) embrace.

I realize that it’s also part of the equation that I may never see the painting you see. Perhaps it’s all the decisions that are made, the way something veers from being inspired by, for example, an astonishingly abstract quilt from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, to other things along the way as it winds (or lurches) it’s way to done. And yet, here is this quote from Alfred Jensen (emphasis mine):

“That concept consists of my picture’s total identity, composed of its materiality and of the self that I am. When those opposing forces meet and become one will, one action and one thought, the involvement between painting and artist produces the future spectator’s experience. When the artist steps aside from his canvas, the spectator steps into that vacant place and with his appreciative response he repeats the sensation that the artist had, becoming one with the picture. An enjoyment that has merit.”

Alfred Jensen, New York, c. 1957

Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 206) 2011
printing ink, gouache, cut paper on paper
14 by 12 inches

This has got me to thinking about the way paintings engage with you while you are working on them, they converse (call and response?) and it is an essential part of the process.  I frequently read about writers who write their way into their characters or their stories to the point where those characters take over the writing. I don’t know if this is apples to oranges, but there is the intangible “x” factor.


Hi again Sarajo,

Thanks for these imageso! I will use them in Notes. It’s funny that the images look greatly different than the paintings I saw in the LACMA gallery. This reminds me of your observation that you and I may never see the same painting – it seems that the camera also sees different work. Crazy, and neat. Three and more are the ways of looking.


Sarajo Frieden, (untitled 210) 2011
printing ink, gouache, cut paper on paper
image size 14 1/2 by 11 1/4 inches

LACMA Art Rental and Sales Gallery, Sarajo Frieden, Barbara Kaleta, and Special Project: Molly Larkey – Have What, December 1st, 2012 through February 7th, 2013

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