“Be curious about everything in the world. Travel. Work all the time and don’t stop. Get the work out to the world in any way you can, both the physical and web worlds. Meet, talk to, and develop relationships with the right people.” – Carole Freeman
By Dorothy Dobbie
How do we choose our Facebook profile images and why? What does it reveal about us? Is there an essence of truth in the choosing that an artist can capture and reflect in an intrinsic way that can’t be reflected in a mere photograph?
These were some of the goals that Carole Freeman set out, perhaps unconsciously, to explore when she began searching the faces of her 2,000 Facebook “friends”, for personalities that spoke to her.
Not that she went to the Internet with this idea in mind. Scrabble and her mother’s illness brought her to Facebook.
“When my mother was in the hospital after emergency surgery in Winnipeg, we started playing family Scrabble games,” said Carole. “We continued when she returned home until she no longer had the energy to play.”
Carole had no other use for Facebook until she met American artist, Eric Fischl. Later, she looked him up on Facebook and had a Eureka moment. Soon she had almost 2,000 ‘friends” and she began to realize that here was an almost endless supply of faces, her favourite subject, to paint.
She began with the faces that intrigued her until she had painted over 200 images, some of them famous, some of them obscure, but each with a quality that drew the artist to explore more. She contacted the subjects, told them what she was doing and proceeded from there. Often, the painted image ended up replacing the previous photo portrait, so now Carole Freeman was virtually all over the ‘Net.
In 2011, Carole had an exhibition at Toronto’s Edward Day Gallery at which Facebook Canada’s managing director, Jordan Banks, said that Carole’s exhibit was a “unique expression” of the fact that Facebook “fosters socialization”.
Be that as it may, Carole herself is not yet convinced that the Internet and social media is the only road to stardom in the arts world, but it has brought her work to the attention of some very helpful people and has been instrumental in getting commissions and selling her paintings. It certainly brought her to the attention of the Canadian Arts Summit held at Banff this year, where she was able to expose her work to Canada’s 40 largest Arts organizations – many of them galleries and museums. “Social media has fast-tracked my work and given it a platform,” said Carole in a recent interview, “and on bad days, it has given me the support to keep going.”
Bad days in the life of an artist are not at all unusual, but for Carole they occurred with some frequency due to health issues. “My art career seems to have been tempered by death and illness,” she remarked. Her father died when she was seven which sent her ‘inside herself’ and then, as a teen, she was out of school for a year, due to a physical condition. “That was when I began painting,” she said.
Perhaps all art is born out of internalization and a desire to express a profound experience in a meaningful way. The creative gene has to be in place and Carole’s showed up early.
“My mother told a story from my childhood of the drawing I did of a girl with red eyes (children typically make eyes blue). When she asked me why the eyes were red, I answered that she was crying. Of course my mother thought this was brilliant and I was destined to be an artist,” says Carole. “She took me to a Van Gogh exhibition when I was about four or five. I remember being struck by Van Gogh’s paintings and my eyes being opened to a different way of seeing the world and people. My mother bought the catalogue, which she kept in her night table. I would sneak into her room to look at it on a fairly regular basis. It was the only art book we had in the house.”
It was an early indication of where Carole’s future lay, but not the only one. She won a prize in elementary school for a poster contest on how to prevent forest fires and she still remembers her pride. Later, in art school at the University of Manitoba, where she studied for some time under Ivan Eyre, her work was included in juried exhibitions. She graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the School of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London, England, and never came back to Winnipeg to live. Carole went back and forth between Montreal and Toronto a few times before settling in Toronto.
Carole started selling her art right out of school.
“The first corporate purchase was from the Continental Oil Company in London, England. I was pretty psyched and I remain excited about every purchase even today.”
Artists have to eat, so for a number of years, Carole tried to combine her career with a job. She taught art in a variety of venues including, Concordia University, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery until, illness interrupted the road she was on, forcing her back to art on a full time basis.
“I believe I painted my way back,” she says. She painted a series about her health and her pain which included about 30 portraits of doctors and health care workers. She says perhaps some day the series will be published.
A major break was when Carole had an exhibition of showbiz portraits during Toronto’s 2010 International Film Festival.
“I had a solo exhibition at a smaller Toronto gallery in tandem with work installed, at The Hyatt Regency Hotel, during the Toronto International film festival,” she explained. “Both of them received press and media.”
That helped her approach the Edward Day Gallery with several bodies of her work and they chose to exhibit the Facebook portraits. The exhibit was entitled “Friend Me, Portraits of Facebook” and it received wide media attention.
Along the way, Carole has had several group exhibitions and sold paintings now hanging in public and private collections in England, Canada, Italy, Ireland and the United States. She was commissioned by producer Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) to do a large painting of his production and writing partner, Jeremy Chilnick. She has also been commissioned to do a painting of gallery owner Leslie Sacks in Los Angeles. The painting will be included in a book he is writing about his African and Contemporary Art collection. Her work will be included this November to December in a group exhibition, Women’s Art Now, at Leslie Sacks Fine Art in L.A..
Carole’s advice to aspiring young artists is “Be curious about everything in the world. Travel. Work all the time and don’t stop. Get the work out to the world in any way you can, both the physical and web worlds. Meet, talk to and develop relationships with the right people.”
Hey, nobody said it was easy.
“Being an artist can be very lonely,” Carole concedes. “There are approximately six million working artists in the world so there is a lot of competition in a very large, though challenging, international market, “ she says. “It is a lot of hard and constant work with no guarantee of recognition and success. It never stops, even when you do have success.”
In spite of these things, art is a compulsion and if it’s yours, go for it!