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Sam Friedman: Flesh of t he Gods

楼雨婷 Johanna Lou 2019-02-18 15:25


Sam Friedman graduated from the Pratt Institute, one of the top three art institutes in New York. Friedman worked with clients such as Nike and The New York Times, and spent his free time painting. His passion of art eventually cleared his mind from other occupations, and he fully devoted his time to creating. From 2009, his works began a national tour in the U.S., winning recognition from KAWS and Daniel Arsham. Later he also cooperated with Josh Sperling, one of the rising stars of art in America. Over the Influence Gallery recently opened his first solo show in Hong Kong, which garnered him with wide acclaim, and requests from boutique collectors. The works on exhibition are mostly finished earlier this year. Through these works, we see a rather timeless, accessible, and transformative escapist. 

Impromptu Abstract


During the early years of his career, Friedman was inspired by an observation of sunrise. He was heading for the rising sun just before a storm. The changing light conditions and the flowing clouds conjure visually shocking images, which directly lead to his creation of his Beach series, later becoming his most iconic work. In this series, images of sun, ocean, and tropical plants overlap with each other, layer after layer, resulting in a déjà vu experience for the viewer. Looking into the details of the paintings, the texture formulated by various shapes and colours conveys an impression combined by pop art, memory fragments, and vivid stories of time. 

The exhibition Flesh of the Gods shows Friedman’s potency in creating more abstract works. The images of landscapes are replaced by prudently composed structures, which are embedded with flowing, mysterious figures of patterns. Though painted by air brush, Friedman didn’t use any shield tapes or drafting tools, but rather his own hands and a brush. Purely improvising, the colours follow the traces of the creative mind and its intuitions, gradually spread over the canvas. The process seems simple, but every piece of work contains hundreds of layers of print, which requires a patient heart to both control and relax the pace of brushing. Compare the relationship to a tennis player – mind and racquet become a single, inseparable entity. 


If we describe Sam Friedman’s works as a tour that invities its audience into meditation, then the working process itself is a meditation for the artist. Friedman felt relaxed in creating certain works – that’s the unrestrained freedom which conjures memories and strange images up into a miraculous muse of personal feelings, and finally presents in the language of art. 

Boundary of Painting 

To preserve the texture of hand painting, the edge of the paintings is meticulously processed with a sense of originality. The pigments naturally fall from the canvas, mimicking the form of a cascade. The subtle contrast delivered by the delicate image and the random edges pulls the viewer back to reality. Interestingly, during my research I found a monograph, which happens to bear the same title, discussing the early application of herbal hallucinogens in religious rituals, and the rebel against ideological stereotypes in modern society. I can’t help but think that the metaphor linked by Friedman’s works and the monograph, in a way explores the tension between emotions in the nature and spiritual experience of the artist himself. 


Friedman regards that most abstractions are rooted from concrete objects, with nature being the most abundant resource. Whether it’s a beach painting or more abstract work, viewers read different stories from them with their own experiences. Some spot a mountain, some see the ocean, some observe sunshine, and some even think it’s a cave. Artists never give the definite answer – sometimes there’s simply no answer at all.

That’s probably the reason why he never names his works. More possibilities are discovered through the frequent shifting between the concrete and the abstract. As he says, “painting is a mature medium of art and I wish to expand its boundary as far as I can.” 

Artist Mark Rothko once said that, “painting is not a mere experience about images, but the process of it a unique experience.” When the elements of artworks are simplified into basic colours and forms, nothing could stop the truth. The simplest image carries with the truest essence. That’s probably the reason why Sam Friedman’s works grip our heart. 

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