Wednesday 20 July 2011

Barnett Freedman, illustrator for industry

In an era when a romanticised image of the rural idyll was defining the English sensibility there were a few contrarians who preferred to explore the enigmatic poetry hidden deep within the damp and chilled drabness of the inter-war British urban environment. Freedman’s command of a light chalk technique produced granular images of great tonal subtlety. Adding a crisp drawn line to define forms completed the effect. Smudgy, hunched figures hidden beneath umbrellas, pools of light reflected on rain-swept tarmac, and the welcoming glow of light from the windows of the tram, all part of the intrinsically British urban experience, are vividly recalled. Freedman was working for Shell when he produced these images – other clients included the Post Office and the Brewers’ Society. In his 1948 monograph (published by Art and Technics) Jonathan Mayne was unimpressed by examples of Freedman’s commercial work, declaring them to be “calculated, somewhat inhuman performances”. This seems an unduly harsh verdict on work that, looking back, seems to embody all the fine qualities that made Freedman’s Curwen Press published work so highly regarded.

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