William Freed (1902-1984) was a pivotal artist at the turning point of American art in the 20th Century. From the 1930 to the 1950s and beyond, Freed was a central figure in the abstract expressionist movement that gained momentum in New York and in the artist’s colony in Cape Cod that flowered under the inspiration and tutelage of Hans Hoffman. Generations of artists would break the grip of traditional representational art, Impresssionism, and “realistism” that had prevailed until then. Freed would be among a handful of artists who led the way.
Over the course of fifty years, Freed would create a body of work that stands among the great canons of abstract art. Never artistically in his shadow, Freed was nonetheless deeply influenced by Hans Hoffman, who brought from Germany a direct lineage in European Modernism, as expressed by some of Hoffman’s contemporaries – Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and Kandinsky, to name a few of the now well-known “avant garde.” Along with countless other artists from the New York Art world, Freed would join them to work, live and study at the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Art in the then remote seaside village of Provincetown, MA.
Freed would come to adopt Hoffman’s signature “push and pull” approach – a way in which Hoffman used geometric forms and bold colors to freshly capture the three dimensions of the natural world on two dimensions of canvas. Freed, like Hoffman, preferred strong geometrics and pallete, but he introduced his own rhythmic style, both graceful and more suggestive of the thing itself. At a glance, they would seem to be quite different, but each deeply applied the tension and balance of “push and pull” to create enduring works of art in their own distinctive way.
Freed came to know Hoffmann and to study with him through his own remarkable professional and personal partnership with Lillian Orlowsky, a young woman and student of Hoffman’s whom he met in 1937, when they both worked for the Federal WPA, the Depression-era federal project that would also transform American art in public spaces. For a shared life that was artistically extraordinary, they met in the most mundane way – on line to get their paychecks. Freed and Orlowsky married five years later, at the age of 40 and 27 respectively, and shared another 42 years as a creative duo without peer. She would live for another 20 years, creating some of her most compelling works and exhibitions in the final years of her life as well. During their lifetime together, they shared and shaped a significant chapter of art history – the dramatic arc from realism to abstraction – along with Hoffman and with other great Provincetown artists such as Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Sam Feinstein and Jackson Pollock. WPA also served as a collegial and enduring wellspring for the friendships and art work of Freed, Orlwosky, and their colleagues.
Freed and Orlowsky also influenced the art world through their acquisition of the works of other 20th century American artists, some of whom are now widely recognized and some who are little known. By trade, barter, and/ or gifts, they came to own a sizable group of artworks created by their colleagues and friends. This collection would not only serve as the basis for numerous and important collections which Orlowsky donated to several museums, including the Cape Museum of Fine Arts, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and the Rose Museum at Brandeis University among others. The remaining paintings and drawings represent a remarkable selection of mid-century American modern art by some of the twentieth century’s most important artists, including Hans Hofmann, James Gahagan, Alice Hodges, George McNeil, Fritz Bultman, and Robert DeNiro, Sr. Through their influence and their collections, they also created the Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grant through a 2009 endowment to PAAM (The Provincetown Art Association and Museum) which annually recognizes a talented American artist over the age of 45 who demonstrates financial need in the pursuit of art. This award also serves to bring attention to artists who deserve but lack adequate recognition.
Shared on POBA by Provincetown Art Association and Museum.