Gary Freemantle 'Velvet Ghosts'

Jul 20 2018


Subtle haunting images

Such words are hardly found in descriptions of velvet paintings, and yet are aptly given to Gary Freemantle’s works.

Freemantle has turned his attention to the practice typically described as “all that is tacky, tasteless, earnest, sentimental, worthless, simplistic, poorly crafted, unoriginal, frivolous, redundant and common”.

Despite these harsh critiques, the practice of velvet painting has venerable roots. The practice originates from Kashmir, India where local artists depicted portraits of Hindu deities. By the 13thcentury the technique spread to Europe and eventually to Mexico where it was adopted as a form of folk art. By the 1960s around 10,000 velvet works a day were being produced from just one arts centre. This mass production dragged velvet painting into the world of kitsch, imprinting the fabric with portraits of Elvis, PlayBoy girls, and dogs playing poker. “Velvets were cheap thrills, to be taken in like a cigarette and then forgotten.”

Freemantle’s works purposefully ignores the reputation of the velvet painting practice popularised in the mid twentieth century. Not interested in ironically referencing these associations, Freemantle argues that there is a great deal more kitsch in the world produced with oil on canvas than any other. Freemantle is attracted to the material because of its non-reflective surface that allows for great depth of form and enables the creation of subtle haunting images.

The technique is difficult and takes a lot of skill because there is no opportunity to overpaint or rework. The velvet can easily become clogged and lose its quality. They are framed behind museum glass to protect them from dust, the tiniest speck of which can detract from the image. This gives them the appearance of ambrotypes, or other 19thcentury glass plate photographic processes.

These recent figurative paintings depict elusive narratives; employing dramatic gesture and action. A range of emotional states are revealed emerging from the darkness. These ghostly figures convey hope, joy, fear, violence to represent collective human experience.

“the whole experience, human experience, is on velvet, and that’s what makes it so compelling”

Preview: Thursday 9 August

Exhibtion: Friday 10 August - Wednesday 29 August

Below: (detail) Gary Freemantle, (Girl with Candle), 2018. Velvet, 355 x 265 mm (framed).