Thick, hot, and passionate.
Erica Fromme, Happy Dolphin, 2011. 0.80 x 100 m. Acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Erica Fromme: New Paintings
Thick, hot, and passionate. These are the words that come to mind when viewing Erica Fromme’s new paintings. Painting in an abstract, yet semi-figurative manner, her works are alive with energy and employ spontaneity. They are also, some of the most contemporary painting around. Fromme has been painting full time since the early 90s and has blossomed into an artist who breaks the mold. Her recent works are smeared and squeegeed across the surface much like basting a cake. The effect is photographic and richly nuanced, exposing several under layers beneath. She follows in the footsteps of other major abstract painters before her. Yet, Fromme strives to dismantle the machinery of figurative painting through her abstraction. In contrast to predecessors like Gerhard Richter whose abstract paintings are brooding, monochromatic and dark. Fromme’s, works are full of life, exuberance, and sensation. And with wonderful elegance, a sense of place and time are captured in her works that make them sensually palpable and enliven our sense of tactility.
What is most shocking about Fromme’s paintings is her method. Her work is at times very large works and is created in a very complex manner. The paint structures are seemingly applied with brushes, squeegees and palette knifes. Wet, goopy layers of paint appear to be pulled across the surface so that new layers are superimposed on existing ones, or even obliterate them. This process if very fresh; adding and subtracting, concealing and revealing to make a larger whole. And, as we all know, the practice of thinking and rethinking are at the root of everyday life. I respond to these works on a sensory level and they are intimate, yet loud.
As a result of her process, the works exude an immense, painterly intensity. They are a visual manifestation of a “highly planned spontaneity.” It is a spontaneity that allows for chance operations to bring creation and destruction into the same conversation. Each painting takes on a new direction and vitality as she intuitively responds to where it is headed.
One painting in particular is especially magnificent. Entitled, Happy Dolphin, this work reminds me the intensity of water without becoming too descriptive. Smooth, sweeping curves rise out of the background. They are not realistically figural or detailed, but they are beautifully representative of the life of the sea. Working in variants of blue and turquoise give the painting a continuity and seamlessness that is difficult to capture in abstract pieces. Green, blue and white play together as if they were light reflecting off of water, creating a streaky, blue background that undulates like the sea. The color, along with the straight line versus winding circle motif, works to enhance the movement of the painting. These voluptuous, curvaceous forms are sexy and sensual against the darker under painting.
Erica Fromme seems to go through phases of color; in fact, her colored abstract works greatly outnumber her darker ones. Many of her works offer a prolific array of bold and bright colors presented in a number of patterns and textures on different surfaces, using various techniques. There is something primitive about these works, as if Fromme is going back to her roots, investigating various planes of depth, exploring space, shape, color, and light, while venturing further into the abstract world.
Richter said “one has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do.” It is clear that Erica Fromme does not lack this commitment that Richter speaks of, one can tell that she is committed inwardly in the way that her paintings strike the viewer. The intensity in which each and every one of her works connects with its audience clearly illustrates Fromme’s appropriate “obsession” with her work, resulting in a shift, or change within human beings.
The most compelling aspect of her work is the color. The richness of their colors fascinates me. A strong, orange pressed onto the canvas reminds one of fresh Pop red-orange ice cream. Glorious intermediate tones, bluish-green and delicate rose shimmer through amongst the unbroken base colors. These colors have a mystical, romantic quality. And interestingly enough one of her works is entitled Mystic. Mysticism is rooted in the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being. This is an intense experiential plane. In his book The Perennial Philosophy (1945) Aldous Huxley states:
“[W]ith the one, divine reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit.”
Erica Fromme, Mystic, 2011. 1.45 x 1.14 m. Oil, acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Fromme is pure in heart. She pays close attention to this state of mind, a state of unknowing which propels the viewer into a limitless dimension of possibility. In Fromme’s work, we see a dimension beyond the everyday. Mystic, displays an exciting rainbow of colors. Reds and pinks dominate the upper portion of the painting, while the cooler colors are left to the bottom half. Overlapping sinuous lines and spirals form ghostly Picasso-like faces in the midst of chaos. Sporadic single body parts and scenes of daily life can be identified throughout the work. They are hidden however in a quasi- camouflaged effect, leaving the viewer to wonder if their inclusion is intentional. The bold, saturated pigments are unquestionable and are well used to create a stimulating and confident painting.
I had a chance to interview Erica and, as a true mystic is, her responses were short, but profound.
Rose Hobart: How long have you been a painter?
Erica Fromme: Since 1990 I’ve been a freelancing painter.
RH: Did you always know you would be one?
RH: I love the colors in your paintings – does your location or environment influence the colors you choose?
EF: Of course. You can see the influence from water in all my paintings, because Water is my element, if you add sunshine and a good work location near the ocean, then you know why I work with this bright shining colors.
RH: I find this aspect of environment very interesting. Tell me, what do you enjoy most about creating art?
EF: The liberty to do what you want.
RH: What advice would you give to fellow artists?
EF: Be yourself, listen to your heart and your feelings when you paint.
Fromme does listen to her heart when working and the evidence is all on the canvas. She works intuitively and allows her inner voice to speak for her. Another work of dazzling intensity is Rhodos. Rhodos or Rhodes, is the ancient sea nymph, goddess of Rhodes in Greek Mythology. It is also an enchanting island in Greece in the Agean sea. Fromme worked for 3 years in the sunshine state of Miami, Florida. And this time had a big influence on her work. Rhodos definitely conjures up the sensation of majesty near the ocean that Fromme was talking about. The thematic separation between the top and bottom portions of the painting continues in this work. Creamy blues and dark plums are displayed as thin vertical colors in a drip-dry fashion. Below, the blues are paired with cooler colors, green and white, which drag horizontally across the picture plane. The directional division is united by accents of ochre and red to fuse the painting into one visual focus. With this single focus, an appreciation for the beauty of simplicity can be established. In the bottom half of the work, I felt as though I was seeing Rhodes from an aerial perspective, adrift on the sea. It is a moving work.
Erica Fromme, Rhodos, 2011. 0.80 x 1.00 m. Acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Rhodos is warm and bathed in the sun. It’s sister painting, Ice Age, is frigid and cold and a bit melancholy. Ice Age has bits of clear white and crystal blue show through a drippy, decaying wasteland, giving a hopeful glimpse into what once was. This hopeful attitude is quickly replaced with a mournful one as smudgy black stalactites overpower the snowy wonderland. The duality of snow and ice is evident in this painting. On the one hand, winter provides a fresh start, pearly white and dreamy. On the other hand however, it kills. Scarcity of food in a cold and barren environment makes it difficult for creatures to live. This desperation is effectively communicated not only by the black and grey obstructions, but also in the accents of blood red on the canvas. This work exhibit’s the full range of emotion that Fromme can convey—unabashedly expressing happiness and sadness in the same breath.
Erica Fromme, Pura Vida, 2011. 0.80 x 100 m. Oil, acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
But my favorite painting, and the most moving in her oeuvre, is entitled Pura Vida. Translated, Pure Life. Costa Ricans use this term to mean “live life to its fullest” and even as a greeting to one another. This seems to be what Fromme is living. A life fully aware of the ups and downs, yet wholly resolute to live it to its fullest. The right edge of the painting begins with a blocky, stack of light and dark greens. Such geometry harkens the manicured plots of land seen from an aerial perspective. This pattern is quickly ousted, instead confronted with rough and earthy brushstrokes that make up the rest of the piece. The painting is technically impressive in the vein of abstract expressionists like De Kooning. A thick application of paint that is assumed because of the visually, virtuous combination of textures, but the remarkable smoothness of the surface is a testament to the meticulously placed and methodical paint. The greens are rich expressing the liveliness of nature. This work will give you the experience of the hot coast and delivers an aura that will awaken your senses.
Erica Fromme, Ice Age, 2011. 0.80 x 100 m. Oil, acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Erica Fromme is an incredibly accomplished painter whose voice captures an intense range. Her abstract paintings are bold, visionary works that grab our focus and do not let go. With expressiveness and rigor, she enlivens our sense of the world around us.
*** This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.