Artist Spotlight: Full Exposure with Mitchell Freifeld

Mitchell Freifeld cannot remember a time when he did not draw and paint. He won his first juried show at age 10 and decided that someday, he’d be a “real painter.” He settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early ’70s and got involved in the burgeoning tech industry. From there, he moved to Portland upon accepting an information technology position. After being laid off the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he devoted himself full-time to painting and has been living his dream ever since. His work focuses on architecture and cityscapes, and portrays everyday places that “become lost to our curiosity through sheer familiarity.”

We got a chance to go inside Mitchell’s studio and see what it’s like to be a real painter. Check it out!

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Walk us through creating a piece. 

I never go out without a small Canon SX280HS. It’s my electronic sketchbook. Being a cityscape and architectural painter, I usually go to downtown Portland, Oregon and find things I haven’t painted before or something I’d like to revisit.

Then I’ll start watching the images over and over on the computer, at last picking out parts of a few images or a single image that speaks to something. In Photoshop, I’ll arrange elements of several images to get a ‘point of departure’ image. Photoshop is an amazing tool and an integral part of my process. 

Once I’ve decided on a size, I’ll make the canvas. (I can write a whole book on canvas making. But not here.) I’ll just say that my physical process starts at the Home Depot 2x4 pile.

To start, I’ll put a few guide lines directly on the canvas in vine charcoal. This is the most difficult part and also the fastest. It must setup the tension as well as the dimensions and perspectives I want to use. I start painting at the top and work from the upper right down to the lower left. Left handed. And being an alla prima painter, once a passage is done once, I never go back there. 

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Fourth Floor No Waiting by Mitchell Freifeld

How has your style changed over the years?

I’ve moved from photo realism to a more abstracted representationalism, and I’ve brightened my palette considerably.

My goal is to trigger an emotion in the viewer rather than just say “I copied a photograph.” In the early 20th century, the technology advanced to the point where photography eclipsed the need for the painter to depict reality.  

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High Fidelity by Mitchell Freifeld

What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?

If I’m not getting across what I want to say on the canvas, then I’m not getting it done. When that happens, I consider the work a lesser one and it often goes right into the attic. Sometime I’ll have to include one or two of these in a batch going to a gallery, and sometimes they’ll be accepted, and sometimes they’ll sell. I’ve often wanted to ask someone who buys one why they bought it. It’s a constant learning process.

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Velo Cafe by Mitchell Freifeld

What is the most challenging part about being an artist and how do you overcome it?

When 'Painter’s Block’ happens, or I get sick to death of what I’ve been painting over the last few months or years. I tend to work in a long series, and I can usually tell when a series is over by how I feel about exploring its ideas further. When this happens, I’ll put up a long varied slideshow on the computer, make my mind as blank as possible, and just stare at it. Or go downtown and wonder around until something strikes.

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What are your favorite activities outside of painting?

I got a saxophone for $20 at a garage sale. I’ve always wanted to play the sax, and now that I have one, I’m trying to learn to play some jazz. My goal is to be the Best Sax Player in my Living Room. When I’m stuck on a composition or color problem, I like to come in from the studio and blow some quiet jazz while thinking about it.

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What is your studio like?

My studio is in a third parking space in the back of our garage. There’s a window back there that makes it perfect. It’s small though so sometimes I take over the whole garage. Since I make my own canvases and mill my own stretcher bars, I have to reconfigure the whole space before entering into wood-working and rabbit-skin gluing mode.

My studio is cluttered by definition, and I plan to wash the floor in there sometime in 2017 or ‘18. Every few years I have to find a new CD player at Good Will. Burn them out. Jazz mostly. Traditional and classical jazz.

I can’t imagine having to get in the car and drive to the place where I paint. I paint 7 days a week (full time painter) and often late at night. I’ve seen the sun rise many times.

Check out more of Mitchell Freifeld’s artwork on his UGallery portfolio.