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Previously, when Freeez had attempted to paint whilst working and bringing up a young family, he found that nothing could be resolved or finished, resulting in all work of this period being destroyed. It was from the start of lockdown in March 2020 when things began to “loosen up” and “go in the right direction”, that he decided to change his name. No longer known as Mark Nicholls, this new persona enabled him to “come out” as an artist, never hitherto thinking of himself as one. It was “a massively important moment” for him, finding himself part of the art world again, and with this revival came a diversity which expanded once Freeez found the language for it.
The breakthrough came with the first
painting he completed at this time, Cornish Super-Hero 2020. This
self-portrait riffs on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and was to be
the first of many self-portraits from this period, an image of rebirth,
symbolised by the change of name. Choosing to be called by another name
reflects a struggle for an alternative identity to that of our personal
history. Being Mark Nicholls raised deep-rooted problems for Freeez; he
had often thought of using a pseudonym in the past but now was the time
to free himself of a nomenclature he could no longer own.
When Freeez was an MA student at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1990s he was told not to go near Francis Bacon, his having shown a keen interest in the artist’s paintings which eventually influenced his own work. This warning obviously had the opposite effect as Bacon has continued to be reflected in paintings of popes to self-portraits, as in Selfie With Blonde Hairbun. Describing this image Freeez imagines it “clambering for existence, like it’s watching who is watching...teeth bashing in at a rate of knots, desperate more than passionate”. Forms and themes influenced by Bacon become iconoclastic rather than reverential.
Whilst Freeez has taken ideas from other artists, Van Gogh, Picasso, Philip Guston, David Shrigley among them, as well as his “palette” of comics, cartoons, adverts and bling, he returns to Bacon’s oeuvre time and again. He is no longer self-conscious about such appropriation; for him, Bacon is an avenue he wants to continue to pursue, admiring him for reinventing the figure in such a brutal manner. However, Freeez continues to seek out other artists working today who inspire him; these include Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, Nicola Tyson and Rebecca Warren. Guston remains a constant which one can see in Freeez’s desire to play in a comically serious way, using cartoonish figures, the emphasis being on the grotesque and caricature illustrated via a studied carelessness in the handling of paint. Contradictory feelings collide in the resulting images; the brutal is also funny and despair emerges as a form of consolation. For Guston, self doubt is a crucial part of the creative process. Rather than a window on the world, Freeez’s paintings are snapshots of the artist’s thoughts and feelings, powerfully self-revealing, nothing out of bounds.
One objective Freeez has is to explore what
a portrait is in 2022, challenging himself to find inventive ways of
using the traditional values of portraiture. Every generation
reformulates the painted portrait, especially since the development of
photography and the current deluge of digital images that accompany our
everyday lives. The sharing of selfies taken with a digital camera or
smartphone via social networks has become an endless random gallery of
these forms of self portrait. For Freeez, it is the artist’s job to push
the boundaries of the portrait, as Picasso and Bacon had in their time.
Whilst focusing on self portraits, this would also include painting
those who understand where he is coming from, as in the portrait of his
During the pandemic period it was impossible for Freeez to paint others (Nina was painted from a photograph online), staying with the constant sitter, himself. In a recent article, the artist Frank Auerbach, known for painting friends and family, describes how, during what he calls the “plague years”, he turned to his own face having previously avoided doing so, finding it rather dull. Interestingly, now in his ‘90s, the ageing process has made his face more compelling and given him more material to work with (Observer 18th September 2022). Although Freeez has not reached such a stage in his life it illustrates how the self portrait is forever exploring diverse motives and intentions, often revealing an intentional openness to the viewer whilst marking the passing of time.
Whilst always exploring and coming back to painting, using media including acrylic, oil and marble dust in a gestural rather than an illustrative manner, Freeez has experimented with other art forms, finding his own language for ceramics, collage, sculpture, embroidery and 3D digital images.
The hands-on nature and materiality of some of these genres has been liberating for Freeez, the tactility feeding back into the painting; as he says, “at the end of the day it’s always about painting”. Collaboration with other local artists has also been a development in the last year or so and artworks were included in the exhibition. Artists include Ros Bason, Doomed, Andrew Litten, Theo Carter-Weber and Freeez’s daughter, Dolly G. Freeez is a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists’ showing with them regularly.
The Freeez Island exhibition,
supported by Daisy Laing gallery, had the feel of a 1960s happening,
exciting and joyous. With the freedom and opportunity of the last two
years there is a real sense of maturity and assurance emerging from
Freeez’s appreciation of his own abilities. Accompanying this assurance
is a fearless energy, trying ideas however wild and crazy they may seem.