Louisville Magazine

AUG 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.16 125 THE ARTS e Artist as a Forever-Young Man By Dylon Jones Julius Friedman marks 50 years of producticity and sardonic bliss. Just before 9 a.m. on an early-July morning, Julius Friedman sits back on an upholstered leather couch in the great hall of the Frazier History Museum downtown. e huge space soars, a flight of brick, wood, glass, an echo chamber for the group of elementary school kids climbing the stairs. In the center of the room sits an old green car that looks like a Model T, and hanging on the walls all around: about 220 posters that have made Friedman perhaps the most famous artist Louisville has ever produced. Jodi Lewis, the director of programs at the museum, asks Friedman if he's here to show off his work to Louisville Magazine. "No," he says. "I'm here waiting for papaya juice and scones. What are you here for?" Laughter carries through the room like sonar, cutting through the recording of a string quartet playing Pachelbel's "Canon in D." e Frazier is two weeks into Freid- man's 50-year retrospective, on display until Oct. 9. For the opening, the museum invit- ed a bunch of kids to re-create his famous Louisville Orchestra poster of a French horn filled with ice cream. He wore a paper server's hat and directed the kids as they dropped gelato into the instrument, raising his arms in triumph at the cherry on top. e 73-year-old tells me: "If you saw me with those kids, I was no older than they were. It's a mindset. Most of my friends act old, therefore they are old. All they talk about is health. It's like, You're gonna die. What's the issue?" A well-worn smile warms Friedman's face, his gray hair done with the top of his head, holding on around the sides. He wears a simple black T-shirt, slimish jeans. e bright red accents on his socks flash above his black leather loafers. He asks me how I got my job. "You didn't go all House of Cards and kill anyone, did ya?" Friedman was excited when the museum gave him the go-ahead for a retrospective of his posters. "For about five minutes," he says. "As an artist, I've always admired art- ists that loved what they do, no matter how bad the art is." When he creates something, he likes it for the first second, dislikes it by the second. "After three seconds, it sucks the big one. Psychologically, health-wise, who is better — the lousy artist who loves his work, or the guy who wants to kill him- self because his work sucks the big one?" About a month after agreeing to do the show, Friedman decided he wanted to include personal artwork to go along with his decades' worth of commercial design. Banners with eroding cherubic faces and big cubes with "love" and "hate" printed on them form an installation on war, death. Friedman's first poster was about peace, "a dove, or something," he says. All these years later, black men dying in the streets, Fried- man doubts we've made any progress at all. But he's made more progress than he ever anticipated. He's shown work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, sev- eral places in Europe, even in Tokyo. Hell, he never expected to live past 40, the age his father died when Friedman was 17. "I wish I had a better story going. Like, I saw a Georgia O'Keeffe painting and it changed my life. Someone peed on my shoe and ... I'm going to do a series on water when I get old," he says, poking fun at a recent project of his involving water. He dropped out of UK's architecture program when he caught mono his freshman year, then studied graphic design at U of L, which didn't offer architecture. But he got fed up and dropped out with about three credit hours between him and a degree. (A teacher would later persuade him to come back. e university eventually dubbed him one of its distin- guished alumni. "Really?" he thought. "is is a school I dropped out of.") Each frame on the walls at the Frazier is a memory. e flaming piano for the orchestra: He chose lantern fuel — kero- sene too black, gasoline too explosive. An old classmate who worked at Gist piano advised him to loosen the piano strings, which could have snapped and "made a live grenade." e worms in a beautiful porcelain dish: e old guys in the bait shop thought he was crazy. At the shoot, one of the photog- raphers said he loved worms, and dropped one into his mouth. "He's a sick puppy," Friedman says. e forever-popular Louisville Ballet poster of a pink-flat-clad toe balanced atop an egg: A free job he offered the ballet. When they asked what the image was, he said they were missing the point. "It would be better for my career if I were having this conversation with the New York Ballet, or the Russian Ballet," he said. ey accepted the poster without ever seeing it. Two back rooms brimming with dark- ness hold Friedman's personal work. I try to add up the time he must have spent on all these cumulative projects, but the num- ber gets too big. At least 50 years. He's cre- ating at his Westport farm by 8 a.m. every morning, whether he has a project to do or not. If he's not taking photographs, he's making collages out of books, or stacking stones. In all of Friedman's noncommer- cial work, the real becomes unreal, the Japanese maple in his yard a gradation of blurs, the surface of his pond a weave of light. What the thing is doesn't matter so much as what you see. Earlier, when a woman looked at Friedman's bright shots of a nude model slathered with mud and paint, he asked her what she saw. "Marble?" she guessed. "at's a butt," he said. In the center of the room, translucent banners of gauze printed with abstract shots of trees, water and landscapes drape from bamboo Friedman dragged up from his farm, the wood suspended in the air like a divine game of pick-up sticks. Fried- man disappears behind the banners. ey caress his face, his arms. e rest of the room, the museum, the city, the world falls away. I lose him to forest, sea, forest again. rough the fabric, his skin is as smooth as the silk he originally planned for this project — which turned out too opaque. rough the veils, he is a kid again. He is what he seems to be.

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