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Carole Freeman: Unplugged
James Fowler
April 10, 2012

Artist Carole Freeman at the Edward Day Gallery for her solo exhibition, Friend Me: Portraits of Facebook


When we first started the Akimbo ART+TECH blog we considered our audiences and the various points of view one might have from the nexus of art and technology. I thought it would be good to include a component of “untech” for those who are either old school creatives or who might be using technology in the process of art making, but exclude it in their final product. Carole Freeman draws on social media platforms to create through traditional methods like painting and portraiture. I went to her exhibition at Edward Day Gallery and attended a group portrait painting session as part of her Friend Me Project. She also recently sat on a panel at the Canadian Arts Summit in Banff about art and social media. I talked to her about the Friend Me Projects, her insights on the summit, and her take on art and technology.


You've recently described yourself as a New Media 'tourist'. What does that mean to you?

I am a painter. Paint, rags, brushes are traditional, “low tech” tools or I suppose you could say, Old Media. I’m a New Media tourist because I can visit that world anytime and, like a good traveler, gain from the experience, and take something worthwhile and useful back home to Old Media – applications to speed up the process of painting, the internet and social media as sources for subject matter, global exposure, and an international market place, as well as access and connections to the contemporary art world

As a tourist, what do you think of some of the technology being used in New Media Art?

I like vital, sensual media that you can touch, feel, and smell, the antithesis of New Media, which lacks of physicality. That being said, I have a strong interest in narrative and a desire to animate my work through collaboration, since I don’t have that expertise.

How have social media sites influenced your work?

During the exhibitions coinciding with TIFF, social media did its thing, bumping up exposure through the public uploading and tweeting of photos of paintings. This exposure led to commissions, the most fun being a commission from Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me fame. My most recent solo exhibition of 196 paintings, Friend Me PORTRAITS OF FACEBOOK, at Edward Day Gallery, directly utilized the social media site as both frame of reference in subject and source, and access through exposure, marketing, and delivery. At the same time the exhibition subverted and commented on social and new media with painted portraits in direct confrontation with the digital age.

The work gained exposure through FB postings of jpegs of all the paintings as well as the posting of two Youtube videos. My process is documented in this time-lapse video of the portrait of Don Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Florida:

The response I got was immediate, global, and resounding with the appearance of blogs, posts, newsletter articles, friend requests from international galleries, Likes, comments, and messages about my work that continue on a daily basis, and an invitation to a residency in Romania to help preserve the culture and traditions of the women in the small village of Garana. Translation to cash happened through sales and commission requests. Social media has fast tracked my work and given it a platform, and on bad days, given me the support to keep going.


196 portraits sourced from Facebok from FRIEND ME: Portraits Of Facebook

Time-lapse of Carole painting Ron Dubell.


Tell us about the Friend Me Projects.

I co-founded, with Michael Bain of 4000Degrees Creative Management, Friend Me Projects - global initiatives to inspire, connect, and give. The first project - Face the World Global Portrait Party was held at Edward Day Gallery during the exhibition. About fifty artists and non-artists came together to paint their friends. The atmosphere was joyful, energized, collaborative, with everyone helping each other. I also held a 2-3 day workshop in portraiture at a TDSB high school for Friend Me Projects Goes to School. The paintings from both the party and workshop will be posted on the FMP website and FB page.

What was the impetus for the projects?

While mired in the marathon of painting for the exhibition, I had this crazy thought of painting portraits of the 850,000,000 users of Facebook. Of course, there is no way I could or would want to paint that many portraits in my lifetime, so Friend Me Projects was created to democratize this grand idea. If everyone on Facebook engages in the project and paints just one “friend”, the goal can be reached. The creation of Friend Me Projects also lead to support from Facebook, with Jordan Banks, Managing Director of Facebook Canada, speaking and taking part in media interviews at the opening of the exhibition, and Alfredo Tan, Senior Director of Facebook Canada, attending and painting at the portrait party.

How has technology influenced your recent choice of subjects?

In the last two years, my work has gained exposure via international film festivals, social media, and portraiture of celebrity, culture, and art world figures in 4 solo exhibitions, 3 of which coincided with the Toronto International Film Festival with work installed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel beside Bell Lightbox, the fourth exhibition, of course at Edward Day. Technology, ie, the web, provided an unlimited source from which to choose photographs on which the paintings were based. And of course Facebook has an almost endless choice of subject matter with most users making their photos public.

You were recently guest speaker on a panel in Banff. What was it about?

The Canadian Arts Summit is a unique national leadership forum co-ordinated by The Banff Centre. It is held in late March/early April of each year and brings together the chief executives, artistic directors, and board chairs of Canada’s largest fifty not-for-profit cultural institutions: symphony orchestras, theatres, opera and ballet companies, as well as heritage and art museums. This year’s topic was Arts Leadership in the Age of Social Media for which artists are invited as case studies or examples. I spoke on the panel, Making Art in the Age of New Media, with Amy Shackleton and Michael Bain, moderated by Janet Carding, Director and CEO of the ROM.

What were some of the more engaging elements of the summit for you?

It was inspiring to listen to the brilliant and articulate guest speakers on the eight other panels, particularly the passionate mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi; Julian Kuerti, Canadian conductor; Karen Brooks-Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Ian Dejardin, Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery which reintroduced the stunning impressions of the Canadian landscape by the Group of Seven to the British public for the first time since the 1920s with the exhibition Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. It was equally wonderful to hear of an arts success story, the construction of the new Pavilion and conversion of a heritage church into a concert hall for the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal. The presentation made me want to take a trip to Montreal, where I loved living while teaching in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University. The Banff Centre itself is an amazing facility. Anyone who has the opportunity should spend some time there.

Now that you are stepping back from the Friend Me Projects, how do you think it might develop?

The next portrait party is actually being held in North Adams, Massachusetts in May.

With interest in Zimbabwe, Germany, and Romania, I am hoping that there is organic growth and lots of portrait parties around the world. With virtual participation of other artists painting their friends from profile photos, I hope the FB community catches on, starts to paint and post portraits on their profiles, the Friend Me Projects FB page, and website, both of which are in development.  I hope that through donations, sales, and both on-line and live auctions of portraits, Friend Me Projects can give a percentage of the proceeds to global charities, such as The Stephen Lewis Foundation Arts Fund. The bottom line for me is tons of people connecting and finding joy in creativity through Friend Me Projects. The dream is, with time, perhaps lots of time, having this become the world’s largest collaborative project. And I may still be able to take part in some of the parties, if the timing works out.

What future projects using technology as a source or theme are on the horizon for you?

I will probably always combine life sittings, personal and found photographs (from the internet) as sources to use for paintings, and Photoshop to help make compositional and colour decisions in most of my work. I have several series and illustrated books on the go but one body of work has an accompanying website for public participation and will again utilize social media for exposure. The work itself will be paintings and possibly video. Another series of paintings will address issues of communication citing art historical works, with technology as a partial theme. Stay posted on my website and FB page.


In addition to finding out about Freeman's exhibition and art practice, I asked her ten rapidfire ART+TECH questions:


Favourite exhibition from 2011: Marcel Dzama at David Zwirner in NYC. We're both from Winnipeg.

A future technology you are most excited about: I don't own a television. I am waiting for the day when there is full on-line access to TV programming so I don't have to rely on Netflix or Blinkx for a little diversion.

An artist using new technology you think is interesting: David Hockney

A tech gadget you would like as a gift: Nikon D300S

Given an unlimited budget, an art project you would like to initiate: Dropping art books, supplies, and materials (with food and medical supplies of course) on countries or regions under siege and documenting the results and affects.

Favourite social media platform for personal use: Facebook

A social media trend or behaviour you find irritating: Being with people who are always on their smart phones tweeting, chatting, posting. Come back to the real world, please.

The first command you would give to a personal assistant robot: Here are the car keys, grocery list, and menu with recipes. I expect dinner at 7.

Coffee or Tea: Both, but not at the same time.

Three things you love about your job (being an artist):  The challenge of not knowing and knowing what I'm doing. The magic of mistakes and accidents. The surprise of what appears.


Carole's portraits, inspired by documentaries screened at TIFF 2011 are currently on view at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on King West in Toronto.


James Fowler worked in public relations with organizations in various industries to achieve their communications goals and streamline their media messaging, monitoring and metrics. James currently maintains a fulltime studio practice in Toronto and has taken a keen interest in social media and eMarketing. He joined Akimbo last spring as Social Media Director.

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