Review: Todd Freeman at Miscellany
by Tori Pelz
In its second exhibition since opening, downtown vintage shop and gallery Miscellany hosts the work of local artist Todd Freeman. Judging only from its two shows, it’s fair to say that Miscellany is carving out a slightly more mature niche in the adolescent art scene of Grand Rapids. While Miscellany’s collection of vintage flannel and nostalgic electronics will appeal to trendy hipsters and Hector the Collector types, the art displayed exudes a quiet confidence that chunky glasses cannot offer. Like the past exhibit of Amanda Acker’s drawings, the current show boasts a restrained collection of small works on paper. Curated by Miscellany proprietor, Patrick Lelli, the “Gather” series by Michigan native son, Todd Freeman mixes the exactness of an accountant’s ledger with the solitary musings of a backwoods poet.
Singular in focus, each of the pen on paper drawings is dedicated to recording in minute detail a specific type of net. The intricate forms become an outlet for Freeman’s repetitive, almost obsessive mark-making. Each is titled categorically, as if for a catalog listing: “Peruvian Mist Net,” “Rock Safety Net,” “Trawl Net,” and so on. Torn from the pages of the artist’s Moleskine sketchbook, the drawings possess an intimacy that suggest that despite their straightforward depiction, they were perhaps not meant to be viewed so publicly. Like the tidy, buttoned-up Freeman himself, they come across self-contained.
In a gesture that links imagery at hand to the broader physical world, Freeman hung a small nylon net below the “Gather” print series and artist books, both printed translations of Freeman’s drawings by Issue Press. In the front window of Miscellany, Lelli also staged a small collection of tools and vintage outdoor equipment that Freeman provided. Upon first read, the staged objects paired with dutifully detailed drawings point to the world of a nostalgic boy scout. These connections between image and artifact, even if staged, imply a scientific inquiry and wanderlust. Stylistically, they deliver the aestheticized authority found in the hand-colored engravings of Audubon encyclopedias or illustrated manuscripts. Yet, whatever authority or boyscout certitude the drawings suggest is challenged by the lack of context in the imagery as solitary nets float amidst white backgrounds. This scientific inquiry is an unresolved one.
These net drawings are a staid departure from Freeman’s past creations of mythological creatures in unsettling worlds. Furry alligators and beady-eyed bat-monkeys inhabit lone trees or patches of jungle. Rendered with the same faithful attention to observational detail as the nets, these creatures stray from the factual in their bizarre context or an invented characteristic, like the puffer fish beached in a cabbage patch or the alligator with fur instead of scales. Each of these surreal scenes is framed by a hand-drawn thin double rectangle, like that of a bookplate. As if poking fun at adult say-so, Freeman uses this framing device to elevate and perhaps substantiate child-like what-ifs.
These works question the assumed order of things while the newer “Gather” series strips away any assumed or imagined order. Freed from their contexts, the nets provide the opportunity to hone in on one curious subject typically associated with for potential possibilities—namely, what it can catch or contain. Laid bare with nary a tangle, Freeman’s nets prompt an imagining of what could be when unfettered. While “Gather” may not draw from the treasure trove of kid fears and tall tales, the work is evidence that objects divorced from context can perpetuate more curiosity than the most surreal scene.