An Interview with Rose Freymuth-Frazier

Beautiful.bizarre is totally into Rose Freymuth-Frazier. She was highlighted in an article on the website in 2014 titled, ‘Rose Freymuth-Frazier: A Full-bodied Body of Work’, and was also one of the featured artists in Issue 006 of beautiful.bizarre. Most recently, Rose exhibited a piece (Summer’s Ambrosia) at the beautiful.bizarre co-curated show ‘Les Petit Fours’ at Friends of Leon in Sydney, Australia.

This illustrious ‘Figurative Realist’ artist creates masterfully rendered paintings with a contemporary twist. Her subjects embody American femininity while integrating sexuality and symbolism in a captivating, hypnotizing way. These women are tantalizing with appealing features and voluptuous bodies. But, Rose provides a catalyst for analysis by presenting scenes for the viewer to bring in their own interpretation and narrative. They analyze and ultimately speculate who these women are beyond their exteriors. There is a more complex explanation or meaning beyond the superficial. Androgyny, sexual ambiguity, violence/abuse, femininity, and the human condition are some of the complex themes Rose intricately weaves into her paintings. Rose purposely challenges her viewer, not holding back or censoring herself for the sake of convention or viewer uncomfortability. She pushes the envelope in a beautiful way, imploringly inviting us to find a part of ourselves in these women.


Rose is an expert at duality, combining Old Master style with lowbrow imagery and concepts. Her paintings implement classic symbolism and art history references while making her subjects and content relatable and relevant. The women she expertly captures exhibit characteristics of strength as well as vulnerability, which is a duality true to the feminine experience. It’s this balancing act, which makes her a commodity to a spectrum of art outlets. She is currently exhibiting work at Cavalier Galleries. The combination of the classic and the contemporary just solidifies the impact and importance of Realism in the past, present, and future of art. While the interconnected aspect of the show is the divine technical skill these artists employ, the evolution of Realism is clear. American Realist artists today put their own spin on classical subject matter and themes, transcending the traditional role of pure depiction.

In the riveting interview below, the beautiful Rose Freymuth-Frazier describes her reaction to being chosen to exhibit in this prestigious show, her internships with Steven Assael and Odd Nerdrum, depicting the uniquely female experience for her piece in ‘Les Petit Fours’, and the visceral complexity of her work.

American Realism: Past to Present

Exhibition Dates:
October 15- November 30, 2015

Cavalier Galleries

3 W 57th St, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10019| 212.570.4696

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Your work is currently being exhibited at Cavalier Galleries “American Realism: Past to Present” alongside John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, George Bellows, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth. When envisioning your career as an artist did you imagine being involved in a show such as this?

I was beyond excited when I began to see the names associated with this show. When I found out there was going to be a Sargent included I practically fell off my chair. I don’t think many artists believe they’ll ever hang in a room with the likes of these guys. I say “guys” because they are mostly male. To be the youngest living artist and one of only four women included, and to have such edgy pieces selected, really was beyond something I could have dreamed up. It’s everything I’ve worked towards for a long time and has helped solidify for me the importance of continuing the genre of American realism and doing so with a fresh and contemporary voice.


You’re also showing at ‘Les Petit Fours’ exhibition in Sydney, Australia. Beautiful.bizarre and Friends of Leon Gallery hand-picked New Contemporary artists from around the world who are acclaimed in female figurative art and portraiture. What is your relationship with depicting the female form? What motivated you to primarily depict women? How did you go about creating your piece for this show?

For a few years now I’ve been walking a fine line between the venerable realism of my roots and the burgeoning “low-brow” or “new contemporary” movement which has been quick to embrace my paintings. Exhibiting in “Les Petit Fours” alongside some wild and wonderful work by leading “new contemporary” artists from around the world and in New York as part of the “American Realism: Past to Present” exhibition alongside some of the finest names in realism was not an accident.  I’ve long sought to balance classicism with pulp, resulting in a hybrid between Lowbrow esthetic and Old Master technique.

 The concept behind the show was for each artist to create a piece in their signature style, their own ‘petit four’ of art. How would you describe your signature style? What are some reoccurring themes in your work?

The painting for “Les Petit Fours”, Summer’s Ambrosia is of my step-sister. Coincidentally, Mary Cassatt did come to mind when I was planning the piece. I’ve painted Summer several times over the years. I’ve always painted women, usually friends and family. Maybe it stems from some form of narcissism or maybe it’s an unending drive to give voice to the experiences that I see as uniquely female. Maybe it’s giving voice to experiences that are universal but doing so from a feminine perspective. These lines are blurry and I’ve explored them, for example with my piece, “Reclining Hermaphrodite”. This is one of my favorite paintings, although I have yet to find a gallery that will exhibit it. I’ve painted women almost exclusively for over a decade and as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep painting them.


What are some things viewers might not “get” about your work?

I thought this was important since so much of my work is allegorical. It’s really not all sex and flesh. For example my painting “Shortest Distance Between Two Points”, a woman measuring a foot long strap-on, is actually about equal pay. In the US, women are still only paid 78 cents, to every dollar a man makes. She’s measuring up to get ahead. Every painting is painted with the intention of delving multiple levels. This is important to me.

When an artist starts to get too heavy with “meaning” it can weigh down or sway the viewers take on things, which of course will, (and should), be colored by their own life experiences. I want it to be understood that the paintings are allegorical and are meant to be read as a language of symbols which hopefully work on the subconscious level in each viewer, not as literal depiction.


How do you put yourself into your work? How do you integrate your own experiences, your persona, and your views and attitudes about the world?

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter”. A painter’s personality really does seep into their work. I’m not sure what that says about me. There’s often more of a feeling I’m after when I start contemplating a new piece. I just keep painting “feelings” and they end up looking like finished paintings.

You got to intern with Steven Assael and Odd Nerdrum, both terrific representational figurative artists. Can you tell us about your experiences working with these artists? How did working with them shaped your technique, content, and ideologies? 

I specifically sought my training through apprenticeships and was lucky to have studied with Steven and Odd, two very different artists and people. I was Steven’s assistant in New York for two years. This was before I studied with Odd, and I’m glad it worked out that way. My time with Steven was all about technical training. It was grueling to be honest, but constantly being held to such a high standard really paid off. After studying with Steven, I went to Odd’s farm in Norway, which was a magical experience. We painted and posed.  We ate fish, which we pulled from the cold waters of the North Sea. There were sheep, ponies, horses and a midsummer bonfire. It never got dark. It was an eccentric scene to be sure. I already knew how to paint pretty well so I was able to more or less understand what Odd was doing technically. He’s a solid technician but really intuitive in his approach. That’s very unique and rare in realism and I think that’s ultimately what gives his work its strength.


What is the typical feedback you get from viewers? 

The paintings are meant to be beautiful and are usually perceived that way. I did recently receive an email from an older man who was so disturbed by what he kept calling my “grotesque” paintings. The breast-pump paintings in particular, were of great offense. He was a fan of my “other” work but he just couldn’t understand with whom I was so angry. Was it my parents? Was it society? Why must I, “upset the apple cart”? I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t take the time to explain to him that what he was calling “grotesque” was a real thing and part of many women’s lives. Those are real breast-pumps and something working women use to allow their family and work lives to co-exist. The model in both of those paintings is a dear friend of mine who is an Emergency Room doctor in the Bronx and a mother of two. What she sees in a day’s work is far more “grotesque” than my representation of her true experience of motherhood.


How do you wish people would perceive the nudity you present? 

Figures with no clothes are common in the art of the Western world.  Nude figures reflect a very complex set of formal ideals, philosophical concerns, and cultural traditions and were a particular focus of artistic innovation in the Renaissance and later academic traditions of the Seventeenth Century and after. I have always referenced these periods in my own work. The author and art historian, Kenneth Clark considered idealization the hallmark of true nudes, as opposed to more descriptive figures that he considered merely naked. It is definitely not reality I’m after and for this reason I tend to stylize and idealize my figures as well.


How do you go about integrating your Old Master style with concepts and content to make it contemporary?

I try to paint as well as I can. I want the technical aspect to be something people can’t argue with. That’s the conservative part of my work. Then I let the content be driven by themes and subject matter that feel relevant to me.

You live and work in New York City. How do your location and surroundings inspire you?

Living in Manhattan in particular is crucial to my work. The only time I lived in Brooklyn, for less than a year, my work changed pretty dramatically. The open blue skies and light began to make an appearance in my paintings as opposed to the usual chiaroscuro that living in Manhattan produces. I’m lucky to be able to walk to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for inspiration. Manhattan is like some kind of dark, uncomfortable, suspended chrysalis of creativity, a place from which art can be made.

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