Cover image of the review
Shop between 'off peak', c.1950s, lithograph, printed in colour inks, from multiple stones [or plates], 97.2 x 59.8 cm (printed image), Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

Harold Freedman: Artist for the People

6 May 2017
Art Gallery of Ballarat 1 Apr - 28 May 2017

The Harold Freedman exhibition, on display at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until the end of this month, is sub-headed ‘Artist for the people’. In order to entice people deep into the pokey rear galleries where the show is hung, it would seem that a degree of assuagement is required. Trust me people, promises the curator, this is an artist for you!

Curated by Julie McLaren, Freedman’s designation as a people’s artist is explained by his democratic teaching style, his well-known murals, and his service as an Official War Artist in World War II. If official offices are a sign of success (if not popularity), Freedman has another bizarre notch in his belt as the only person to ever serve as Victoria’s ‘State Artist’.

If you need a clearer description of how Freedman became a “peoples’ artist” in pre-WWII Melbourne, the large catalogue written by Gavin Fry, David Freedman (the artist’s son) and David Jack (the artist’s assistant, son of artist Kenneth Jack) provides a delicious comparison: “While some of his contemporaries, notably Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker, were also grafting away in commercial studios, Freedman enjoyed the challenge and made it central to his work, rather than seeing it as some irksome task”. Freedman, unlike some people, worked as a jobbing artist and didn’t complain. Perhaps in a contrast to an “artists’ artist”, a peoples’ artist works: they aren’t restless or vainglorious, and they make art to entertain and to decorate the lives of other working people.

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