Andrew Friedman- Slideshow Poet? 

Andy Friedman has a rough gig.

Despite an ever-growing group of supporters who enjoy his pieces, the twenty-nine-year-old painter from Brooklyn still has to work hard to arrange tours of his artwork around the country.

What’s even harder is explaining to the folks in charge of booking just what exactly it is that he does. That’s because the vast majority of Friedman’s art shows don’t take place in what most people would view as the typical environments: galleries, museums or institutes of higher learning.

Instead, you’re much more likely to find this “Slideshow Poet” in a smokey bar, a rock and roll club, or a coffeehouse that regularly books live entertainment.

While these may at first seem unlikely places to sit back and view visual art, you first have to understand that Friedman is something of a maverick – an iconoclast who is quietly (but radically) rethinking what it means to be a painter or a photographer in this day and age.

“People still call what I’m doing a reading, because I’m not holding a guitar,” he says with a slight hint of frustration.

“But it’s not a reading. It’s not a one-man play. It’s not a monologue. These are songs. I’ve got my records, which are my books, and I’ve got my concerts.”

Confused? Well, don’t be. In plain English, what Friedman’s saying is that he has neologized the terms painting, record and songs, and now can pretty much do whatever he damn well pleases with them.

It takes quite a leap of faith to simply shrug off societal and cultural conventions, and start fresh, but it’s a modus operandi that has served scores of creative minds throughout history extremely well (so Andy’s in good company).

However, leaps of faith are something the former art student (he studied classical painting for years at the estimable Rhode Island School of Design) is becoming quite accustomed to.

First, he gave up his longstanding notion that to be a great painter, you had be a half-mad perfectionist, and work exclusively in oils, like Ingres or Velasquez.

Next, he gave up a hard-won job as a cartoon editor at The New Yorker, to become – in his words – “a brave artist.”

Then he set out to create a new and unique way of looking at two-dimensional art. Namely, he fused the act of observing slides of his drawings, paintings and Polaroid photos, with the act of listening to him recite impressionistic, blues-inspired lyrics along with each piece. Lyrics which are part and parcel of the work itself, and which he believes are integral to understanding the spirit and artistic inspiration behind each work.

Then, he took the show on the road. First as a solo act – just old-fashioned carousel-type projector and school assembly screen – then as a duo with his friend, rural blues guitarist Paul Curreri, and now, finally, with a two-piece backing band he calls The Other Failures.

Together, they’re upending long-held notions about what makes a painting a painting, a song a song, and the blues the blues. He runs a tiny record label (City Salvage Records) which markets his “records,” but though they’re the size and shape of a compact disc, they’re actually tiny books of his words and artwork.

He recites composed lyrics in tandem with his projections in a voice and manner that comes off a bit like a more serious Lord Buckley or a beatnik version of the late Hank Williams’ alter-ego Luke The Drifter (a touchstone that Friedman is wont to bring up often).

Sometimes they’re a cappella. Sometimes the string band plays behind him. Sometimes he turns off the slides and just lets the music and words create the pictures in your mind.

But don’t mistake Friedman for a musician. He doesn’t play an instrument. He just an artist, plain and simple.

During one of his three, month-long breaks from the rigors of low-budget touring, he spoke to me by phone from his home in new York City, while catching up on episodes of HBO’s The Ali G Show.

Given the nature of Friedman’s job for the past three years, it comes as no surprise to hear that he’s a big fan of both the titular British comedian, and of his antecedent, the late, great Andy Kaufman – two unique performance artists who became internationally famous for confusing and challenging their audiences.

Connect Savannah: This must be a labor of love for you.

Andy Friedman: It’s a labor of need. I mean, love is one thing, but it’s just like those rural blues guys. This is the way it comes out for me, and it just comes out. Why do I make it come out? Well, ‘cause I don’t feel grounded without it. It’s how you handle what life has dealt you. I don’t feel like the pictures are fully activated until I accompany them with the lyrics you hear in my show. If it couldn’t work out this way, I guess I’d be lost in the world and lost in my own head. I think if you’d taken Blind Willie McTell’s guitar away, he might have told you the same thing.

Connect Savannah: How did you decide to view your 2-D art as songs?

Andy Friedman: Growing up I listened to folks like Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, and they showed me how to do this. Since I’m not a guitar player, but a painter, I just had to figure out how to do what they did with what I’ve got. Going back to that same country blues thing. It’s as simple as that. I understand many people are fascinated and they’re looking at this like some kind of brand-new idea, and maybe it is. Maybe no one’s ever done it quite this way before, just like people say that no one ever sung truly introspective lyrics until Bob Dylan. Well, they called him innovative, and he said, “I’m just singin’ my songs and doin’ my own thing.” If I’m being innovative in the process, that’s great, but I’m just doing what my heroes have always done.

Connect Savannah: With what you’ve got.

Andy Friedman:Yeah. I’m the Johnny Cash of painting.

Connect Savannah: Your delivery reminds me of both Bukowski and Spalding Gray.

Andy Friedman: You just hit the nail on the head! I used to stand up, but I was familiar with Spalding, and after I saw a video of Charles Bukowski doing a reading, I thought, wow. I’ll use a table. So now, it’s like my piano. (laughs)

Connect Savannah: You’ve said you want to do for painting what Dylan did for songwriting. What do you mean by that?

Andy Friedman: Dylan took pop music away from just being stuff to dance to or make out to. But I don’t feel like painting has progressed in a similar fashion. Right now, people don’t paint so that people can make out in front of it. They paint to make their own arguments about painting. For probably, the whole 20th Century, that’s what painting was about. How many new ways can we introduce to the world about the possibilities painting holds? I’m saying, great, now let’s take all those ways of doin’ it, and get introspective on our asses. Let’s go in deep and actually start to say something about it. You know, when a lover walks out your door and takes half of you with her or him, what are you gonna go to? The old country record, or the coffee table book of Christo? I mean, who’s really gonna be your friend? I don’t think that painters are really doing what they do to befriend any lost souls.

Connect Savannah: You’d like to do that?

Andy Friedman: I am doing that.

Andy Friedman and The Other Failures play an ALL AGES show at The Sentient Bean, Tues., Jan. 18 at 8 pm.


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Jim Reed

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