An ongoing series of collage works, using documents, photographs, letters and books that belonged to artist Ralph Freeman’s family in the 1930s, and related to their experience of exile and migration, memory and transition.
These materials are a link to their experience of war and dictatorship, to life as persecuted people, as refugees. The work is grounded in the story of European Jewry in the period of the Third Reich, but relates to how racism continues to transform innocent people into refugees. The new exhibition was an extension of the initial series, shown at the museum in 1998, and had moved into the use of reliefs and constructions.
The unique setting of the Freud Museum seemed very appropriate for the collection of works. Freud’s Jewish background; his own persecution under the Nazis (his books were burned; he was under surveillance; Anna was arrested and held for 24 hours; and, it was recently disclosed, he was on a list of intellectuals who were due to be executed by the Nazis) and his subsequent exile to England, all mirror the themes behind the collages, reliefs and constructions, making them particularly evocative.
In every decade of the tumultuous twentieth century the plight of the refugee touched every continent. War, persecution, and disasters both natural and man-made drove great numbers of people from their homelands. Every decade seemed to add a new nomenclature to the statue of refugee: émigré, expatriate, displaced person, boat person.
Ralph Freeman has been drawn to explore the narrative of this seemingly endless transmigration of peoples. His initial inspiration was his parent’s personal archives; their documents of transit, and their treasured paper fragments of lost existence. As his immersion in this material developed his work became more structural. The envelope, the packaging of an identity became the focus of his interest. This abstraction from the original documents has produced a series of powerfully evocative reliefs, recalling lost lives, and a whole situation.
Placing this work in the context of the Freud Museum produces an extraordinary wealth of associations. Freud’s work was forever preoccupied within identity and narrative, and his own series of nationalities reflect the fragmentation and coalescence of European nation states. Born in Moravia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the end of his life driven into exile by Nazi persecution, he then strenuously tried to become British.
The rich context of the Freud Museum and the strength of Ralph Freeman’s work produce a powerful resonance, here we can dwell on the destructive forces that drove so many to pack their past, present and future into an envelope and flee for their lives.
Foundations and Fragments at Tate St. Ives
‘A note on the work’ authored by the artist
The ongoing series of collages, Foundations and Fragments, uses documents that belonged to my family: birth certificates, licenses, identity cards, work permits, sheet music, reviews of concerts and broadcasts, magazine pages, personal letters. These materials are a link to their experience of war and dictatorship, to life as persecuted people, as refugees. The work is grounded in the story of European Jewry in the period of the Third Reich, but relates to how racism continues to transform innocent people into refugees.
Although I related to these source materials, despite or because of their content being beyond my grasp, I was drawn to their formal qualities. As copies of the material are pasted on canvas, stained, cut, torn, reassembled, and painted over, abstract and formal priorities emerge. The results must stand on their own aesthetically, regardless of the original appeal of the source material. The collages are informed by preoccupations of the other kind of paintings I do, but suggest new feelings and directions for this work in turn.