...Nigel Freake also uses the body as the starting point for his work but arrives at a very different place. The genus of these paintings are dresses, patterned fabric on a moving female body. Starting from images of flowered dresses worn by models, the design is isolated then photocopied and blown up to create a virtually abstracted form. This is then silk-screened onto a primed canvas with a colour very close to the first to form a repeated grid through which the original colour seeps. Over this is dragged a veil of pigment in an oil base, also of a similar colour, which nearly obliterates the image allowing a ghostly trace of the original to break through like a secret only partially revealed. Freake's concern is with the interplay between material and the iconographic element "defined by the paint". In the Shift paintings, for example, the lurid flamingo pink almost becomes too much to bear, virtually blotting out the image like a photograph that has been overexposed. In certain lights the surface looks matt, but shift positions and the flowers and dots of the original pattern bleed through the surface as if by osmosis.
Freake's influences are diverse, from Venetian painting to the obvious acknowledgement of Warhol and Judd. It is the constant slippage of the image that seduces him. The impossibility of pinning down a final version of something observed, the obsession that there can only be fluidity, approximation, with no fixed point either visually of philosophically. His work exists vigorously in the Romantic tradition of painting. His Dress series, in lime yellows and zingy citrus oranges, is an attempt to show that there can be no fixed, defining image, much as Monet did when he repeatedly painted Rouen cathedral in shifting and changing lights.
The acknowledgement of Carl Andre's minimalist influence, taken from the notorious Equivalent VIII (1966), with its mathematically imposed modular system, is explored in the arrangement of the nine panels of Flowers. There is in Nigel Freake's work an obvious consciousness of surface, an absorption of the Greenbergian tenets of flatness, but this is juxtaposed with ambiguities that give them an alternative resonance and reading. In the red Dress series it is possible to detect his interest in artists such as Bellini, in both the density and luxury of colour, cascading across the canvas like some shimmering Renaissance papal gown. Just as in the yellow Dress series the horizontal traces from the original formal patterning can be read as horizontal lines and the painterly marks as creating their own, almost figurative, perspectival spaces.
It is in this collision between painterly expressionism and theoretical formality that the works find their being. In the interface between poetic metaphor and formal concerns about the function and potential for painting that they achieve their essence.
Sue Hubbard, London March 1996