Night Neighbors

[Essay written for the catalogue of Linden Frederick's November 2011 exhibition at the Forum Gallery, New York.] Night Neighbors: Linden Frederick

By Luanne Rice

The night is dark, and you’re all alone, or maybe you’re not.   The road takes you through town after town, headlights coming at you, and you see houses, not so different from the one you grew up in, a trailer park in the hollow off the interstate, a motel with its neon sign flickering out, steam billowing from a brick factory, a spooky Victorian with one light in a downstairs window, and the road feels really long and lonely, but then you see…

Linden Frederick starts the story and leaves it to the viewer to finish.   Twenty years ago I bought my first of his paintings.  No larger than two inches square, it shows a full moon rising above a distant ridgeline.  With detail so real, specific, and compelling, that tiny picture drew me into itself.  It told me about a woman leaving her husband, and I wrote it down, and it angled its way into the first fiction Linden inspired in me.

Another painting, The Night Before (2006,) captures hardship and one December’s dusk.  A turquoise double-wide squats in a snowfield of raggedy pines; an old-model car tilts, as if on a flat tire, in the driveway alongside.   A vermilion streak on the horizon—an unmistakably winter sunset—illuminates clouds overhead.  More snow coming, and you can feel the cold.  Through the trailer’s window a Christmas tree glows with colored lights.  Who lives there, where did they find hope instead of hopelessness, what grace made them decorate that tree?

So many of Linden’s paintings feel as if they’re set on the edge of town, away from the center of things.  They touch the part of us that exists on the outside looking in.  He paints what is.  He doesn’t pretty things up, but he doesn’t have to: he finds beauty in the ordinary, familiar, and lost.  The most literary of painters, he is also the most mystical—a metaphysician illuminating the dark night with headlights, a Christmas tree, the glittering neon of an ice-cream stand, a line of yellow light shining through a neighbor’s drawn curtains.  His work reminds me of the Luminism school of the 1800's, yet is immediate and of-the-moment, so luminously captures the time in which we live.  I think of it as being geographically northeast--Maine, especially--but it is purely American.  

For two decades, since I bought that first small painting, Linden Frederick has inspired my fiction.  I keep a second apartment in Chelsea just to hold his paintings.  It’s where I write.  I’m surrounded by all this work that acknowledges big loneliness, but offers connection and consolation.  He reminds me of my neighborhood, of growing up in a factory town, of my grandmother’s summer cottage.

And I’m moved by the celestial phenomenon that fills his work—turn of day, shadows falling while the sky remains brilliant blue, full moon, crescent moon, the Big Dipper, the first streaks of dawn.

For one of my novels I used an epigraph from Albert Camus:  “In the depth of winter I finally knew that within me was an invincible summer.”

I was staring at one of Linden’s paintings when that thought came to me.


Summer House, 2009, oil on linen, 40 x 40 inches

Painting at top of page:  Highwayman, oil on linen, 35 x 35 inches