Local artist Roberta Friedman honors late sister with City Gallery exhibit
Through September, a series of Roberta Friedman’s encaustic works are on display in an exhibit called “WAX” at City Gallery.
Kamini Purushothaman, Contributing Photographer
New Haven artist Roberta Friedman is honoring her late sister with an exhibit at City Gallery, a space that seeks to promote the New Haven visual arts scene.
The “WAX” exhibit, which opened in the gallery Sept. 8, is set to be displayed in the space until Oct. 1. Upon first glance, the creations adorning the white walls look like paintings, but closer examination reveals layers of various types of paper and applied wax. During the exhibit’s reception event Sept. 9, local creatives and art enthusiasts gathered at the gallery to view Friedman’s collection. Friedman was in the gallery Sept. 8 through Sept. 10, and she will be there again at her exhibit’s closing Oct. 1.
“We had an extraordinarily close relationship,” said Friedman of her connection with her sister, Margo. “I left for college when she was only eight years old, and she was thirteen at my wedding. But we made a decision when we were quite young, that we would always have a good relationship with each other. We made a pinky swear.”
All the proceeds from the exhibit will go to KidneyCAN, a nonprofit advocating for research about kidney cancer. Friedman’s sister was involved with KidneyCAN as she advocated for Kidney Cancer treatment and research. Friedman said she attended a series of Zoom calls on Tuesday with several congressmen about kidney cancer research. Friedman said she was on the call advocating for the National Institutes of Health to launch more kidney cancer research.
Advocacy is no new endeavor for Friedman, who told the News that she has been involved in environmental causes and other politicized efforts for many years. She said these efforts ultimately inspired her to attend law school. Her younger sister, who went to law school first, heavily encouraged Friedman to pursue the career path, Friedman said.
“She’s my biggest cheerleader,” Friedman gushed. “Even though she always says that I influenced her, she really influenced me.”
In turn, Friedman said that she encouraged her sister to take art classes. Friedman said she wished she had the opportunity to see more of her sister’s art, mentioning Margo’s interest in fashion design.
With “WAX,” the exhibit now on display at City Gallery, Friedman celebrates her sister with meticulously composed collages.
“I love the colors you can make with wax,” she said. “It requires a level of attention and technique, and I was interested in learning something new — my whole life was changing. When I retired, I thought, ‘this will be something challenging that I haven’t done before.’”
Friedman is continuously experimenting with her artistic process, finding new methods to integrate into her work. More recently, she began experimenting with cold wax rather than hot wax, which she mixes with oil paint to create “beautiful,” “transparent” colors.
Ayannah Obas ’27 told the News that she loved Friedman’s use of color.
“The multicolored abstractions really stand out,” Obas commented.
Another local artist, Kim Weston, praised Friedman’s work, comparing it to visual poetry.
In her exhibit, Friedman utilized cold wax to glue down elements of each collage and also used the cold wax as a final coat. Mixing oil paints with cold wax, she extends the lifetime of the expensive pigments.
For one piece, she had raked a large comb-like tool across the wax, and in another, she created a non-uniform grid hosted rainbow dribbles of wax within each of its “squares.”
Rather than adhere to one color palette, Friedman chose to create various sets of art, each one exemplifying a different aesthetic objective. She said that it took a year and a half to produce all the sets.
Friedman told the News that she often employs encaustic monotyping, a process whereby a single print is created on a heated palette.
“I keep adding wax and using my pigment sticks and rolling it all out,” she said, as she described the process of ncaustic monotyping. “Some pieces are okay, and some are gorgeous, and some are a hot mess. But that’s the beauty of it. Everything becomes a collage and I just use the pieces I like.”
The use of wax as a medium in art is not a novel concept, Friedman said. She said that the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians exploited the preservative properties of wax to make images of people they were burying.
Repurposing the technique through a contemporary lens, Friedman creates textured works composed also of xuan paper, pigment sticks and other materials she has discovered at art stores.
The pieces are “paper, but when you wax it and layer it, the collage aspect of it is not as evident unless you look really closely,” she said.
Friedman also spoke with the News about how City Gallery operates, calling it a “collective.” The members of the gallery take turns with administrative gallery shifts and paying the rent, and according to Friedman, all of the money made from arts sales at the gallery goes to the artist.
As a member of the collective, Friedman said she has become closely connected to the creative community in New Haven. She stressed her desire for Yale to engage more with the city arts scene, noting the University’s disconnect from local artists.
When she first came to New Haven, Friedman said she took watercolor classes at the Creative Arts Workshop, a community art school and nonprofit organization, with the late artist Hilda Levy. Friedman said that her encaustic collages draw inspiration from watercolor paintings, with colors seamlessly blending together upon each board.
Within Friedman’s own family, too, lies a community of creatives, she said. One of her aunts was a designer and another was an amateur painter.
“I have been encouraged to paint since I was a small child,” she said. “It has always been a part of my life.”
City Gallery is open Friday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.