Buffalo, New York 1908 — 2002 Milwaukee
Friebert achieved national recognition in the 1930s–40s for his Social Realist painting but in the 1950s also exhibited semi-abstract compositions in exhibitions in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia; most significant was his participation in the 1956 Venice Biennale. He also became a beloved teacher. Even before receiving his MS from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1951, he was hired in 1946 to teach at Milwaukee’s Layton School of Art, and a year later at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, becoming a full professor in 1957 and retiring in 1976. His awards include the Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago (1952).
Even while he focused on semi-abstraction, Joseph Friebert continued to work figuratively. In the mid-1960s, he returned exclusively to a more representational approach. His painting style had changed, informed by his experience with abstraction. It had strengthened the design and structure of his compositions, freed up his brushwork, and allowed the “serendipitous” accident to take him places he had not envisioned. Moreover, Abstract Expressionism had reinforced his belief that the most important function of art is “to communicate feelings rather than stories. The . . . real subject of any art worth its salt is the artist himself.”
Country Life (recto)/City Life (verso)
This two-sided work from the early 1940s, featuring a farm scene on the front and a city view on the back, represents two themes that Joseph Friebert explored throughout his sixty-year career. Friebert’s view of the world and the place of art in it were formed in great part by his father, a tailor, who was an activist Socialist. The values that Friebert learned growing up were especially relevant to the hardships created by the Great Depression and World War II.