I just heard that the artist Jane Freilicher passed yesterday at 90. First of all I had no idea she was that old, the last time I saw her was a few years ago, or so it seemed, and she looked as stunning as she always did to me. She had such a grounded aura of strength that exuded calm and confidence, to me, that I always thought of her as outside normal age.
I knew she was from the generation of my oldest siblings, who were in their teens when WWII started and I was born. But for me she was like someone out of a book. Maybe because the only women I'd ever heard of like Jane were ones I read about in books. When I first met her in the early 1970s, she was already legendary among those who were fans of "The New York School" poets (John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch—Barabara Guest also, but usually overlooked in the sexist fashion of the times).
I had been taken up by some of the original New York School poets back then and in the process invited into their social scene in ways that I was overwhelmed with, because it seemed to represent everything I had a chip on my shoulder about when I was growing up and did still then. Much of their humor was arch and sophisticated in ways I'd often miss, the irony and understatement depending on what was then called a campy perspective on high and low culture.
I translated my insecurity into arrogance, a familiar formula, behaving as if it was a given that they would include me in their scene so generously, and it wasn't until I moved back to Jersey fifteen years ago, after almost two decades in L.A. and environs, that I got the chance to tell Jane how grateful I was that she had included me in for awhile among what was a small circle of gifted and special friends. And I let her know I regretted my arrogance and lack of graciousness and gratitude at the time.
She seemed slightly amused by my confession and verbal amends for behavior she might not even have remembered, but she also was gracious in accepting it and letting me know she remembered me fondly from those days. I was smitten then, as I was when I first met her, by the strength and independence and intelligence that shone from her eyes (and I believe you can see in her paintings, despite some having dismissed her art as too light or simple or "easy" etc. back in the day and sometimes since).
Here's the NY Times obit with a good take on her life and work and a photo of how she looked in recent years, and below is a photo I first saw around the time I met her though taken years before, her "star" pose, which she always was and will remain in my mind and heart: