The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination is proud to announce its newest exhibition: Overgrown in Pittsburgh. This exhibition features the work of all Pittsburgh-native artists including Joan Brindle and Roshida Abira Ali, as well as examples of work by Jim Brindle and name-sake, Irma Freeman. Join us for the opening reception on Unblurred’s First Friday, June 2 to celebrate their work.
Statement by Roshida Abira Ali
This exhibit contains recent work by Joan Brindle and Roshida Abira Ali. Also included are examples of work by Jim Brindle and Irma Freeman, both deceased. This work stands as tribute to life long relationships and the art made. The first time I met Joan Brindle, I was nine years old. She was the art teacher at my new public school. Freelea was an Open Classroom in the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh. At that moment in the 1970’s, education was less about test scores and teachers had a window of time to be open-minded and experimental. Joan came up to me on the first day and invited me into her art studio area. Everything was shinny and clean. I would later discover that the walls were one-way mirrors that enclosed a secret room for visitors to observe and study us. Joan handed me markers and Manilla Oaktag paper. The anxiety of being in an unfamiliar situation faded immediately when I was given art materials. I was at the cusp of entering my lifelong identity as a visual artist.
At Freelea I was permitted to spend countless hours working on projects. I remember when Miss Brindle introduced us to Lewis Carroll. She gathered us together to read The Jaborwalky, and then asked us to illustrate it with pen and ink. I got so excited – I remember the feeling – the urge to get started – I could hardly contain myself.
Art making was my safe place. When I was nine, I was having a hard time, I was really afraid that people would find out that we were poor and that our house was messy. I was a guarded person, possibly due to the chaos surrounding me at home. But Joan’s classroom made me forget about being an outsider. I fell in love with my stylish, kind and
enthusiastic art teacher, Joan Brindle. Many of her students felt this way, including my brother and sister, who were also her students. When she retired from teaching, I reached out to many of her colleagues, associates and former students to put together a little book. Across the board, Joan was influential, loved and admired.
The first time I was invited to Joan’s magical house, we made chocolate pretzels. She had plants, antiques and art everywhere. Her life style ignited my imagination. When I was 10 she paid me and a few other students to paint a mural of heaven, hell and earth on her living room wall. I visited her art studio upstairs and saw her giant paintings of florescent jungles. Over the years she integrated fabric and embroidery. She always painted flora – like a mad scientist – she studied and rendered her vision with plants and flowers. Joan Brindle was my mentor and guide, and I was her grateful apprentice. She let me into her family and we became family, with a mutual deep connection of respect and love. Joan demonstrated by example what it is to breath art, she made art in her kitchen, in her garden, in her classroom and in her studio.
My grandmother, Irma Freeman was also very inspired by plants and flowers. My otherworldly grandmother emitted rays of passion and creativity. Her sweet, positive, childlike outlook was present in her paintings, cooking, writing and living. Despite hardships, loss, depression and difficulty, she chose light over darkness. When I went to live at Joan’s house, at age 13, I would still spend a lot of time at my grandparent’s house on Pierce Street in Pittsburgh, situated right next to the train tracks. Joan would always have me go into her garden to gather a bouquet of flowers to bring over. My grandmother would never fail to make a painting or pastel of the flowers.
Between Irma Freeman and Joan Brindle – I was inundated with the idea that art was a way of appreciating life, and that the practice of art making could keep you free. Both Joan Brindle and Irma Freeman were pivotal influences to my life choices and artistic development.
When I became a parent, I was living in Los Angeles with my husband, Gordon Henderson. I started to look for something that compared to my experience at Freelea for our daughter. I was determined to provide her with an education filled with imagination, expression, science, nature and the arts. In 2008, the economy tanked and the arts were pretty much eliminated from public schools. In 2009, I worked with a group of disenfranchised parents and founded the Wisdom Arts Laboratory project in Los Angeles. WAL has flourished as a vehicle for myself and other artists to provide a community of experimental art making and arts education. This project would never have happened, if I had not known Joan Brindle.
My paintings depict a view from Joan’s porch, a herd of sheep, a Los Angeles landscape, portraits of my grandparents, a decomposing log, and rain viewed from the dry side of the window. I first showed many of the pieces in this collection at Selected Moments in Blurred Reality at Namaste Highland Park Gallery, in January, in Los Angeles.
Statement by Joan Brindle:
Abira Ali, Joan Brindle, Jim Brindle and Irma Freeman are Pittsburgh artists. All four have deep ties to the city. They are tied to family and friends and intertwined with each other in life and in memory. As artists they were drawn to the landscape of hills cut through by three rivers, to the lush vegetation, to the grayness and to the particular quality of the light.
Jim Brindle died in 1969 at of age of 29. He loved the look of the city and said that it was “the only apocalyptic city left in the world” (Pittsburgh, circa 1964). The drawings in this exhibit are all done in pen and ink. They were done for Richard Leper’s class at Carnegie Institute of Technology. Jim worked in his car parked at the various Sites in Oakland and downtown when working on these drawings.
Joan Brindle’s gouache landscapes were painted between 2014 and 2016. The locations pictured were mostly on the north bank of the Allegheny River or on the hills above. A few were done in Hazelwood along the Monongahela River. A few were of places along the banks of a creek that flowed into the Allegheny. They were painted in all four seasons.
Abira Ali was a student of my mine in the Pittsburgh Public Schools She was in 5th grade when I met her. She was an exceptionally talented child artist. We have known and supported one another in our lives and in our art making for 40 years.
Irma Freeman was Abi’s grandmother. I met her when I met Abi. She was a talented mature artist when we met. She had a tremendous freedom and spontaneity as a painter. She was a masterful colorist. I loved the paintings and the discipline and the joy of her work. We visited and talked about painting until her death in 1994.