By Britta Konau
A Man of Many Hats
Not only does Freddy LaFage juggle a lot of obligations, he also wears a lot of hats, all the time, and the funkier the better. I recall a pointed fake-fur hat, one made of contrasting fabric swatches, and a straw hat. (He also inherited his grandfather's hat collection, but unfortunately they're the wrong size.)
LaFage's current responsibilities include being a painter, partner, and parent, as well as cook, co-manager, and co-gallerist of Chase's Daily in Belfast—a focal point in the lively midcoast community. Together with his partner Megan Chase, an accomplished painter as well, and her family, they have created a space to meet, eat delicious, wholesome food, buy ultra-fresh farm goods, and enjoy stimulating art at the same time. Chase's Daily occupies the ground floor of the 1888 Odd Fellows Building on the town's busiest street. It also houses an apartment and offices, as well as the couple's living quarters and studios.
Before settling in Belfast, LaFage moved around a lot. Born in 1966, he grew up in Connecticut, went to college in Winter Park, Florida, and moved to Colorado after receiving his bachelor's degree. Three years later, he spent six months in Honduras, and upon his return to the United States settled for a short time in Oregon. All the while he held a few odd jobs and painted from observation in a representational style. Hitting a creative wall, LaFage decided to go back to school in New York, first at the New York Academy of Art and then the New York Studio School, where, in 1996, he met Megan, who is originally from Freedom, Maine. While the two were traveling for three months through Europe in a Volkswagen van, Italy—and particularly Early Renaissance Sienese painting—became a major influence on LaFage's work.
Sienese painting of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries embodies a lyrical, even mystical, quality, and a refined sense of color and composition that tends toward flatness and decorative beauty. The same could be said about LaFage's work. He has developed a set of iconic symbols of personal significance that continue to evolve. Stylized crenellations, castles, and megaphones appear at the center of simple compositions, formally contrasting with the visible layering of each painting's history. Some areas are heavily worked, and others reveal underlying shapes the artist has painted over. While LaFage has utilized unconventional materials ranging from lead to signage vinyl, he currently uses the centuries-old mediums of gold and silver leaf as well as egg tempera—the latter for its lusciousness. Mixing egg yolks with pigment feels like cooking to LaFage, which he thoroughly enjoys.
Trickle's overall shape recalls icons or medieval altar paintings, an association that is augmented by the use of silver leaf, iconographically suggesting the ethereal light of a spiritual realm. Like rain trickling from above, its beneficence spreads over an arc of orange that serves as the backdrop for a gathering of four organic shapes. The stripes decorating them might suggest the folds of robes, turning them into a huddle of grieving figures. However, they could also suggest a second watery downpour that—together with the contrast between the light-absorbing tempera and the reflective enamel and silver—activates an intriguing interplay of pictorial forces.
LaFage values the confidence of icons in communicating ideas. He similarly crystallizes emotions and concepts into shapes that become universally accessible and meaningful. His art is deeply thoughtful and addresses themes of excess and loss, isolation and community, spirituality and despair. "I want my paintings to reveal themselves slowly," he says. In the most elemental sense, LaFage's work is about communication, which is a central part of his life as well. He enjoys interacting with people viewing his work at Perimeter Gallery, essentially the walls of Chase's Daily. But crucial communication also takes place when art-making shifts to the kitchen table across from his seven-year-old daughter, Romy, while an operatic aria fills the open living space—bringing art directly to life.
When LaFage and Chase settled in Belfast in 1999, he thought of it as "a world that you can build the way you want." He has found a home and community in which he could put down roots, but his imagination is as restless as ever. LaFage is constantly thinking up new projects, which include building furniture and lamp fixtures using unusual materials such as vinyl and concrete. Their apartment and studio, actually the whole building, is pervaded by a sense of things in process through which life is woven. Family, art, and work are seamlessly integrated with a vibrant openness to new challenges and a lively sense of humor. LaFage forever wants to do something he hasn't done before.