Elise Freda is a painter born into a family of painters, who married into a family of realtors. In Sullivan County, NY, these two worlds have converged for a life in balance. Being a painter was almost an inevitable choice for Freda, whose parents, Helga and Fred Andkjar, both still paint daily in their studios. They moved the family from New Jersey to Callicoon in 1966. After attending Delaware Valley Central School, Freda received an Associate Degree in art from Orange County Community College and then earned her BFA from the University of New Hampshire. She lived in New Hampshire for 17 years before returning to upstate New York.
Freda’s own studio space, housed in a New World Dutch barn that was disassembled and transported from Ulster County eight years ago, is integral to her creative process. “Our friend Zeke Boyle built this fantastic place,” she says. “It’s our sanctuary.” South-facing windows look out over the Beechwoods in Callicoon, lovely rolling farmlands that serve as inspiration. “I feel strongly attracted to the landscape here—it’s rich and deep with color, light and space.”
While Freda’s paintings are rooted in the natural world, she has never been interested in depicting the mountains, fields, sky, trees and plants in a realistic way. “I use the shapes, colors and patterns in an abstract manner,” she explains. “It’s a jumping off point.” She creates many small thumbnail sketches as visual explorations of her ideas, working to evoke something similar to what she experiences when seeing dark branches against a twilight sky, for instance. Her paintings are built up layer by layer—a process of reacting as she goes—and usually maintain a strong linear aspect, whether embedded or on the surface. “Painting is a continuing conversation with the visual world,” muses Freda, “and I like the mystery of not really knowing what a painting will be until it happens.”
While Freda’s paintings are rooted in the natural world, she has never been interested in depicting the mountains, fields, sky, trees and plants in a realistic way.
Before joining the realty business owned by her husband’s family, Freda was for 12 years the Gallery Director at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance in Narrowsburg, NY. This resource and gathering place for artists and people who support the arts provides year-round programming for visual art, theater, opera, music, literature, film and digital arts. “I met and worked with an incredible range and number of artists there,” says Freda,” and the organization has grown to reflect the area’s extensive arts community.”
For the past ten years, her days have been divided between mornings in the studio and afternoons in the real estate office—a combined career that requires using both sides of her brain. “I have trained myself to be very focused and productive during the studio hours,” she says, “but there are times I have to answer calls from my real estate clients and my hands are dripping with wet paint.” One joy of showing properties is watching newcomers fall in love with the area, and Freda appreciates the energy and diversity these urbanites import. “City and country have always met in Sullivan County. It’s a symbiotic relationship that totally works.” Much like the artful duality of Freda’s own life.