ArtBeat – Marcy Friedman

By Ed Goldman


photo of the artist by Paul Kaufmann

We’re standing in Marcy Friedman’s backyard, above the American River. The water is flowing this afternoon at 30,000 feet per second, she says, wondering how much fiercer it will be when the winter snow melt really takes hold and the cascading from the river’s North Fork gets treacherous. 

“Well, my studio is in the basement,” she says, factually but seemingly unperturbed. “We had to sandbag one year. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Friedman excels at that. She interrupted her intended painting career for 42 years to raise her family, simultaneously plunging deep into philanthropy and community, which included leading with her late husband—attorney and business visionary Mort Friedman—the massive fundraising campaign to expand and modernize the Crocker Art Museum. She also worked with Mort on his various development projects, including Arden Fair Mall. 

After Mort passed away more than a decade ago, Marcy resumed her art career—and more than three years ago, even remarried: her husband, businessman Paul Kaufmann, was her boyfriend when the two were teenagers in Hawaii, where Marcy lived most of her young life.

Her third solo show—more than two dozen new and brightly evocative paintings, including portraits, landscapes and the dazzling denizens of her at-home koi pond— is at the b. sakata garo gallery in midtown Sacramento April 4-29.

Friedman is allegedly 87 years old. But her posture, energy, voice and outlook seem to have been frozen and waiting for her to reawaken them after that four-decade painting hiatus.

If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that her work was that of a young, but far from callow, artist. Vibrant colors, energetic brush strokes and a sense of composition that usually eliminates any background distractions from the people she’s portraying. While her painter’s voice is all her own, her placement of the images—right there, right in front of you, like it or not—reminds me of photographer Richard Avedon’s celebrity portraits (though his best work was in black-and-white) and summons up such iconic portraiture as Don Bachardy’s infamous (and truly terrific) painting of Governor Jerry Brown. 

Meanwhile, her landscapes are as distinctive as David Hockney’s experiment in that discipline but echo only the confidence of his color palette and imagery. And her piece “Sunbathing,” above, may be reminiscent of Roland Petersen’s sand-and-sea epoch but to me—and I collected Petersen for a time—Friedman’s work is more compelling for simply being close-in and close-up.

“All artists refer to drawing from life or otherwise as tapping into their muscle memory,” she says as we sit in her light-filled office. “What I like to do when I paint someone is keep a close eye on skin tone and contours—but more to the point, that glint in someone’s eye, the way people might twist their heads to express curiosity or confusion. 

“I look for a person’s characteristics,” she continues, “something they may not share with anyone else.” In other words, she sees everyone as unique. As is Marcy Friedman.

(The b. sakata garo gallery, is at 923 20th Street. Its phone number is 916.447.4276 and its website is It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 6pm.)

Sunbathing, Marcy Friedman

2 Comments on “ArtBeat – Marcy Friedman

  1. Thank you for introduction. Since I’ve spent much of my art career in NYC, I’ve missed out on meeting many of our local artists.

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