New book and La Jolla exhibition take a fresh look at late local artist Faiya Fredman

Faiya Fredman is the focus of a new book, "Faiya Fredman," and a new exhibit at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.
Faiya Fredman is the focus of a new book, “Faiya Fredman,” and a new exhibit at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla called “Continuum: The Art of Faiya Fredman.”
(Courtesy of Faiya Fredman Family Foundation)
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When local artist Faiya Fredman died in 2020, she left behind an artistic legacy that spanned seven decades and included dozens of regional exhibitions and hundreds of works. She was considered the “matriarch of San Diego’s contemporary art scene” and was known for her often bold experimentations that resulted in a variety of works in multiple media.

Nearly every major museum in San Diego County owns one of her works, as does the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“Continuum: The Art of Faiya Fredman,” a new exhibit opening Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, will showcase the artist’s works, while a new book compiled by her family and friends, titled simply “Faiya Fredman,” also will offer an overview of her work and career.

“The goal was really just to continue her legacy, which is why the exhibition has that title [‘Continuum’] and because it’s a word that also appears on a lot of her writing,” said Sara Stewart, Fredman’s granddaughter, who along with Allwyn O’Mara and Carmel O’Mara-Horowitz compiled the book and co-curated the exhibition.

One of the constants throughout Fredman’s career was that there was no constant. She had an unwavering commitment to experiment with new technologies and media.

“She always liked new media. She was always excited about it,” said O’Mara, a friend and frequent collaborator with Fredman for more than 25 years. “She liked a sense of making things for your eyes that were surprising. She was never afraid to jump in, to go in feet first and see what we could do. And then she’d push it even more.”

This untitled image is a part of Faiya Fredman's "Late Botanicals Series."
This untitled image is a part of Faiya Fredman’s “Late Botanicals Series.”
(Courtesy photo)

A natural artist

It can be tricky to find thematic commonalities among the art that Fredman produced over 70-plus years. She never fully settled on a specific medium, using photography and printmaking as much as paints, pencils and plants.

“One of the things that fascinated me about her was that she didn’t stick to any comfort zone for long,” said former San Diego Union-Tribune art critic Robert Pincus, who wrote the introduction for the “Faiya Fredman” book. “She was relentlessly pushing herself to try something different. She was not so much interested in the idea of ‘Let me create a style and then I’ll be recognized for that style and that will be my career.’”

Still, time and nature seem to be at the center of most of Fredman’s work. She incorporated natural materials such as sand and plants, and the natural world and cyclical nature of life were consistent inspirations.

Faiya Fredman's "Graffiti Goddess"
Faiya Fredman’s “Graffiti Goddess”
(Courtesy of Athenaeum Music & Arts Library)

Art ‘bigger than herself’

Fredman was born in 1925 in Ohio and spent most of her early life in Arizona. Her father bought her an easel when she was 4.

Before graduating from UCLA in 1951 with a degree in visual art, she married Milton “Micky” Fredman and the couple would go on to have two children. For the next 60-plus years, living in Del Mar and La Jolla, Faiya remained committed to her art. Though many of her peers would move away and become something of icons in the contemporary art world, Fredman stayed in San Diego.

“I don’t think Faiya went down to her studio every day to put San Diego on the map. I think she went down every day to make the work,” said Suda House, a local artist, teacher and frequent collaborator with Fredman who will present a workshop and a walk-through of the exhibition at the Athenaeum. “She needed to make the work. She needed to do something bigger than herself.”

In Fredman’s “Goddess” sculptures — arguably her most recognized series of works — she was keen on letting viewers interpret the art any way they saw fit, to the point where she didn’t title the sculptures, O’Mara said.

“People ask, ‘How could she not have a name for her sculptures?’ But she wanted the viewer to come and see this goddess and decide what goddess it was for them,” O’Mara said. “She has a whole notebook about asking women what they thought the goddesses were. ... She said, ‘If they can’t bring themselves to it, then it’s not worth doing.’”

“It’s a good idea to have a show and book now. ... My feeling is that it will cement the idea that she is an artist who deserves to endure and that her work deserves to have attention posthumously.”

— Robert Pincus, former San Diego Union-Tribune art critic

A legacy continued

Stewart and O’Mara, along with a few others, were working to archive Fredman’s work before she died in February 2020 at age 94. The effort was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they say they’re pleased with the way everything has turned out.

“Putting the book together really helped us curate the show. It was a labor of love and a lot of time spent on Zoom,” said Stewart, who calls the book a “visual arts catalog” of her grandmother’s work. She recalls that Fredman was working on new pieces up until the end.

Stewart and O’Mara spent many hours poring over materials, scanning and documenting everything from sketches to clippings, poetry and handwritten notes. As a result, “Continuum” will be a mix of old and new works with no restrictions on time period. They also made it a point to showcase some of the never-before-seen art that Fredman was working on at the time of her death.

The team behind the exhibition and book are planning another, “more biographical” book that will focus more on Fredman’s place in art history.

“I am always taken with the devotion of the people who love her work,” Pincus said. “It’s a good idea to have a show and book now because it allows people to look at her work in a broad, more panoramic way. My feeling is that it will cement the idea that she is an artist who deserves to endure and that her work deserves to have attention posthumously.”

‘Continuum: The Art of Faiya Fredman’

When: Saturday, Sept. 10, through Saturday, Nov. 5

Where: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Cost: Free

Information: ljathenaeum.org, (858) 454-5872 ◆