Around this time last summer, Julius Friedman was gleefully recreating one of his most famous pieces of art with a group of children.
Under his direction, the kids dropped scoops of ice cream into the upturned bell of a gleaming French horn. The project was part of the opening celebration for the Frazier History Museum’s retrospective on 50 years of the artist’s work.
“If you saw me with those kids, I was no older than they were,” Friedman told Dylon Jones, who covered the event for Louisville Magazine. “It’s a mindset. Most of my friends act old, therefore they are old. All they talk about is health. It’s like, You’re gonna die. What’s the issue?”
Friedman passed away peacefully on July 16, just about a year after that summer scene unfolded on Main Street’s Museum Row.
It’s hard not to read his words now without a pang of poignancy. Friedman was fully present in that moment a year ago, smiling and creating with a gaggle of young collaborators. He was seeing the world in his own unique way, focusing on the beauty and teasing it out, intensifying it and transforming it into something familiar and fresh all at once.
While he is no longer present in the same way, how and where he created and shared his incredible body of work speaks volumes about who he was.
That French horn-ice cream sundae he created with the help of those kids? It was a recreation of an iconic poster he created for the Louisville Orchestra. Among the hundreds of posters he created, the most memorable were created gratis for local arts organizations and non-profits. One of the other famous works was an image of a softly pink pointe shoe balancing delicately on an egg. That image was created for the Louisville Ballet.
“I was lucky enough to build a national and international reputation for work I did essentially for free,” he told the University & College Designers Association.
That same generosity of spirit extended to the gallery on Main Street he co-owned for many years. The gallery exhibited works from local artists. He also opened his home to local artists, allowing them space to exhibit and offer their work for sale.
Friedman was present in his community. He didn’t just stay here instead of moving to New York or Paris or some other city that serves as a magnet for artists; he was present here. He contributed generously to Louisville, giving much more than we can calculate.
There was even more to Julius Friedman than the hundreds of posters he created, the thousands upon thousands of images he captured as a photographer, the stunning and thoughtful installations he constructed. The way he shared his talents and engaged with the people around him also tells a story as compelling as his art.
Rarely are we fully prepared to let go of someone we appreciate and admire. For me, there’s a sense that there was more to explore, more to discover, more to learn from Julius Friedman. I didn’t get that chance to sit down and talk with him, to my regret.
In honor of his memory, I’ll probably spend some time imagining the conversation I would have liked to have had with him. I’ll imagine his insightful and revealing responses, and how enjoyable that interview would have been for me.
If I’d had the chance to interview Julius Friedman, what would you have wanted me to ask?