Getting ‘friended’ with a paintbrush

Carole Freeman

TORONTO —  Adding friends on Facebook has gained a new meaning with Canadian artist Carole Freeman’s latest exhibit, Friend Me: Portraits of Facebook.

The exhibit, which runs until Jan. 7 at the Edward Day Gallery in Toronto, features almost 200 portraits of people’s Facebook profile pictures, some of them well known in the art world. They include artists Judith Braun, Susan Hobbs, Margaret Dragu and Jim Kempner.  Freeman also painted a portrait of actor James Franco and media mogul Arianna Huffington.

The idea for the project came after Freeman had been caring for her sick mother in Winnipeg for several months. She would play Scrabble daily with her family there, and she discovered she could continue playing Scrabble on Facebook when she returned to Toronto. She soon became interested in the images people chose for their profile picture.

“When I started looking closely at friends’ profile pictures, I realized there was this infinite number of faces to look at, and then I started ‘friending’ people because of what their profile pictures looked like,” Freeman said.

Freeman, who graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, England, in 1980, is excited about the response she has had from this exhibit. She sent messages to people on Facebook asking for permission to paint them, and then sent them a JPEG of the finished painting. She’s received Facebook chat messages from people around the world saying that they love the work, and even that they would like to purchase it.

“Everybody loves it and they feel honoured to be included,” Freeman said. “It brings people together.”

Studying the profile pictures of others has made Freeman think more about the image she uses for her profile.

“Usually I use Facebook to promote my work, and right now, that’s how I choose my profile image,” she said. “I think I would continue to keep changing the profile photo to a profile I painted of someone else since I don’t like to put in photos of myself.”

The exhibit opened on Dec. 1, and Freeman said that since that was World AIDS Day, it was a perfect day to begin the charity work she wanted to achieve with her Friend Me project, whose goal is to inspire and engage the 800 million Facebook members to paint their friends, as a global initiative to promote connection, friendship and our common humanity through art, social media, education and technology.

One of the charitable organizations she partnered with was the Stephen Lewis Foundation Arts Fund, which supports the art of African people living with HIV/AIDS and thus helps bring hope to their lives. Executive director of the fund Ilana Landsberg-Lewis spoke at the exhibition opening.

Jordan Banks, managing director of Facebook Canada also spoke at the opening, about Facebook’s commitment to the Friend Me project. He said the project illustrates one of the reasons why Facebook could be inspirational.

“One person has the ability to influence and connect with people all around the world who share like interests,” Banks said. “They use Facebook to drive and amplify their voices.”

Freeman was a teacher for many years, and will be visiting classrooms to run arts workshops where the kids will get the chance to paint one of their Facebook friends.

She painted a lot as a child, and she has always been interested in painting faces. Painting fulfils her need to be creative.

“It’s my passion in life and about the only thing I love doing,” she said. “People’s lives are in their faces, so it could be very beautiful or handsome or a face with a lot of character in it. Whatever strikes me as interesting.”

Freeman is always thinking about how the project might expand. She is considering travelling to meet some of the Facebook friends she has never met and painting them in their homes. She also hoped to meet some of her Facebook friends at the exhibit’s opening. She added that forming connections with people was another benefit to the project.

“We’re making more friends,” she said.

The exhibit runs until Jan. 7 at the Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St. W., Suite 200. For more information, “Like” Friend Me Projects on Facebook.