The Drawings of Matt Freedman

In performance, Matt drew upside down on a pad he hung around his neck—so generous! rightside up for us.

By chance and this is very Freedmanesque if you know what I mean, I read a line or two of “On Grand Strategy” * today at the Strand:

“Sketches, as Machiavelli sees them, convey complexity usably. They are not reality. They are not even finished representations of it. But they can transmit essential if incomplete information on short notice.” —John Lewis Gaddis

Taken out of context, but still.

I see him draw jagged marks at the top of the paper. Then rising from the bottom, a mesmerizing meandering line—the path up the mountain. Then Rip! He would tear the paper off, sometimes comically peering at the drawing for a moment as if he hadn’t seen it before as indeed he hadn’t— and throw it on the floor. Tim would then finish up his sequence, add a flourish on the cymbal perhaps, and then, the train of thought, the drawing and the music would resume.

Also a very direct way of saying, “This drawing is only for you right now as it is made.”

Matt used a charcoal stick that produced a rich black fluid line. After a couple of drawings, his hands were very black, smudges appeared on the drawings. Sometimes he stepped on them.
A shtick which never lost its charm, especially for the artists in the audience (like me) who store their drawings in a flatfile between layers of glassine.

“Zeuxis and Parrhasius”

In “Miss Direction” which is about illusion, among so many other things, Matt relates the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius who had a contest to see who was the better painter. Zeuxis painted grapes so realistic that birds flew down to peck at them. Parrhasius then presented a painting of a curtain that Zeuxis went over to pull aside. In the drawing above, Matt drew the grapes, then the bird and over them the vertical lines of the curtain. Rip. Peer. Toss.

“The Witches in Macbeth”

But many, if not most of the drawings are abstract and only came alive as he drew them and told us what they represent. These are the witches in Macbeth with their cauldrons.

“Roundtrip on Metro North”

I don’t know whether the drawings illustrate the stories or the stories illustrate the drawings or whether they’re some completely different simultaneous phenomena. This drawing started with the arrow which describes the path of Metro North from Westchester to Manhattan. The father of a friend of Matt’s took it every morning to fleece the commuters in their daily poker game. Then the guy divorces his wife and moves to Manhattan as shown by the tall oval at the right—Manhattan is the circle at the bottom right. Then he takes the train back to Westchester in the morning—the ascending line on the left—so he can continue to participate.


“Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios in performance at Studio 10”


“24 Hours in the Life of a Clown” (1946) Jean-Pierre Melville

A few days after Matt left us for good, I watched 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown, Jean-Pierre Melville’s first film. There were Matt and Tim in a previous incarnation. In this screenshot, Maïss (Matt) plays a tune on water glasses as Beby (Tim) provides the musical accompaniment.

Performances of Endless Broken Time can be accessed at

It is not the same as seeing it live, but I discovered a new way to watch. I just stopped the film and googled the things Matt talks about. I ended up researching Pliny Elder and Younger and Zeuxis and Parrhasius. I saw a crazy diver who performed on The Frank Sinatra Show and found out all about The Little Man of Nuremberg. I spent time on the endlessly meandering river of Matt Freedman’s mind.

Matt said in his youth he had dreamed of being a magician, but didn’t have the manual dexterity for it. But then again he kinda did.



*On Grand Strategy, by John Lewis Gaddis

24 Hours in the Life of a Clown, Jean-Pierre Melville
Available on Youtube and Criterion