Freddy LaFage, “High Water,” 2012, gold and egg tempera on panel, 28 x 191⁄2 in.
Freddy LaFage, “High Water,” 2012, gold and egg tempera on panel, 28 x 191⁄2 in.
There aren't many days left to see Freddy LaFage's show at Chase's Daily in Belfast-don't miss it. His paintings speak volumes in a quiet way. They come from a deep well of joy and sadness, expressed not in a heavy-handed manner, but in incredibly beautiful, colorful compositions.

Generally, the paintings' surfaces are heavily worked and reveal their history, which softens the straightforwardness of the compositions of decorative patterns and LaFage's personal vocabulary of symbols. Motifs morph into each other; abstracted, horn-like megaphones become domed doorways and mountains, or simply multiple swirls of color that open up to an indistinct interior space. The half-circles also gather into architecture, especially castles, which in turn encompass cellular patterns.

The title of the show is "Communiqué," an official communication to the press or public. The megaphones indeed seem to be making almost audible pronouncements and appear convinced of their importance. Appropriately, one such painting is titled "Blast," another one "Hear Ye." (Just think presidential nomination debates.) But the majority of LaFage's paintings communicate with the volume turned down.

As far as materials are concerned, using gold and silver leaves may sound possibly garish, but LaFage applies them, together with the underlying bole clay and egg tempera, in the century-old tradition of iconographers and draws more attention to their meaning than their coloristic quality. The value and reflectivity of precious metals signifies ethereal light illuminating a spiritual realm. In "Nugget," a large oval of literal gold is precariously balanced on a spidery red structure-all that is precious may be endangered. Yet the painting is enveloped by a frame that seems to hug and protect it.
Frames are indeed an integral part of many of the works; their shape and color meaningfully relate to the paintings' imagery, most obviously for those shaped like an icon or altarpiece. In "High Water," the gilding of the image background extends to the frame. In this field of gold floats an elaborate fortress in fluorescent red and pink, with each stone lovingly outlined in white. The promise of protection, solidity, and surety is suspended in space, in faith.

Associations with Medieval altar paintings are also the key ingredient of "Downtown," in which the shaped frame is amplified by a depiction of what looks like a fortified medieval town built up of symbols rather than descriptive elements. An ancient structure is also the focus of "August," in which a coliseum is engulfed by flames against a strong red background colorfully heightening the drama. This description may make the painting sound facile or exceedingly theatrical; however, there is real power emanating from the image, which is strengthened by an intimation of human shapes formed by the flames. They are in a huddle, supporting each other-this is an emotional conflagration, after all.

Compare the work titled "Trickle" to the loud ones mentioned earlier. Here the beneficial energy of silver trickles onto an arched field of orange, in front of which four abstract shapes gather around each other. They are decorated with stripes, suggesting the folds of robes, and are in a forward-bent, grieving pose; I cannot help but think of a Lamentation. The stiff formality, shallow stage-like space, and the washed-out pink used for the shapes may even suggest Giotto in particular. This may be art historical over-interpretation, yet like the proto-Renaissance painter, LaFage crystallizes emotions and concepts into shapes and configurations, into icons in the more casual sense.

These paintings can be enjoyed on so many levels, including a purely aesthetic one. They are rich works of art, deeply thoughtful and deeply felt, which engage a range of themes-plenty and loss, solitariness and community, strength and weakness, and faith and despair. They may come from an intensely personal place but they speak to us universally.