INTERVIEW: A.J. Fries, painter

Originally posted on Buffalo Vibe

An inaugural member of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center’s “Living Legacy” artists in 2012, A.J. Fries has gone from a young boy roaming the halls of Buffalo’s cultural institutions to a respected member of its world whose work now rests in more than one local museum’s permanent collection. How’s that for a hometown success story?

Winner of Artvoice‘s “Best Painter” in 2013, written about in 2008’s Buffalo Spree‘s Best of WNY issue by friend and soon-to-be exhibition partner Bruce Adams for contention in the “Best Artist” conversation, and a resident in anyone’s mind when musing on the Queen City’s renowned creators, Fries is a working artist who isn’t afraid to admit the job is just that: work. In the past couple of months you’ve seen his “Six Pack” painting auctioned off at the Buffalo History Museum, watched the completion of the epic Trans Empire Canal Corporation’s—of which he is a co-founder—first phase, and perhaps gazed upon his commissioned giant silver spoons of ice cream at Lake Effect. And according to him there’s no letting up on the throttle.

Modest enough to refuse the label Photorealist and confidant enough to call “bullshit” on those who feel their art should be more about the message than the quality of the object itself, he loves art and wants nothing more then to convert you uninterested naysayers into the cult. Unapologetically candid, he told me about his artistic awakening, the reasoning behind his black and white style, and what he has in store for the future. If you don’t like swearing or the use of hyperbolized anger to display respect—every mention of an artist he adores carries a “Fuck them” in tow—click to another article right now.

But if you want to get into the mind of one of the most notable figures inside the Buffalo arts community right now, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Because this guy has a fire inside him—a passion as vibrant as his calm snapshots of interstate serenity are monochromatic. He puts his money where his mouth is in both what he creates and his championing of that born from his peers. Art is life.

BuffaloVibe: I’ve read how the Albright-Know Art Gallery played a big role in exposing you to the arts at a young age. Was it there where you learned that art could be more than just decoration?

A.J. Fries: The best part is that I never thought art could be just decoration because art hit me when I was a kid. I was nine or ten years old and going to the library—the kids my age would go to the kids’ section and I would go to the adult section. I’d get these giant—in my mind they were these giant books, but they were just large monographs of artists. I would walk home with my arms full of these things and just lie on top of these books and pore over them.

So I never even thought of them as decoration. I didn’t even know what decoration was per se as far as how it affected art. I just knew that these things were amazing and I couldn’t get enough. It was a drug. It was the closest thing—at least to a nine year old—to a drug. Other than, you know, Dimetapp. I was hooked from the get-go.

I can’t even remember the first time I went to the Albright, but I thought it was a magical place. I was a horrible dork, especially for art stuff. My fiancé says she would love to have known me as a kid. But I was an art dork. I would imagine, because I’d see these pictures of artists in the 60s and whatever hanging out in their suits and their little skinny ties and all that shit and I’d picture—especially in the newer building of the Albright-Knox [built in 1962 by architect Gordon Bunshaft]—myself at that time in 1964 at a gallery opening where everyone is doing the champagne thing and talking to cool people. I’m like nine years old! I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about or even thinking. I’ve been lost since then.

Were you drawn specifically to painting or was it art in general?

Yeah. I mean, sculpture [too], yes. When I was a kid I didn’t know what new media was. Fuck, I still don’t know what new media is. But, yeah, that was sort of my thing. I’m not sure why it was. I’ve always liked sculpture; I’ve just never been really good at it. Fuck, I don’t even think I’m good at painting right now.

It’s always been painting. Even though the first piece that I saw that scared the shit out of me was a sculpture, an installation: Ed Kienholz’s The State Hospital [1966]. Just [explosion sound]. That was it. “This is terrifying me. I don’t know why this is terrifying me. It’s just a picture in a book of two figures and it’s nightmarish.”

But, yeah. It’s always been painting. Andy Warhol because he had the same name as me—okay, I’m a self-involved little kid. “He’s got the same name as me. That’s great! He’s a painter? I’m a painter! That’s what I’m going to do!” Basically I started there.

With Warhol, was seeing how he was using these mundane objects kind of a springboard into the stuff you’ve done?

Yes. But thinking back then I didn’t even know what a mundane object was. He was connecting with me like, “I have Campbell’s Soup. I’ve seen a Brillo box. And now it’s a sculpture, a painting.” I think, “That’s great!” It’s really indescribable.

I’ve sort of had that current going through my stuff. I kind of put things that are either ignored or taken for granted [and say], “No, this is neat. This plastic bottle …”

I’ve always hated people who need to jump off buildings—adrenaline junkies. How boring must their lives be if the only thing that excites them is to almost die every day? Fuck you. I can—this [rustling with a reflective plastic bag nearby]. I’m interested in this wrapping. Months, I could spend on that. But then the introspective me thinks, “Why are you judging them? They’re probably saying how your life is horrible.”

If you can’t find something interesting in something mundane then you’re going to be bored. And I don’t think there’s such thing as a boring situation, just a boring person.

Something like that plastic wrapping, do you just see it and think, “I want to study it?” How do you choose your subjects?

A lot of times I see it and then I forget about. Then I see it and I forget about it [again]. I always have my camera with me, so if I see it I snap a few shots of it. Or hundreds.

It’s something I just realized—although I probably should have been more aware of it as a working artist who has to talk about [his] work. What I’ve noticed I’ve been doing is that when I shoot the photos it’s never from [my perspective]. I never look through the viewfinder or the LED screen. I’m never staring at that.

You’re not framing it.

I’m not framing it from my point of view. All the shots are always from “not my point of view”. I think that’s sort of my idea of these things, that it’s not necessarily me seeing [them]. It could be anybody seeing [them]. It’s a subconscious conscious choice where it’s my idea—or at least what I’m trying to do—that these are things everybody sees all the time. And for one reason of another you’re not looking them. Or not looking at them long enough or not seeing all the really cool stuff that’s there because you’re too busy or too wrapped up in your own life.

Who really has time to think how cool dirty snow is? That’s why artists are alive, so we can be like, “No, no. Take ten minutes. You can take ten minutes to look at this thing I spent a year on.” So next time you’re driving past a pile of snow, “Oh yeah. A pile of snow doesn’t suck that bad.” Whatever.

You’ve stripped back the color now and a lot of stuff has talked about your red/green colorblindness. Is your doing so a conscious decision to push the work further from your viewpoint? When I was in art school—as someone who is also colorblind—my teacher would wonder how I came up with these color combinations she liked so much and I’d admit I actually thought they were all the same color. So that ailment definitely puts you in an interesting place to create something only you specifically can see.

It’s like the first AA meeting, “You’re like me too!”

For me it was—whenever I paint something I try to paint something I would like to walk into a gallery and see. That’s the type of work I want to make. So I take the point of the viewer and what makes it easiest to connect to a work of art. Which is a really difficult thing for me as an artist because I do the paintings for me, but obviously I’d like them to be shown. So you have to take the viewer into some sort of [account because] these things have to be viewed. Otherwise it’s art therapy. But generally speaking I hate the general public. Yet at the same time I have to take them into account in some manner.

I’ve always had a problem in some ways with art where it’s too overloaded with who the artist is in the work. This is too much of a blanket statement I suppose because there are many instances where what I’m saying is not true, but generally speaking I don’t like work where I can tell [who the person is that painted it]. Man, woman, straight, gay, white, African American, Asian, Hispanic. If I can read that immediately I tend to not like it as much because there are that many more hurdles for me.

If it’s done by a Hispanic female and she’s a lesbian and I can see that immediately, “Alright, I’m not any of those things so that’s hurdle one, two, three before I can even contact to the work as an object personally.” There’s thousands and thousands of artists from every spectrum whose work you can’t tell. I love it when you can’t tell. Is this painted by a man or woman? I don’t care. I don’t care about the artist when you’re looking at the work because you’re supposed to have a conversation with the work.

So, as far as taking out color: a lot of people have preferences for and against colors. I just remove it so all you’re dealing with is composition, form, and tone. Sometimes I warm them up; sometimes I cool them down depending on the under-painting. I don’t want a yellow background to be the thing that someone—not even that they’re going to buy it, but that they walk away from it because yellow is their switch to be, “Well fuck that work.” But at the same time I don’t care. That’s the thing!

I’ve really liked the whole black and white thing because I think there’s a limitless amount of space, an infinite amount of possibilities just with black and white. I always say, “Color’s for quitters.” I’m all about simplicity—not in how I talk obviously—to do as much as you can with as little as you can. I think that’s great.

I’d love to be a minimalist painter, but I’m not into all the theory. Have you ever heard certain minimalist painters talk?

There’s a manifesto for everything.

Oh, you want to slit your throat … and their throat. No! It’s a painting. Come on! You like the color blue so you painted blue. Stop.

I will say, though, with someone like Piet Mondrian—I love his work. I’m a graphic designer; it speaks to me. But I will say that when I found out he could paint a life-like landscape, it almost made it more worthwhile. He chose to go a different direction.

Exactly. No, that’s totally true.

I have a problem now—right now, ha, I’ve always had this problem—where it’s becoming harder and harder for me to just look at a painting and enjoy it as an object. Especially if I really, really like it.

I think of paintings as magic tricks. If a magician sees another magician pull off a great trick, they’re immediately like, “How the fuck did he do that? Oh, I see. Well, maybe not … they did this thing.”

I’ve stood in front of paintings that I’ve loved and had these conversations out loud between myself and the work. “Oh, I see. Okay, and then you— Oh, you fucking fuck. You fucker. Yeah. Okay. Nice.” And then I go to the side of the painting because there’s just so much information you get right there. Sometimes you can see fingerprints and shit.

I like painting as the image and the object. So that’s that. That was a tangent. [Laughter]

That makes me think to when I first saw some of your work. I immediately went to a Richard Estes in my head with your soap bubbles recalling his Photorealist paintings or Charles Bell’s gumball machines. But you push that label away and explain how you keep the texture of the medium in and retain the idea of the painting being as an object itself.

I don’t think I’m a good enough painter to be labeled a Photorealist. And I don’t think my work really approaches it because—the way I view Photorealism is that it’s a pretty damn faithful reproduction of a photo. I use the photos as just a jumping off point.

They’re kind of like your sketchbook?

Yeah. Because I rarely sketch. I’ve tried to do it before; it’s just not me. It’s weird. I think it would be interesting to try it for a year and sketch the paintings. I’d end up destroying them because I wouldn’t like them.

I love the Photorealists. I’ve been to so many Photorealist shows. It’s just staggering. I’d love to be able to do that. I’m not there yet. My work is pulling me in two different directions: to keep refining and keep refining to the point where I’m able to do that or just go even further abstractly, but still using the images as a jumping off point. And I’m really torn between the two things. Both of them offer their own challenges, rewards, and all that kind of stuff.

After a while I stop looking at the photo I’m working from. You get to a certain point [when] it’s not about duplicating the photograph, it’s about making a good painting—at least in my personal process of approaching [it]. I eventually just tear them up, throw them out, and then refine the painting as its own thing separate from the photographs. That’s why I never let somebody look at the photographs.

Someone once suggested, “You should exhibit the photo with the painting.” No, because then people are comparing the two and there are going to be differences and generally speaking the viewer will see those differences as a mistake or a flaw in the painting. Well no, that’s not what I’m trying to do. [I’m not] duplicating one to the other just with a different scale and medium.

So yes. I will always push away the Photorealist label. I think it’s an insult to Photorealists to say that I do anything that approaches them.

Back to the Albright-Knox and seeing it as a kid, did you have that “wow” factor of realizing the works you saw in books lived in your own backyard? I didn’t go to the museum much as a kid so it wasn’t until college when I discovered how my textbooks were displaying Buffalo-owned pieces as hallmarks of world-renowned masters.

A lot of times I would see these images in books before I knew we had them. Like I said, I was reading—well, I was doing it for pictures since I was nine years old—and I’d see, “image courtesy of Albright-Knox, Buffalo, NY” and be like, “Yay! Buffalo. I live there!” It wasn’t until I saw the paintings in person that I realized their importance.

I’d look at a lot of books that had references to the Albright-Knox so I knew, “Oh wow, we have a lot of cool stuff.” So, like Karen [his fiancé] says, I was a fucked up little kid. It was always in the back of my head—not as people have it right now like, “Oh this is really important”—that “Oh this is really cool.” If you have that attitude when you’re a kid and it’s not like now when I’m forty-two thinking, “Yes this is a great institution”. I always thought it was like my playground. I just had the coolest playground.

I mean I threw pencils at idiots back in the day when the Albright-Knox was free to go in. I was there constantly. I knew all the guards and they knew I would sooner tackle someone than damage a painting. So they let me get away with anything. They’d let me lie on the floor to look at stuff. I’d go in the Clyfford Still room for hours and I lean up against those metal guardrails.

Idiots from a wedding party getting their pictures taken came inside once and some fucknut was like, “Yeah, I painted my kitchen black once and that’s what the drop cloth looked like.” I just threw my pencil at him. Get the fuck out of my room. If you’re going to approach it with ignorance, stay ignorant. Don’t bother me. Or at least say it to yourself. My impressionable fucking ears are over here.

Ever camp out at Carl Andre’s Lead-Copper Plain [1969] floor to see how many people would walk on it?

The best part is I actually walked on it once and the guard said it was okay. I don’t know if it was, but yeah. There were so many pieces that I didn’t understand, but that I liked. I couldn’t understand why I liked them and I think that’s really more important anyway. It’s not about understanding the stuff. Does it connect to you in some way? Can you have a conversation with an inanimate object? Liking art and being an artist is a sort of weird schizophrenia because you’re having conversations with things. I always dug it.

I feel bad that I wasn’t always aware of the Burchfield [Penney Art Center] until college. Right across the street there was a bunch of cool stuff too that I was missing out on. Back when I was going to the Albright-Knox there was a ton of really cool stuff going on over there. Not until college when I was going to Buffalo State [did I realize what it was].

How does it feel to now have a piece of work in both of their collections?

Neat. Neat.

When the Burchfield first bought the Twinkies piece [Crush, 2001] that was my first really big purchase of any kind. Now I’m never satisfied with my work. Never satisfied with the level of my career. So it’s like, “Yeah, this is great. They should A. get more and B. it should [go to] other places now.” I have to continue to make the work better and to get it out further.

Ask any artist that lives in town “What’s your main goal for your work?” and all of them within their first three answers will [say] exhibit out of town. It’s not just Buffalo. You pick an artist that’s even in New York: “What’s your goal for your work?” Response: “Exhibit out of the city.” My response to them would be, “Go fuck yourself.” [Laughter]

Any artist wants their art to leave and go away. I look at the pile of work that’s in the corner [of my office] and think of it as my prostitutes not making me my money. “You’re just laying there doing nothing. Go do something.” [Laughs]

I’m not one of those artists that has a giant connection to their work once it’s done. While it’s on the wall and I’m working on it I will protect it as much as anyone would protect anything else. It’s as close of a relationship as you can have with an inanimate object other than a sex doll. There are times where it’s just magical and wonderful and great and other times I’m “motherfucking.” I’ve called paintings “bitches,” “twat,” “cunt.”

“What the fuck? Why won’t you just take the paint the way [you’re] supposed to?” Then you fight and then you make up and everything works again. Then you don’t talk for months—I’ve had that. And then you get back together. “Oh, why were we fighting? Look how easy this is.” Artists are fucked up people. We’re really fucked up people.

Every artist wants their work to go out further than they’ve traveled. I don’t know if it’s greed or what. Or hubris. It’s a fucked up job to begin with. I’ve said this to a bunch of people: I smear pigmented goo on fabric and I think it should be important. Fuck me. That’s dumb. That’s just stupid. But yes—I think it should be important. I’m saying something here. What I’m saying … I don’t know just yet.

Exactly.

Answering a question you didn’t ask: I don’t go into my work with any serious “it has to say this” [mentality]. That I think really hampers the process of making the work. I have an idea of what I want it to look like, but what is it going to say once it’s done or once a group of things are done? I can’t say. It’s not done yet.

Even two years down the line, after things are done, I’ll go, “Oh!” Because you can’t self-analyze while you’re doing stuff. There are so many artists that try to—especially young ones who start out, “Oh, this is my message.” Who cares? Make a good painting. Make a good sculpture. Make a good whatever. The meaning will come afterwards. When you start with the meaning it can be all over the place.

I had a great teacher who made a student cry in a critique because she went off on how this means this and this means that and this is what I’m saying and blah, blah, blah. And he made her cry because—first of all it was ten minutes of silence and he was all, “Ahh …” Then all he said was, “What’s more important? Having a great message in your work or the ability to convey that message?” She clearly was not able to convey any message besides “I can’t paint.”

The message is in there, I’ll discover it sooner or later. Curators and shit will write about it. I think that’s also another barrier between the viewer and the artist. Not the artist. Fuck the artist. Between the viewer and the work. If you’re nailing people over the head with message and message and message: “Okay, that’s great. Oww. Your message is all in my face. I’m going to move on now.”

[You must] leave it open to some kind of interpretation—like every piece of artwork is. Certain things are just so in your face and smacking you around. You’re doing it for yourself too much. I hate the viewer, but I take them into account because they’re important.

And you let them see what they want to see.

Yeah. I’m only giving them so much. You can’t go off to, “Oh, he likes the Holocaust. He thinks the Holocaust was awesome.” Clearly no. You’re missing something there. But if somebody thinks—

Like the snow paintings I’m just working on there [points to the wall]. Those are the studies, I want to do these things bigger because I think those plow hills are frickin’ gorgeous. I love the combination of—it’s a natural phenomenon, then people worked on it. It’s worked on but a lot of the results are random. It’s not like the dude driving the plow has an exact design in mind. He just wants the snow to get the fuck out of the way. So it’s random the way that it falls, but then there’s the hand of the person manipulating it, and then it’s random again. And then nature acts on that.

So it’s these man-made mountains that are temporary—there you go. Giant things that are man-made but are temporary, but they’re natural … okay. Run with that people.

What am I saying about it? Who gives a fuck? Are there deeper meanings than that? Of course there are. I haven’t figured them out yet. I’ll figure them out in like two years when I’m working on them big. But am I trying to say anything with these things? Fuck no. Hell no. I think these images are awesome.

That’s my main point. I want to strip these things down to as simple as I can. Put them forth not having figured out the meanings I put in them and having other people think about them. I’ll think about them and we’ll come together eventually and be like, “Oh, that’s what these are about.”

I look at certain paintings that I’ve done three or four years ago—”Oh! Now I get it! This makes sense to me now.” Even after reading what curators and writers have written about it—the insights there. The three cool essays written about my work were from Elizabeth Licata, John Massier, and Ron Ehmke. Elizabeth and Ron wrote for one show [Light in Shadow at Big Orbit Gallery, 2012-2013] and John wrote for my one at Hallwalls [Ignoring the Sirens, 2009]. They nailed it. Friggin’ nailed it. And that’s great. Again, I’m not going to see all that stuff while I’m making it.

Something I’ve always said: It’s like trying to make a bed while sleeping in it. It’s not going to work. Something is going to get in the way. Either you’re not going to sleep well or your bed’s going to look like shit. Get out of the bed and then make the bed. “Okay. It’s a bed!”

There’s that. Tangent! [Laughter] Jazz hands!

Massier talked about “The Sweet Spot”. Is the moment you want to capture just there? Is it the light? The form?

Yes.

It’s all just a perfect convergence?

Pretty much. Exactly. And the perfect convergence of: Do I have my camera on me? If I don’t I’m like, “Fuck.” I can go back there and hopefully everything is going to be the same. The time of day will be the same and the same weather conditions even though it’s going through a window. It’s probably something I’ve driven past or walked past hundreds of times and then the one time, in the right frame of mind where I’m not thinking about anything—mind is open.

See it correctly or see it how it’s supposed to be seen or wants to be seen or however you want to put it. Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap. Put them in my computer and forget about them. And then look at them again, forgot about them again, and if they keep—if they drill into my brain long enough … there’s you’re painting.

Like these snow things. These are from photos from two years ago. These are not a result of the giant snowstorm I got stuck in [the week before Thanksgiving, 2014]. What these were are pictures that I took years ago that just stuck with me. They were, “No, no, no. I know you want to do this other stuff, but we come first. Sorry. We’re going to shoehorn ourselves in and you’re going to paint us now and figure us out and run with it.”

It’s not because of that snowstorm, which I know as soon as I—”Oh, this is a result of his experience with the blah—” No, that’s too easy. I’m a really lazy person. I try not to be a lazy artist. I’m a lazy painter, but I try not to be a lazy artist. It’s two different things.

This is what I do 60% of the day. Sitting just like this, staring at whatever the hell I’m working on. [Mimes the process of looking] “Oh, okay, now I see what I can do.” I can go into that little part right there. And then I sit down again and stare at it. “Oh, I fucked that up. Fuck. Now it’s too wet for me to work on. I’ll wait until it’s dry.”

In regards to you not being a lazy artist, could you talk about the TECCORP project [Trans Empire Canal Corporation]? Saying how artists always want to display their work outside of their city, you’re kind of pushing it out there yourself.

Sure. I think we all started—Julian [Montague], Brian [Larson Clark], [D.] Olivier, Scott [Propeak], Kate [Renee Gaudy], Scotty [Bye]—we all started thinking first of, “How do we move our work?” And then early in the discussions the subject came up—I sort of have problems with curators curating themselves in their own show. So we put that to a vote: Do we put our own work in? Do we not? We voted to put our own work in. Which I’m fine with because it’s a grander thing than just—I only have that one painting in the show. So it was a minor part of the whole project. I was good with that.

As the project kind of changed and morphed—I can’t say it was my idea, but when I first met Olivier—

The way it was working was Julian, Brian, and I, every six months we have too many drinks and meet up randomly some place. It’s not like we call each other to meet up, we’re just there. When I have too many drinks the world is possible. “We should do this! This is going to be great! It’ll be easy. We’re hitting on so many things with history and art and place. We’re getting funding everywhere. We’re gonna go. We should do this!” And then I wake up the next day, “What the fuck! I’m an asshole.”

When I first met with Olivier about the project, he was thinking the same thing. We were running parallel thought processes even though I never met him. He was talking about other artists who had done barge projects, floating things and whatnot—latching pontoon boats together and doing a little thing. My point was, if we’re going to do it we have to do it as big as we possibly can because otherwise it doesn’t matter. Otherwise it’s just a nice, cute little project. Even though the barge that we’re hopefully going to be getting is as big as anything that can get down the Erie Canal—when we’re rolling up to Brooklyn, we’re still going to get patted on the head. Even though this thing is a football field on water. “That’s cute, kids.”

Hopefully the press for it will continue and as we get closer and closer the hype will continue and all that kind of stuff. Getting more and more artists on-board—I hate saying “on-board” because now it’s a cliché. [In mocking voice] “On-board the art barge.” Agh. [Mimes gun in mouth/exit wound spray]

I love the idea of—where was I talking? Some Karen Finley thing. I said, “My goal is to get as many people liking art as I can.” That’s why Mike Bosworth and I tailgated in front of the Albright-Knox for the Beyond/In show. We made up jerseys with the logo; I had my big foam hands with “Go Art!” on them going, “Woooooo!” I’ll be the clown. I don’t give a shit. If I can get one person who would never think of going in there—done and done.

I’m not a particularly bright person; I was exposed to it accidentally when I was like seven or eight. I think [art’s] better than anything else. I love hockey and football more than most people. Far more than my fiancé likes me to get. I will take art over it all in a heartbeat. If I had a choice between—okay. Bills win the Super Bowl or I get—well it wouldn’t be me personally getting— Hmm. Okay. Bills winning the Super Bowl would be nice. Maybe nevermind. That’s a tough one. I painted myself into a corner.

Okay, so, this way, if people don’t come to the gallery, [TECCORP is] going to bring the gallery to them. The barge alone that we’re going to hopefully be able to use is enough of a spectacle in and of itself that we’re going to be rolling into canal towns—this is the biggest thing that can fit on the canal. So that alone is going to be a bit of a draw. I really want to curate the shit out of this too. I want not just a “Oh hey I know you and you have a cool project, cool story, and all this kind of stuff.” I want stuff that blows me away. That makes me look like a hack. However we curate this thing, if we’re doing it upstate or just Western New York or everything outside the five boroughs, that kind of thing, I want to find—

I’ve already found like two people that I had never heard of where I’m like, “Wow, I’m really happy you’re alive and making work.” A lot of the others I already knew, but these were people I had never heard of before and I’m just, “Yes. You should keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Thank you.”

I think the most successful part of our project is the curatorial Thursdays where we actually had people bring in work. It was a really brave thing not just for the artists but the curators too because we had to talk and say yes or no to these things in front of people. Which I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. Curating a show is usually behind closed doors, looking at slides: “No, yes, no, yes. NOOOOO.” This was sometimes really gut-wrenchingly painful because we have to say to artists, “No, you’re not in the show.” Even though technically you are because your stuff is still going to stay for another week.

One artist just picked her stuff off the wall and walked away. To her I say, “You’re in the wrong business.” This job’s rough and you’re going to get turned down, all the time. We even prefaced the critique saying, “This is only five idiots saying yes or no to you being in this project.” We’re not saying yes or no to you continuing to make work or doing what you’re doing. This is just for how we think this show should function. And if people can’t take that, again, wrong business. Because it blows. You get ninety-nine “Noes” to one “Yes”. If you’re lucky.

So, yes. I’m really excited for the next phases of that project, for the TECCORP stuff. But of course the stupid holidays get in the way so you can’t do anything. I hate holidays, I really do. Especially on a Thursday.

Everything shuts down.

Everything! Thursday?! Come on. Well, last year was Wednesday, wasn’t it? Waste of my time. [Laughter] Sure I could still be in the studio on Christmas Day, but I’ll have a lot of people pissed at me. Then it’s just hell to pay.

Is there anything else that we should be looking for from you besides TECCORP?

Apparently I have a show—actually I’m looking forward to it—with Augustina Droze. She’s really cool. Can paint her ass off and she’s like thirty so fuck her. And she’s really nice and just got married and has a baby. I can see her actually like cooking a meal, nursing a child, and painting at the same time. Anyway … and [also] Bruce Adams.

Their stuff is just color all over the place and it’s just going to be—I’m interested to see how my black and white stuff holds up with a punch in your face of color all around it. That’s happening some time next year so I really got to get to work. I’m also donating a bunch of shit this year too.

The exact date for that show at Benjamin’s [Benjamin Gallery at 871 Seneca Street]—because they’re opening a contemporary space [in a garage behind the former Richmond Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church]. It’s this big like 3,000 square foot space where their plan is to open up just this big square of awesome exhibition space. And we’re supposed be in there sometime in 2015. I’m really hoping for construction issues … not for Emily [Winslow] who’s doing this, but for me so I have more time to make stuff.

It’s almost more daunting to have a group show with two or three artists than it is to have a solo show because a solo show is just your stuff. You’re the only person there.

You’re being compared to yourself.

Exactly. Look: “She uses color. He uses color. This weakling can only use black and white.” Eh, let’s see what happens.

So yeah, the exact date for that I don’t know.

Then I’ll be doing the—in February—the drawing rally. [Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center’s Mid-Winter Drawing Rally & Silent Auction on February 25, Asbury Hall] You ever go to that?

No, I haven’t.

Fucking go to that, dude. It is great. Do you know how it’s run?

No.

Okay. It’s brilliant. It’s five bucks to get in. I forget how many artists there are—forty maybe? Thirty something? Whatever. They’re broken up into two groups. First group and the second group … obviously. Doh. Each artist is given a piece of paper and a drawing board. You have forty-five minutes. Draw, paint, whatever, it has to be done and dry and put on an easel in forty-five minutes. Silent auction and then round two. People draw and then silent auction. Meanwhile there’s bar and snacks.

It’s one of my favorites and one of the smartest fundraisers. Because other than arts organizations, I don’t want to see organizations having art auctions—you know? I don’t think Roswell Park is going to be giving me free chemo when I’m sixty. Don’t be asking me for free artwork. Or whatever it is. I’m not getting free blood from the Red Cross—delicious, delicious blood. Ease up. We’re broke. Move along.

Arts organizations are a different story. I donate to Hallwalls because they’ve totally—to whatever level I am, I thank them. Burchfield [is the] same way. I give to them whenever I can. So the Mid-Winter Drawing and I guess they’re having some bigger auction I’ll have to make a painting for too. I highly recommend it because you can pick up work—the starting bid is always the year anniversary of Hallwalls. So this year would be like forty or forty-one dollars [it’s $39] and [bids go up in] five-dollar increments.

So you can pick-up—my friend Scott picked up a Mickey Harmon drawing. Ah god, it’s a Victorian pillow fight. I want to steal it. The thing is brilliant! Fuck that Mickey Harmon. For like a hundred and fifty dollars, two hundred dollars or something like that you pick up an original.

But the cool thing about it is that Hallwalls isn’t asking for a brand new work. They’re only asking for forty-minutes of your time and they give you free drinks while you’re there. John’s [Massier] smart. He knows how artists are and he’s not going to take advantage. It’s such a brilliant fundraiser and it’s usually packed and it’s fun. You can interact with the artists—not with me because I have my headphones. If someone tries to bother me with anything but giving me a beer, I just throw shit at them.

Other than that … over at Hydraulic Hearth [716 Swan Street], which just opened up, Leslie Zemsky and I opened the smallest gallery in Buffalo. It’s a phone booth. She’s awesome. We’re starting slow; we’re having shows every two months. Not like setting up a show in a phone booth is that difficult, but, you know, we each have our lives. You never know, we might change it up a little bit. Oddly enough I think Mickey Harmon is next.

Right now it’s just her stuff and my stuff in there. I have tater tot things and candies and she has her—I don’t even know if she sleeps. She has hundreds of these tiny watercolor things of food and drinks. And she made the frames. And she has these plexiglass cubes with a dinner plate with different meals on them. It’s amazing. It’s really cool stuff.

The other cool thing about the smallest gallery is that it’s a fully functioning phone booth other than the phone. When you pick it up there’s a recording of Leslie and I talking. So when Mickey does it we’re going to interview him so there will be a five-minute interview with the artist where you can hear [him/her] talk about the work, which you rarely get to do. And there’s a phone charger. You can charge your phone, look at some art, hear the artist talk. Or you can seal it up so it’s a little bit quiet so you can make a phone call—it’s really cool. And we have a tiny gift shop, which is a little thing where you put in fifty cents and you get a package of stickers and temporary tattoos of artwork. It’s open whenever the Hydraulic Hearth is open. It’s always there.

Other than that I just need to get back into the whole thing of working in the studio because I’ve slacked. I did a bunch of—a drawing thing for a while with Monopoly tokens and then I moved and then I made up a lot of excuses.

Life happened.

Like I said, I’m not a lazy artist, but I’m a lazy painter. It’s work. Fucking work. Someone like a plumber or a welder … Fuck you, you pussy. I’ll show you work, you fucking douche.


photography:
[1] A.J. Fries
[2] A.J. Fries: Route 33, 2012; oil on canvas mounted on wood, 35 5/8 x 96 x 4 3/8 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Collectors Club Fund, 2013
[3] The State Hospital, 1966 by Ed Kienholz – Interior and Exterior
[4] A.J. Fries: Dishwater, 2009; oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
[5] Lead-Copper Plain, 1969 by Carl Andre; copper and lead, 3/8 x 72 x 72 inches; Charles Clifton Fund, 1972
[6] A.J. Fries: Crush, 2001; oil on canvas mounted on wood, 72 x 48 inches; Purchased with funds from the Art Endowment, 2005
[7] A.J. Fries: Drain, 2009; oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
[8] Trans Empire Canal Corporation logo

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