An Interview with Fred Fleisher a Visual Artist

0 0
Read Time:16 Minute, 51 Second
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is AM-Radio-logo-10-1024x774.png

Fred in his studio

Today, I’ve got an amazing interview for you guys and something a bit different; I have a visual artist with us today. Fred Fleisher is an artist that I met some years ago while going into Brooklyn, New York, with a friend and met him at his studio there. It was a very surrealistic experience seeing the types of work he does, whether they were complete pieces or in progress, and that’s a memory I’ll never forget. Fred works with a multitude of mediums to bring us his vision of the world around him in unique ways. We talk about his early days as an artist up to his eventual tenure as a teacher, which he currently does at a SUNY school and some of his current works and collaborations. We get a deep dive into Fred’s life and inner workings, formative moments and what his art means to him, and what art means as a whole to him. He tells an inspiring story, and I’m very excited to share this with you guys! So, let’s get into it and hear from the man himself!

Anthony:
Fred, thanks a lot for doing this interview with me! I know it’s been a while since we talked, so this is a great opportunity to catch up and have you in my column as well! How’ve you been doing these past couple of years?

Fred:
Hi Anthony! It’s so nice to catch up with you finally, and it really is a pleasure to be interviewed by you too. It really seems like yesterday since we last got together. Although with this past year, it might feel the reverse. Everything seems to go on longer. If anything, I am glad to be healthy and able to go forward, and it seems to be the same for you too. I’m excited for you! I can say that the last few years have found me immersed in my work in all its forms, and I am happy about that for sure.

Anthony:
Let’s start with the basics, for the sake of our readers since I already know a little about you, who are you, and where you’re from? I know you mentioned that you’re not in that studio anymore that I visited in Brooklyn. Are you still in the same area?

Fred:
I have been in the NYC area for quite some time, although, again, it feels like yesterday since I moved here. Anyway, I grew up about three hours from here in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I visited the city a few times when I was growing up, and two of my three sisters (all older) lived in, or around, Jersey City, NJ.

That studio where we met was in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn. I LOVED that studio and recalled we had a great time hanging out in the area. The space was live/work, too, and that was cool. I did have to vacate about 7 years ago now and had a studio in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, for about two years. I have since moved to a studio in Sunset Park, BK, and I am very happy with that spot. It is in the same building as the NARS Residency (studio residency program) and just a couple of stops on the R train for me (I live in Prospect Heights, BK).

Anthony:
So, what was pre-art Fred like growing up? I remember you had been in the Army (Rangers, I think). Did anything growing up or even your time in the Army shape who you are as an artist today?

Fred:
My pre-art Fred days were me being a kid and crazy the way kids can be. I grew up in a town with a couple of steel mill plants, garment factories, and other industries. Many kids running around and things to do (literally walking railroad tracks for miles like something out of the movie “Stand By Me,” haha). I’d say I was creative, and my parents encouraged them whenever and however they could. If I wanted some kind of materials to express myself, they would get those for me. Some formative moments of creativity involved me and my dad making whacky sculpture stuff or drawing together. This would usually happen when my mom worked at the factory in the evening. To do something unconventional seemed to come naturally. For example, one time for Cub Scouts, we were to dress like fishermen, so everyone had on those yellow raincoats. I wanted to be like the guys in the old movie Jaws, so I wore something that approximated what the characters looked like in the scenes. Those sisters I mentioned were also very influential. She is very independent, especially my oldest sister (who died quite young, but her daughter continues her legacy). In a way, all of that leads to walking an unconventional path for me, really. That would also include joining the Army at seventeen. Yes. I did complete Ranger School, among other things. I was also assigned to a prestigious unit in Washington, DC. Exposure to all that the metro area had to offer was very formative for me, including seeing art whenever I wanted to. Serving at a time when there was no conflict was, of course, a blessing.

Goofed Again

Anthony:
So, you’re a visual artist, was there a specific point in time where you just said, “I want to be an artist,” or was it a culmination of ideas, experiences, and surroundings that brought you where you are today?

Fred:
For me, there was a moment. I know many people who can say, with certainty, that they knew such a thing as a child. I could say that too, but I had no idea someone could embark on that journey (it can be an arduous one at that). Anyway, that moment happened when I was doing some army training, and my dad had just died, making that time very difficult for my family and me. I realized that I wanted to shift my focus and felt I had done enough with my time in service. It didn’t hurt that I had briefly dated an art student and realized one could live a life as an artist, get a job, whatever it might entail. I recall that moment too. I was driving down the road between DC and PA and said to myself that I would be an artist.

Anthony:
As mentioned above, I remember going into Brooklyn with Wyant to say hi, and we got to your studio, and I remember thinking that it looks like Sid’s workshop from Toy Story. Can you tell us a bit about your sculptures?

Fred:
Haha. I’m sure it was a whacky thing to encounter, especially if you weren’t expecting it. Funny you mention that movie because I was beginning to work at Penn State as that movie was becoming popular. So I was never sure if the timing worked for me or against me. Then again, who cares, right? However, now that you mention it, there is a natural creative moment that occurs when I get into that frame of mind. The sculptures did start as hybrids. Probably the easiest thing to consider. But how and what goes into the hybrid is something that I was thinking of from the start. I continue to think about what gets “mixed up” together when I make these things. What is often NOT seen that can then be brought into focus. So I intentionally find things (used, sometimes purchased) while also allowing a natural coming together to occur. My latest sculptures have involved airdry clay that makes part of the overall form. This allows some of the found object materials to be given more focus while it is seen as a whole. So this use of clay is something new for me (in terms of these sculptures).

Anthony:
Has your art been showcased anywhere? Are there any places that art has taken you?

Fred:
My work has recently been represented by galleries, most recently in Chicago and also in Berlin, Germany. While working with those spaces, I had the opportunity to have solo exhibitions too. I was also fortunate to work with a gallery when I first moved to NYC and that was a great experience. I always appreciate the moment to expand into my entire range of vision, including various media (painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and drawing) and mixed-media. I have also worked with amazing curators and artists who organize interesting exhibitions. So far, I have had the opportunity to travel with my work (mostly in Europe) and meet many different people throughout the arts. I am happy to be planning some important collaborations, one of which is with the artist, Woolpunk, and involves working with veterans. Along with that and other projects, I am in the process of working on a part community, part gallery, part collaboration incubator project called TFLR Contemporary. My wife, Therese Fretwell, and her friend Lynn Rakos started it just before the pandemic hit (here). So I am looking to morph it into something spectacular.

Absolem

Anthony:
Do you work with other mediums of art? I’ve seen you do some painting as well.

Fred:
Yes, I do, and I consider myself a multimedia/mixed media artist. That said, I see my ideas start in compartments, of sorts. An idea will start within one particular medium or media source and then find its way into another. Sculptures become characters in paintings and videos, for example. A variety of media can come together in an installation as well. I am also looking into elements of AR and see what happens with that too.

Anthony:
I do remember you were an art teacher; are you still doing that as well?

Fred:
Yes. I still teach for sure. I was an Adjunct Professor for several years, including when we first met, and I am grateful to have a full-time, tenure-track position now at SUNY College at Old Westbury. My own undergraduate education included a degree in Art Education, and I have always looked at teaching as an extension of what I do.

Anthony:
Depending on the artist, I’ve heard some say that it’s up to the viewer to determine and translate what they are seeing, but some of your art seems to have a predetermined set of what we need to see, something deeper than the face value of “that looks cool.” Is this a fair assessment of your work?

Fred:
That is a perfect way of stating that. Really. I look at the need to go deeper when considering art. Hell, anything that someone has taken the time to create requires some commitment upon examination. I will say that I do set up elements in my work that are almost meant to challenge a deeper look, and then, upon consideration, some ideas start to click in place. For example, if I use a toy as an object (or part of an object) in a piece. That can almost be easy to take in and then dismiss. But there is a connection I am making with it or with another part that I have combined within a piece. We both know that we live in a world where mere seconds are all that is given by way of attention. .it’s a fast-paced life and has been so for a long time.

Anthony:
Some of your work seems to be politically charged, so I’m sure these past few years have given you a lot of inspiration to work with. As someone who can’t create art, I see so much around lately that I would use it if I could.

Fred:
That’s right! Same here. I would say that work using a time-stamped “thing” and situating the idea behind it within the time-stamp means that it will remain with a message of the moment. Unless, of course, it uses elements, and those can then tell of a grand narrative, etc. Today, a political message can simply address the human power dynamic across time and not be stuck in these years if done right. Without question, though, whether I saw anything as a potential for “art,” I did take the time to speak out. To make images. To understand what was happening, what continues to happen, to people in this country.

Anthony:
Ok, so let’s lighten up here for a moment; who are some artists you look up to?

Fred:
I will always say that almost all of my former professors are artists I would look up to for sure. They are (and, in some cases, were) artists who were committed, obsessed even, with their work. They kept that focus, even while teaching. Heck, that focus was as much of an inspiration as anything to me. Of course, I have many friends who are so on it with their work. Even if it isn’t something that I would be doing, I get the right vibe from their work; I see them in that work, their commitment. Beyond that, there are plenty. One that I will mention here is Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. I love how he puts things together. .what the work can be about— the personal feel within the work. A look at “Making Knowing: Craft In Art, 1950-2019”, up now at the Whitney until February 2022, will show you many artists that I love (Lanigan-Schmidt is in that show). Trenton Doyle Hancock had a kick-butt show last year that I loved. There really is a lot going on right now from so many amazing artists.

Anthony:
What is your artistic statement? Do you have any pieces of art you’ve done that outright define you, or does everything you do define you?

Fred:
Thanks for asking. I think it is an important question. .to know what is behind the ideas. I can give you a shorter version of what I state with my work it goes something like this: Much of my work practice employs contemporary and vintage images and objects that allow me to address the cultural mindscape that surrounds everyday life. Mining aspects of life and culture, I make visible those things that might otherwise go unnoticed while making associations with disparate elements and influences. Think of plush talismans, spirituality, fashion, and Walt Whitman. I remain open to any and all media that are necessary to achieve the intended result. Thus, my practice is interdisciplinary and this cross-media methodology finds its way into my sculptures, installations, paintings, and drawings. Some pieces that incorporate known iconic forms and images are works that have defined what I have been doing. I would say I hit the right notes with those pieces. Tesla for Gucci is a painting for example. It is mixed media and has a critique built into it if you consider it enough. I just finished a piece titled “Goofed Again” and that is one where all of the elements came together to make, for me, the perfect found object sculpture.

High Octane

Anthony:
You’ve also done some performance work as a character named “High Octane,” how did that come to be, and what is he about?

Fred:
Hey, thanks for asking! High Octane has been around since I was an undergraduate at Penn State. He was dormant and then was resurrected in 2013 when he was asked to do a song with artist Yoichirio Yoda’s now-defunct band, Penn65000. I am talking about High Octane as if another person, and that is some of its fun. I have recently used the character (a sunglasses and suit-wearing clown with slick hair) to be a life coach. I believe it works being able to keep that personal distance with the make-up and get up. It is a far cry from when I started doing it, and the character was abrasive and provided unsolicited critiques. Through this character, I have started what I call “The Definitive Personal Narrative.” With the DPN, I am looking at an all-encompassing life plan with which to direct one’s life. I will see where that goes and how I can place it all within my future plans.

Anthony:
Just a couple more, and I’ll let you go! Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into any kind of art, whether it’s visual or audio?

Fred:
Really interesting question, right? Because we both know that if one is to do anything in this world, it takes focus and determination. So I would give some advice this way: Start doing what you want to do and see if you want to do it all the time. From there, see if, regardless of what is happening in life, you will still stay involved with that work. Look at art-making like going to the gym. People start, but very often, they stop. Making art and sticking to it means a battle with Resistance. I use the capital “R” for that word resistance as I borrow it from author Steven Pressfield. He highlights the battle with Resistance in his non-fiction creativity book “The War of Art” and the follow-up “Turning Pro.” So if one is to start, reading those is a way to get some great advice. In the end, it is about making work. That is where inspiration comes from—the continual making of work.

Anthony:
Do you have any passions outside of art? Whether or not they influence your work?

Fred:
Definitely, AND I would say anything that motivates me in life can influence work. I have really enjoyed hiking (traveling around and hiking). Hitting the beach, just for its restorative moments, but also to swim. Reading anything as long as it is good. Definitely gear and especially everyday carry gear. Ask anyone who knows me about that, and I think we have discussed such things too. Sorry. Haha!

An Old Automaton Awakened by Androids

Anthony:
Here’s one we ask everyone, regardless of medium of choice, do you collect any music? Vinyl, tapes, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel to reel or are you mostly digital?

Fred:
I used to have some old cassettes and vinyl around because I had kept it. When my mom died, I did send it off to be sold. That is sad because there is something about holding onto something that, literally, can send out a message (a song, whatever) as long as you have to medium with which to play it. In any case, there was a place around the corner from us that sold vinyl but closed a while ago. Fortunately, there is also a place, “Head Sounds Records,” close by, and I am thinking about looking for some old favorites again. Will see. FWIW, having mostly digital means that I can never keep track of all that I like, let’s say, in a contemporary setting. Especially if I am at a party and someone is just playing a list, and they don’t really know what they are playing. I hear something and have to go search for it. Such is life.

Anthony:
Fred, thanks again for doing this with me today, is there anything else you’d like to add that we may have missed or didn’t cover that you’d like to talk about?

Fred:
I want to add that it has been a pleasure doing this with you, Anthony. Thanks again! Also, I am happy for you and excited for all that you have been doing. Let’s keep it up! Finally, people can find me on Instagram with @fredfleisher and other social media (mostly with my name), plus my website is www.fredfleisher.net (I am constantly updating it and, quite frankly, need to do so now. Haha). I have a lot planned, and I am looking forward to the future!

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Social profiles
%d bloggers like this: