Interview Series: Justin Fry

Though the incorporation of pop culture in artwork today is a fairly regular phenomenon, Los Angeles-based painter Justin Fry knows how to bend and contort, over and underlay, mish and mash to create the perfect statement about today’s most visible icons. We had a moment to sit down with Justin to chat about his larger-than-life paintings. Check it out:


LF: You’ve been in LA for a while now. Are you a mover and a shaker in the art world yet?
JF: I have been back in LA for a little more than 3 years. I’m finding my way into interesting venues to show my work out here. I am doing a show with a couple of other artists at R&R Gallery Downtown in July. It’s exciting to do shows with my crew because we can feed off of each other and develop weird concepts. I have done a lot of group-show where there is no dialog between the artists and this feels like a good thing to try. I will be showing down there with a couple of Northwest artists (Peter Line & Kipp Hinkley).

LF: You are inundated with popular culture in LA, more so than most cities. It’s almost like it’s in your face, in some sense. Has LA offered you anything in terms of “perspective” in your work, like, has it changed your work or your process in any way?
JF: I am growing out here a ton and I feel the way I deal with the spectacle of this city has definitely affected my work. My work has become a bit more of a spectacle itself. Everything surrounding me affects the work for sure. Whether it’s heartbreak, stress, boredom or happiness.

LF: You paint with both oil and acrylic. Do you mix them? What is the advantage of incorporating both paint mediums into your work?
JF: I usually keep the acrylic under the oil but on some of the pieces I work the acrylic over the oil. Obv the oil paint over time will reject the acrylic but that is a very slow process. I like the thought that the pieces can change over time. I also use certain mediums to save sections of under-paintings to show the path/ history in a piece. Mixing the mediums is another way to do this. I can scrape acrylic off of oil before it sets up. Also I start most of the pieces in acrylic and refine the paintings in oil, it speeds up the paintings.

LF: Your paintings are full of color. How does color effect you and can you talk a little about your color decisions in your work?
JF: You can do so much with color. I have a very childish palette at times and I’m ok with that. Using full color helps me tell a story or develop the theme of the piece. Color is beautiful man. I often try and do more monochromatic work but I get caught up in color. It just makes paintings so juicy. The visuals you can create keep me stimulated for sure.

LF: So are you working on a larger scale these days? What is your goal as far as size, how big do you want to go with your paintings?
JF: I have done a few larger pieces. Most of my work is under 4’x4’. I have so many ideas it’s almost schizophrenic. For sizing I just do what feels right at the beginning of every painting. But you can really get away with murder when you paint on the large scale. The work always feels so epic. It is easier to sort of impress with large scale work. I love epic/larger pieces. There is so much more room to plant the little seeds and booby traps to sneak into people’s heads.

LF: You say that you have been surrounded by “visual white noise” in your bio. What does this mean exactly?
JF: I think that there is a humming in the word around us that you cannot disregard. Human beings are bombarded by the language of the world. Commercial, street art, TV, religion, sex…literature. All this affects your everyday thought process. That may be why I like ­to recycle a lot of images and create new forms from them. I feel these images are very loaded and often have the same signifier in them for a lot of people. In my opinion it is impossible to create something that hasn’t already been done, I feel that many artists, if they are referencing other recognizable imagery, just interpret and edit information then what’s left over is their work. But that’s breaking it down pretty simple. The whole death of the author thought always comes up in my head when I work. I just do the best I can when working. I want paintings to be unique but I also really want there to be honesty and beauty in my work.

LF: You sometimes distort pop culture icons in your work. Is there a sort of emotional reason to distort, or is it purely visual?
JF: I think these images are important to a lot of people. Some of the images I pick resonate in my psyche so much that I feel like they can add to a story or a theme in a work. But they can always take on new meaning to the viewer. I find things out about my work long after I finish a piece. One of the reasons I paint is that the time it takes to create something forces you to truly psychologically digest your subject matter. You know a lot about the subject matter pool you use by the time you finish painting it. You develop a relationship with it.

LF: To you, what is surrealism?
JF: I am not a surrealist. I know Dali always comes up when people think of surrealism but I like Max Ernst and Francis Bacon (many call Bacon a figurative painter) but I think his frantic energy makes me think of surrealism. Their work is painted much quicker and I cannot ever compare myself with masters like them on many levels. In all honesty I often over refine my paintings. My favorite surrealist pieces are more of a quick expression of psychological events. It’s like trying to explain a dream. The longer you do it from when you wake the more you loose it’s meaning. I like the ruff responsive surrealist works the most for sure.

LF: You talk about the importance of under-painting in your work. Please elaborate…
JF: History in the marks I make. I become attached to the markings and want them to appear in the piece. It helps to show where the painting has been and why some of the top layers exist. When you stand in front of my paintings I want viewers to see my indecisive human moves. I get sad when losing the marks and but know the painting has moved past them. Haha… earlier I said I start to have a relationship with the subject matter.

LF: Do you paint out of the streets or just in the studio?
JF: I used to get down in the street a bit. I am not a street artist though. I like the feeling of being sort of naughty and putting something where it shouldn’t be. But I concentrate in the studio. I covet the paintings and to be crossed out by another artists would hurt me personally. I am too much of a wuss to be a fulltime street artist. Some of those crews are gnarly.

LF: Are you showing your work anywhere currently?
JF: I just had a showing at a gallery in Copenhagen called Hans Alf Gallery. My painter friend Gregers Albrechtsen brought me into the gallery when I was visiting Copenhagen after a show I had in Sweden. They did pretty well with my work so I think I’ll do something there again soon. Also I am preparing for the show in LA in July. I am looking for new galleries in cities I have not traveled to. I would love if my art could continue to take me more places I would not otherwise be able to afford to visit.

LF: If you could meet any painter who ever lived, who would it be?
JF: Francis Bacon. I watched an old video of him once and as he was being interviewed he was drinking wine and at the end of the interview he was so drunk, happy and funny. I think so many artists can be miserable. When working alone you spend so much time in your own head. His art is so loaded and had so much energy and is so dark. I would like to ask him how he gets out of that darker mindset when he was not working.

LF: How do you LIVE FAST?
JF: I can be a bit of a viking at times. My homies out here in LA and in when I’m in Portland can party with the best of em. I keep it pretty simple though, usually at our Little local  bar in Silverlake (Thirsty Crow). But our crew gets down for sure. I have ruined relationships with girls being a selfish childish party animal but I feel like I have reeled it in a ton. I should for sure be dead from some of the dumb stuff I have done. I really do think all of that distracts from the final goal of creating strong artwork. But you need to release and be a wild man sometimes. I am buying a chopper from my homie Ferrari and I hope to live fast for a while on that thing.

LF: Art Talk: What inspires you? Favorite art or work?
JF: New work from dedicated artists inspires me. I like it when I feel like I get a tinge of jealousy when looking at new work at a show. Like ‘what is this person doing- holy shit this is amazing’! I really want to get back home and work on new paintings. I hope that my work can do that for someone someday.

LF: Sex Talk: What gets you off? Literally or figuratively?
JF: I love pretty girls that like to ride bikes! I hear I am a slightly complex to be around. I am pretty soft spoken art nerd but sort of a competitive alpha male type. It’s weird when you catch yourself getting in a fistfight at the bar then you go home and paint till 4am. It’s like I listen to classical music in the studio then without a thought switch it up to gangster rap or old rock or metal. I feel I am a simple creature and I will make mistakes and so will the person I am dating/getting naked with. Just as long as there is honesty, reverence and attraction. I can be a bit needy for attention. Maybe that’s some birth sign shit, right?

LF: Travel Talk: Favorite destination or travel stories (besides this epic journey) that you want to share?
JF: I love going to NYC and riding the trains. I like the trips most when you don’t have a lot of $money$ for some reason you get more out of the trip. I always find great generous people (like my buddy Thorbjorg!). The older I get I don’t seem to follow that rule though, I’m getting to old to travel broke. Traveling with a good friend or a girlfriend is always nice. I just had my first trip where I went overseas solo and that was great. I was forced to approach people and develop relationships without the comfort of a wingman. That is terrifying for me.


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