Traveling inside my head: Abstract Landscapes

Pareidolia is the tendency to see specific, meaningful images in random or ambiguous patterns. 

I like to pick out order from chaos. And I like to go a-wandering, and find random things of meaning.

Uncontrollable media like water are good for me because the randomness breaks my perfectionism. They force me to cede some control and to find a rapport with accidental occurrences and effects. They make me listen and look. Rather than obsessively planning every detail of an artwork – and I can get real obsessive – by following the movements of fluid media, I feel like I am receiving art brought to me by the universe.

It seems the universe brings me a lot of landscapes. I guess I have nature on the brain.

Here are four new abstract landscapes in watercolor, all 9 x 5.75 inches. In all of them, I randomly messed about with paint, water, brushes and tools, and then considered the results from various angles to find the views that emerged in the drying. Two of them work so well in different orientations that, rather than pick one, I signed them on all the sides I liked.


Maybe a seascape – waves on a beach? I enjoy the play of color and the storminess of it.


Definitely a seascape. Is there a figure, perhaps walking along a sandbar at low tide?


Two for one. In one orientation, it’s rolling hills, with perhaps a pond, and distant buildings. In another orientation, it’s a forest.


Abstract Landscape 4a, b, c, d. Four! Count ‘em – four coherent images on one piece of paper. I see a sort of darkening, perhaps twilight, marshy view, then a forest, then heavy rain over what might be a farmhouse, and finally another forest view.


Drop a comment and let me know where these images take you. And how do you feel when something random – a cloud, a pattern of light through curtains, whatever it may be – suddenly connects with you and tells a story?

New Work: April Moon

JFries april moon 4.22
Rabbit in moonlight
Moths dance
Returning home

This one is about the gifts the universe sends us, the treasures we pass by on the road. 

The moon was particularly beautiful over Somerville last night, when the storm clouds parted. It was bright enough to light my room, overcoming the street lamps. The wet air smelled of spring.

By the way, we call April’s moon the Pink Moon, not because it looks pink, but because it’s the month for pinks, the flower, to bloom. Indeed, my city is filling up with flowers now.

I repurposed one of my blue landscapes for this collage. Sometimes an image has more to say, and I will often revisit older pieces that seem like they want to go in a different direction. In fact, I won’t let go of a piece until I’m sure it is what it wants to be.

Happy Spring, all.

-Jen

On Terrible Times

Bees and sunflowers, an allegory for these days. (Taken in my garden last year.)

I struggled to write this post – any post, really – for a long while.

I have things to say, news to tell, but how can I write about my career and work and personal life in the horrible and tragic context of the world right now? It seems so discordant and even inappropriate to talk about myself. I guess I’m not alone in this feeling.

But I think maybe I’m wrong about it – not wrong in my emotions, but maybe wrong in my thinking. I don’t know, but freezing in place is not an option, regardless of anything else. I must work, I must speak, so here I am.

Because I’m an artist. A creative. If I’m not speaking and showing, then what am I doing? Why am I here? These times when things are so bad, when our hearts are being crushed every fifteen minutes by the news of war (and before now, by pandemic, and before that by racist brutality, and before that by environmental disaster, etc., etc.), this is when people in my line of work have to step up. Whether we provoke or comfort, give clarity or reassurance, this is what our profession is for, ultimately.

So I hope, in the coming days, you will find something in what I offer this year – relevance, escape, inspiration, whatever. I hope it will help – me as well as you.

Finally, since I do express my opinions on this site, I will state for my own public record my personal support for the nation and people of Ukraine and my absolute condemnation of Putin, his indefensible war of choice, and his crimes against humanity. I also express my anger and disgust at the general tolerance for fascism and aggression in many countries, including my own, which I believe helped to encourage that murderous bastard to do this insane thing. 

My feelings on this are strong, and honestly, together with other strong feelings I have, I’m reaching the limit of my willingness to soften my manners for the sake of politeness. No, really, I have actually been doing that up to now. Things can and probably will get even pointier and slappier here at the studio, so I hope you’re okay with that, because I’m kind of thinking I’ve been wrong in my approach, like so many of us in so many ways. And I’m kind of done with that.

Anyway, the experts all say the public want to get to know the artist. So, okie-dokie then. Blame the experts.

-Jen

PS: Sketches, new works and projects, and studio news will begin flowing shortly, in a series of posts. Watch this space.

And Sings the Tune: New Art, New Cat

JFries birds border 7.2021

I can hardly believe it has been about three months since my last update, but as most of you know, I tend to fall off the planet fairly regularly. I don’t apologize for it. When I have crap to work through that’s irrelevant to anyone else, I just do it without showing it to anyone. But finally, I do have news to share.

New work on exhibit this summer

“Sometimes the neighbors are up all night,” collage and acrylic on paper.

JFries sometimes the neighbors 6.30.2021
And sings the tune without the words…

This new work is inspired by our local wild birds, whose songs frequently echo through the streets at night, when all else is relatively quiet. I find the birds’ nightlife deeply reassuring. Even in something as small as a bird singing in the dark, we are reminded that we share a living and lively world. The collage is 7 x 10 inches, and made with copies of vintage images, bars of music randomly sliced from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite,” my own blue landscape in acrylic paste, and a line from Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.”

It’s part of the summer show at the Brickbottom Gallery, “The Great Outdoors,” running July 15 – August 14, 2021. Visit the Brickbottom website at This Link for details.

A Cat

Allow me to introduce Luna Lynx, Lady Silvertip, our new cat and studio assistant.

lunalynx 6.2021
“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” – Jean Cocteau

She has been with us about a month and is still in studio orientation, but has taken the job of House Cat well in hand. According to the good folks at Animal Rescue League of Boston, although very young herself, she had just weaned off a litter of kittens before coming to us. I believe she has transferred her maternal instincts to her two new humans. Luna Lynx is extremely attentive, playful and nurturing. She scolds us if we wander off, makes sure we eat on time and get our exercise, and checks on us in our beds at night. 

I’m grateful because we have needed someone to take care of us these past few sad months. With her to get us up and running, I feel like we can finally start to move again and that the winter – and all of last year, really – is over at last.

Finally, watch this space for upcoming projects and a new online shop system, coming soon.

Blue Lakes and the solace of creating

This has been a difficult winter for us at the apartment attached to the studio. I’ll tell you about it at some future date. For now, suffice to say, we are dealing with unhappy things, and the least of my troubles is that my nearly decade-old Mac computer finally broke down. I write this on a loaner PC (thanks, Mom), and due to various techly things I’m not coping with right now, I can’t upload any of my new photos to prove that I’ve actually been doing stuff. So… whatever. On the scale of things, the computer is annoying because it doesn’t matter, but it does interrupt.

I’ve been working on paper sculptures of eggs and rabbits, naturally, because yay-spring. Also working on my occult detective novel – again. And that one ambitious project. They’re all coming along rather nicely. I wish I could show them to you.

Instead, I’m adding some spring-ly works to the Shop, beginning with four small landscape paintings, the Blue Lakes. They are kind of misty and moody, and they speak both to my state of mind and the time of year. I used paste-paint on paper and improvised with folds, blots, pulls, and mark-making. In some you can spot finger impressions, creases, and other flaws helping to build the image of a watery landscape.

The Blue Lakes Series

Every so often this March, look for more paintings and collages to the Shop, in celebration of the season.

Someone I admire recently observed that creative work is therapeutic. It takes one out of oneself. It’s true. These past few weeks, the meditative ASMR of my pen on the paper, and the brush applying layers of paste and paper, and birds jumping around in the tree by my window has been my refuge. Engaging all my senses in my materials – the textures, sounds, smells, colors – making adjustments as I go along, not overthinking things but just floating in the process – it’s pretty much the only thing that lets me forget my cares for a while, lets me feel just free and existing.

It doesn’t last, but the work is always there, waiting, anytime I need a break. There’s a life-lesson there, after this traumatic year. If you have something that gets your mind off yourself, that feeds your senses, and leaves you with something positive at the end of the day or hour, indulge in it. It’s medicine, and we all need it, as surely as we need a vaccine.

Take care and take it easy, everyone.

Gray Light and Working Cozy

JFries snow branches border

It’s been all snow, ice, mellow jazz in the background, warm soft clothes with big fluffy scarves, bird watching, art puttering, and spiced chai with cream since last I posted. In keeping with February in Massachusetts, my view has been largely inward – spring cleaning the junk inside my head as well as in my rooms, and avoiding the freezing damp. I hope you are all keeping well and warm, despite storms and craziness.

I’ve been working on a new-to-me water-media technique, using soft pastels like watercolor. I started doing this on small sketches sometime last year, and it was kind of a breakthrough for me. The graininess of pastel pigments gives the paintings a subtle, impressionistic texture compared to watercolor. There’s a dreamy effect that I’m falling in love with. Plus wet pastel adheres to the paper well, as long as you don’t lay it on too thick or in too many layers. No dust floating off.

For tiny drawings in my sketchbook, I just lift color off the stick with a wet brush, treating the sticks like pan watercolors. However, the pastels won’t flow as freely across a surface, so for larger paintings and washes I need to experiment a bit.

Some artists grind pastels to powder and mix them with additives and binders to make them into proper paints. I’m way too lazy for that. But then I thought a stick of color is rather like a stick of ink, isn’t it, so I turned to Chinese and Japanese brush painting, for which solid ink is ground with water on a stone to make liquid ink of the desired consistency. This monochrome study of branches was done by grinding a pastel stick in that manner.

JFries branches 2.2021
Inspired by the dogwood outside my window

I am quite pleased with this method so far. It suits me. The grinding provides a meditative moment to get into the head space. I need to work on the mis-en-place arrangement of tools, play with colors, put together an equipment kit, and so forth. I’ll keep you posted on progress. Meanwhile, this small painting will be available in the shop shortly, along with other works that put me in mind of the season.

That’s all for now. Remember your masks and all that, and take care of yourselves.


January/February Photo Journal

JFries snow dogwood 2.2021
The dogwood
JFries worktable 2.2021
Getting ready, this time to make the new sketchbook
sm JFries SA Scipio 2.2021
Staff meeting with Studio Assistant Scipio
JFries doves in snow 2.2021
Meeting members of the wildlife division for lunch
JFries snow street 2.2021
The view from the studio for the past several weeks

It’s been a minute and a year

JFries doves border 1.28.21

Hello, all. I’m back after one of my long, unannounced absences, and I’m afraid I return with sad news. 

Our beloved cat, Leah, has died after more than a year battling cancer. The disease turned aggressive in late November, and she passed in early January, at home with us by her side. She was 17 years old. She’d had a rough as a captured feral cat in shelters before coming to our home some 13 years ago, but despite her post-traumatic phobias and neuroses, she was the sweetest, most caring and quietly affectionate creature you could imagine. Beautiful, small, delicate, she was our fairy princess, and few things could make us happier than to see her content and purring. We all miss her so much.

Immediately after our personal loss, of course, That Insurrection Thing happened. As you know, we are a rather political gang in the apartment attached to the studio, so it was a bit all-consuming to watch, in a state of grief, as a bunch of racists and fascists tried to overthrow the US government live on tv, and all the ripples that spread from that.

Also, covid-19.

Altogether, not a good time, and I hope you will understand that I haven’t done, said, or thought a single thing worth telling you about in over two months.

But tonight is the first full moon of 2021, and I am officially restarting the year as of now. 

Am I all healed up and ready to rock? Nope. I am tired, and foggy, and sad, my plans are a jumbled mess, and my calendar is mostly blank. But the fascists failed, and the days are getting longer, and I do feel just a little more … possible than I did just two weeks ago. It’s a flimsy straw, but I’m grasping it. In the past two days, I’ve started a new sketchbook for the year. I’m planning my garden. I’m gradually, baby-step KonMari-ing this whole place (ye gods, I’ve got a lot of stuff), and sorting it all out is giving me a ton of new ideas. Somehow, I feel vaguely like I can start moving again.

Where does this thin trickle of unexpected energy come from? Maybe the moon. January’s Ice Moon is ushering in a wave of snow storms and a deep freeze here in scenic Somerville, and I do feel as if those gusts of wind are blowing away the last, clinging dregs of 2020. You know, psychologically.

So, belatedly, happy New Year. I hope you are all warm and keeping well and looking forward to better days. I make no warranties or representations for what 2021 will bring from my studio, or when, or how. I offer no schedules or projects on deck. No promises = no apologies, that’s my motto for the moment.

So let’s just go forth, as it were, and see what emerges, shall we?


Winter 2020/2021 Photo Journal

JFries december merganser 1.28.21
JFries mourning dove 1.28.21
JFries moth 2 1.28.21
JFries moth 1 1.28.21
JFries moths in progress 1.28.21
JFries sketch #1 1.28.21
JFries January 2021 Ice Moon 1.28.21

In Memoriam: Leah the Bedea, Our Princess, forever loved.

JFries Leah 4.11.19

Dull November Brings the Blast

JFries squirrel border 11.2020

Then the leaves are whirling fast…

Well, darn it. September got ahead of me. October got off the leash entirely. November has been very uncooperative. And now it’s Thanksgiving. Let’s think about what we have to be thankful for.

Fair warning: I’m going to be blunt again because, apparently, that’s my medium. Nothing herein should come as a surprise. 😉

I am deeply grateful that both my sainted mother and myself are healthy, as are my friends and family as of last report. I don’t know how the friends and family have managed it, but Mom and I have done it by draconian measures, which are not being lifted any time soon – home, distance, sanitation, masking, no exceptions ever. Life has been completely insane in the US this year, and the madness continues, I’m sorry to say. But, so far, so good at our house.

I am grateful to almost 80 million of my fellow Americans for making Joe Biden our next President – and equally to the point, Donald Trump NOT our next President – and if anyone out there wants to start muttering about recounts and lawsuits, stow it because I’m not interested. We still have to get that person physically out of the White House, of course, but we did unseat him, so we can check that off our list of things to do, at long last.

And I am grateful for the roof over our heads and the dinner that will be on our table this holiday. Food, shelter, health, and a light at the end of the Trump tunnel – I think those are blessings enough for this hellish year.

Now we are less than two months away from 2021, and I feel a combination of relief and anxiety. The results of the election were like having a crushing weight lifted off my chest. I can breathe, but four years of that tension have left me like a plate of jelly, unable to pull myself together.

I am working on some things, though. First, I’m doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), because when you’re exhausted and brain-fried, the best tonic is trying to crank out 50,000 words in a month. I’m not doing too well, but the month isn’t over so…fingers crossed? I’ll tell you all about it when it’s over. (Spoiler: It’s not going to happen, and I’m okay with that.)

Also, bats and moths are in progress because why not? I like bats and moths. This is an experiment I’ve been mulling a long time, making hard sculptures out of traditional origami. Expect to see more.

I’ve been designing dollhouses and books, putting my garden to bed between rainstorms, rethinking my approaches to social media and time management, and wandering off on artistically esoteric (or esoterically artsy) mind trips which take me far from the madding crowd and which I hope will produce work in the coming year.

But I haven’t really been, you know … productive.

Screw it. We all deserve to give ourselves a break. If 2020 isn’t an excuse for falling short of last New Year’s expectations, then I don’t know what is. I’m thankful just to have made it this far, in a depressingly literal sense. I’m taking the rest of the year off. And I’m giving you all the month of December off, too. There. That’s my gift to you. Just be alive, at home, healthy and safe, and we’ll deal with the rest in January.

In the meantime, you might see some odd posts here as I play around with styles and topics over December. Feedback is always welcome. And below, please enjoy some photos of things I’ve been doing while being unproductive.

That’s it for now. Take care, my friends. Keep well, hang on, and have a small, intimate, safe, and happy holiday with the ones closest to you.


Luna Moth

Not entirely unproductive. This new work returned from exhibition this week and will be available in the shop soon. The moth is an origami-based paper sculpture colored with acrylic paint and mounted on a collage of hand-tinted vintage images.



When not in the gallery… Luna Moth atop my desk with Call Me Ishmael, Woman Found and Studied, and random inspirational bits.


Bats and Moths!


Did I mention…

We had a snow storm in October. It didn’t last long, though.


24 hours later…

Sparkly.

I have a Shop! And other doings

JFries bee on wildflower border

Happy Autumn!

Well! September got away from me a bit. I’m sure it did for many of us, what with one thing and another. Oh, well, we carry on. Pins and needles, needles and pins, as they say. The weather’s nice here in scenic, lovely Somerville, and fall is my favorite season. So I hope you are all safe, healthy, and ready for foliage, apples, and sweaters, because those are the things that keep us going in These Challenging, Unprecedented, and Extraordinary Times.

Let me catch you up on the studio news.

There’s Art for Sale!

Yes, you can actually buy it now. You will notice the shiny new Shop tab, above. It’s so pretty – and hard won, too, because this was the thing that held me up most of this month. You’d think, in the 21st century, it would be easier to create some linked pages and have them look decent, but it’s okay. I’m better educated on the backstage infrastructure of WordPress now, and I’m happy with this set-up.

The inaugural offerings are two of my artist books, The Doll’s House and The Sins of Icarus, a pair of affordable make-great-gifts items to celebrate hitting this milestone on my website. More works will be added as I get the pages looking the way I want, so watch this site, sign up for the newsletter, and/or follow me on Facebook for updates as they happen.

And if you are interested in any works I haven’t listed yet, please email me via the Contacts page.


Upcoming Exhibition

I will have a piece in “All Small” online at the Brickbottom Gallery, October 29 – November 22, 2020. Watch this site for details.


New Project in Development

A new assemblage is in the works, first of a series on the ghosts of old objects. This is one of those long-simmering, back-of-the-brain ideas. Finding an old paste brush on the street recently provided the missing hook for me to make it real. I figure October is a good time for lingering spirits.

Books, Bees, & Sunflowers

This month, I finally finished one of my projects, the re-binding of my Pictorial Key to the Tarot. You saw it in progress in my last posting. Below are some photos of the finished book.

The new cover uses the boards of the original cover wrapped in a one-of-a-kind decorative paste paper I made recently. I salvaged the torn, beat-up, original spine label, fading it a bit more with a lick of paint. The lines of fine black ribbon on either side of the spine are the exposed stitching attaching the cover to the book. I went with my preferred adhesive-free, sewn binding. The inside covers, front and back, have double pockets for notes, and I included five permanent ribbon bookmarks. As you can see, the book lies open very easily. Closed, it looks quite fetching on my bookshelf as well.

What else is going on? Flowers! Bees! The garden is a satisfying riot of gorgeousness and buzzing. We’ve suffered through some heavy heat and rain, but all is well on the flora and fauna front.

I learned today that the sunflower is associated with the women’s suffrage movement. It was used on a button of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for their 1867 Kansas campaign, and was Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s pen-name in the women’s newspaper, The Lily. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association) As 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the vote in the US, I’m feeling a little extra pride in my lovely, tall, nodding, giant flowers.

Also, exciting announcement, a shop-like arrangement is in the works. Watch this space for updates on when works will become available to buy. I’m a little terrified by the prospect, but it’s really happening. The paperwork is mostly in hand.

And if you haven’t yet subscribed to my monthly newsletter, do give it a try. It offers exclusive glimpses into my art practice and study, as well as things to do outside the studio. You can sign up here and receive three printable bookmarks as my thank-you gift.


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, re-bound


In the Garden