Virtual Gallery: Construction/Deconstruction is online

The Brickbottom Artists Association exhibition, “Construction/Deconstruction,” is now up in full online. Please enjoy!

The Brickbottom Gallery here in Somerville was forced to close to the public due to the pandemic, but my fellow artists did a fantastic job establishing our first virtual gallery. Our annual spring show is extended into the summer.

Click here to view the full exhibition at www.Brickbottom.org.

My contribution, “Pink Yarrow,” reconstructs flowers from my urban garden from the dried remains of the actual plants.

JFries Pink Yarrow 4.2020

Keep Calm and Carry On

The exhibition “Construction/Deconstruction” at the Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville is moving ahead, and so am I. With the kind help of some fellow artists with a car, my new piece, “Pink Yarrow,” made it to the gallery with proper physical distancing observed at all times.

The show will be presented online, so watch this site for further updates. 

A new project starts tomorrow. For now, please enjoy a sneak peak at “Pink Yarrow,” part of the Botanicals series, made with actual pink yarrows from last year’s garden, restored to their summer colors.

JFries Pink Yarrow detail 4.12.2020

Construction, Deconstruction… Reconstruction

JFries spring colors 2 3.14.2020
…any minor world that breaks apart, falls together again… — Steely Dan, Any Major Dude

Staying at home, maintaining physical distance, and working on a new piece for spring.

This is for the “Construction/Deconstruction” group show at the Brickbottom Gallery, scheduled for April 16 – May 16. Details may change due to coronavirus, so watch this site for updates.

My experiment: “Painting” dried flowers with thin skins of dyed tissue paper. The flowers were collected last fall, after they had gone to seed and dried naturally on the plants. I am trying to restore their summer colors. I like the effect – it kind of looks like paintings rendered in 3D. This work-table still life shows pink yarrow and hydrangea in progress. Far in the background, blurry behind my coffee cup are more yarrow, seaside goldenrod, and white pine, waiting their turn. The yarrow are from my own garden. The rest were collected from roadsides, and the hydrangea I actually found in a parking lot where it had been dropped by the wind. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the broken china and egg shell yet.

JFries work table 3.28.2020

I’d been tinkering with this technique for a while, but the disruption we’re all going through with the coronavirus pandemic has inspired me. “Construction” and “deconstruction” are classic Art Words, more or less abstract concepts we creatives often dance around with. But as things kind of come off the rails around us, it occurred to me that “reconstruction” is what art really does. Artists see things, and take them apart, and then we put them back together, a little altered, interpreted, understood in some way, and made part of the human conversation. Our work isn’t done until we’ve got it all together again somehow.

Right now, a lot of us feel like we’re watching things fall apart, but we’ll get through these times. Nothing will be the same, but we can rely on the continuity of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction. The artists, writers, poets, musicians, etc., will tell the stories of how it all went down, and each of us will add our memories to it. We’ll reconstruct our world, with a little more weight of experience and a little more light of understanding. 

This process is slow and delicate, perfect for being under a stay-at-home order. And sometime after I’m done building my memories of last year’s flowers, this year’s flowers will be blooming everywhere.

Be well, friends.

In spite of everything, it’s Spring

JFries spring colors 2 3.14.2020

Wow. You wander off for a month and look what happens.

I’ll start by hoping everyone out there is okay and comfortable at home with lots of soap and disinfectants and everything they need. We’re all doing fine here at the apartment attached to the studio in charming, scenic Somerville.

I was going to tell you all about why I vanished again, but it was just the usual February lost-in-the-weeds stuff. The seasonal joys of taxes, insurance, and bureaucracy. That melting of the brain and spirit and knee joints that comes with the melting of winter. All my favorite creatives were posting stories about taking stock and starting over, and I was all set to jump on the bandwagon. World events intervened, however. Boy, did they ever.

So quick catch-up: February sucked the way February does. I did finally finish that damned dollhouse roof that had threatened to derail the whole ambitious project the dollhouse belongs to. Trust me, you didn’t want to watch me do it. The project, by the way will be either a graphic novel or visual story, a suspense thriller set in and around this dollhouse. Working title: Orchid Beach.

I am committed to three public events with the Brickbottom Artists Association this year. Details will be posted separately. First up will be the Spring group show, “Construction/Deconstruction,” in mid-April. I’ll be showing a new experimental project.

Right now, I’m listening to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and settling into preventative semi-self-quarantine – doing my part to flatten the curve on COVID-19. For the foreseeable short-term future, I’m going to be listening to a lot of music. Doing a lot of art and writing. Reading books. Binging tv with my sainted mother. Planning my garden and starting seeds. Desperately trying to train myself not to touch my face. (Aagh! I can’t do it!!) Writing blog posts. No really this time. I promise.

I spent these first few days painting colored tissue paper onto dried flowers for that experimental project because, you know, when you’ve just gotten loose from an endless hell of miniature roof shingles, you want to dive right into the most delicate, fragile, slow, difficult, tetchy-fussy project you can think of. It looks amazing, though. I’m really excited about it. Just wait till you see.

This coronavirus thing – I’m not going to sugarcoat or skip lightly over it. It’s pretty heavy. I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little nervous, mostly for my mom’s sake. But we’re prepared, and we have each other and our friends. We’re about as on top of this game as anyone can be, I think.

Plus, it’s Spring. The birds are courting. The flowers are coming up, the trees are budding. It’s hard not to have faith in the future.

Life carries on, and so shall we all. We’re going to wash our hands, maintain polite distance, be considerate of our neighbors, and get through this latest challenge. I decree it.

So jump on the comments or Facebook page and let me know how you plan to ride out the pandemic. What’s on your play- and binge-lists? What projects will you finish? Where will you go for solitary walks, or will you write your play, or learn to bake bread, or work on the problem of human-powered flight?

For now, please enjoy some photos of the Orchid Beach dollhouse under construction, the first of several sets of teaser images to come.

Stay well and happy, all.

JFries Orchid House 3.14.2020
JFries Orchid House 2nd floor 3.14.2020
JFries Orchid House stairs 3.14.2020
JFries Orchid House downstairs 3.14.2020

Inspirations: The Natural World

Today, I launch an informal, irregular series about my inspirations in life and work. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a little. I don’t like to “explain” art, but I hope to share the interests and ideas that make my work what it is.

I have an absolute passion for planet Earth, and of course, I have strong feelings about climate change and humanity’s role in both driving and stopping it. As an artist and as a person, I feel a duty to speak on this issue in the ways that the arts can, that the arts are supposed to speak. So what am I saying about it?

JFries Interphase Multiversal Observatory
Interphase Multiversal Observatory #1

Nature is the omnipresent context of everything humans do, and my work pushes back against the idea that humans and nature are somehow alien and distant from each other. You can find nature in almost all my work. The street scenes of the Cities series include birds, weather, plants. Even a toy like the Interphase Multiversal Observatory references the infinite night sky.

I want to lure people into seeing nature differently, feeling differently about their relationship to it. I show them what is in front of them every day. This is Earth. Yes, it’s polar bears, but it’s also right here, right now, next to you.

The Mystic River Project

The Mystic River Project will be a long journey examining this relationship of humanity and the natural world via the Mystic River watershed here in the Boston area. It’s a dramatic tale of human impact, of US history, the Industrial Revolution, politics and cultural attitudes, environmental degradation and recovery, and the persistence of nature.

The story will be told in collages, objects, books, maybe some videos (not sure about that yet), and in chapters focusing on different parts of the river, using my own photographs as well as made and found materials.

JFries MysticBirds1 Herring Gulls 4.2.19
Estuary Birds: Herring Gulls

The first few species portraits of the Estuary Birds chapter set the mood. My photos of the birds and the Tobin Bridge are cut apart and reconstructed to capture moments as I saw them at the Schrafft’s City Center in Charlestown. Anyone can go there and see for themselves. That’s what I want people to do. 

We see these birds every day, but maybe the problem is that we don’t see them. We should. They are our neighbors. They have survived all our bullshit and stupidity, and they are still here. They are the nature we struggle with and long for, staring us right in the face. They are every bit as much the natural world as the legendary, romanticized whales, which, by the way, also happen to be right here among us, just outside the river, passing through Massachusetts Bay.

Estuary Birds may end up with as many as twenty species portraits. Just last week, I saw two birds I’d never seen before, a male surf scoter and another I’m still trying to identify. Then there’s the rest of this micro-ecosystem – the life under the water and on the streets. And later, chapters on the upper river, the lakes, the tributaries.

In every part of it, there is the struggle, the presence of human beings, and the question of what we will do with our living world. Which brings me to the other side of my inspiration. The shadow side, as it were. There are always shadows when you deal with me.

JFries Judgment detail
Judgment, detail

In 2014, I made an assemblage titled Judgment in response to an article in Smithsonian Magazine online. It was about climate change melting the glaciers of the Italian Alps. As the ice melts, it uncovers the remains of soldiers killed in World War I. The campaign there was called the White War and included a vicious and environmentally allegorical tactic. Apparently, each side used artillery to deliberately trigger avalanches to destroy each other’s encampments on the mountainsides. Thousands of soldiers were killed this way, their bodies and belongings encased in miles of ice, lost – until now. The report said that every day brings another discovery of human bones washed down the melt-swollen mountain streams into the villages below. I found the Biblical reference apt indeed.

Nature in my work expresses what I love most about life. It is beauty and continuity and hope. It is the seamless connection of every person to the whole of creation. It is what really matters.

And it is the choice we face. Humanity is at a crossroads, brought here by our past choices. In one direction awaits judgment for our mistakes. In the other, a new way of thinking, an adjusted set of priorities. One, payment for the past. The other, a future based on love and connectedness.

As I try to sort it all out, I find myself celebrating the natural world in the city. I hope to raise people’s consciousness of their immediate surroundings. The world worth saving, the one where each of us makes a difference, is the one we happen to be standing in.


A Selection of Recent and Older Works
Inspired by the Natural World

Happy New Year – It’s the Roaring Twenties!

JFries leaves banner 12.31.19

Tomorrow dawns the 2020s, and I realized that exactly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, and American women got the vote.

The parallels between then and now are uncanny. We were talking it over at dinner this evening. In addition to giving women the vote, the 1920s saw the rise of extreme political and religious beliefs, overweening morality laws and backlashes against them, social and political grassroots organization, massive advances in science and technology with accompanying benefits and abuses, domestic and international terrorism, a great flowering of arts and intellectualism, and fundamental, permanent changes in the ways people lived day to day. In the wake of WW1, it was a decade of no going back to the old conformist pantomimes of class and propriety of the 1890s and 1910s. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but it was truly a revolutionary decade.

I’m pretty sure our 20s will be revolutionary too, with climate change crashing into us, the return of extreme ideologies, science racing forward, and all of us facing the challenges of a shifting world. One way or another, I think we are all going to change our lives forever. I think there will be a lot of ideas to express. Who knows, but we might even finally settle some of the fights we started way back then.

It’s scary but also exciting. Maybe I’m just itching to mix it up with the world. Maybe I’m tired of the same old same-old. I can’t help it – I’m an Aquarius. We like new things. We live for tomorrow.

But tonight, I say farewell to the 2010s. Here is the last of my final project of the decade, the East Somerville Trees collages – preserved memories of autumn under our urban canopy, part of the Botanicals and Cities series. It’s about the things that really matter in the midst of all the changes.

These are destined for a book, so be on the lookout for updates on that.

Happy New Year!

Nature in the City: Leaf Specimens, Geese, Ducks, Sunset

JFries Tobin and boat banner 12.19

Hello, all! This week’s – (checks calendar) – er, I mean this fortnight’s artwork comes from my walks under the urban canopy of Somerville, Massachusetts. I made these specimen collages from just a few of the many tree leaves that have found their way amongst the pages of my books. I have a deep fondness for leaves as objects – their colors, textures, intricate inner structures, varied shapes. So I present them just as they are in a vaguely scientific context, for contemplation and exploration.

I am also working on 2020 updates for the website, and wouldn’t you know it, this month, every government in the world decides to announce new laws affecting online content to be implemented as of next month. So now I get to learn more things. Life is chaos. I believe some physicists say that, don’t they? If not, they should because it is. In any event, be on the lookout for a working contact function (finally!), new pages and reorganized categories, and yes, it’s really happening, a way to buy stuff. I know, right? Miraculous.

Bird-Nerd Update: A recent walk along the Mystic estuary was highlighted by some rather nice afternoon lighting and bird sightings. Between bad weather and ill health, I’ve fallen behind on my birding, but last week, I got buzzed by a small flock of Canada geese as they swooped in to graze the ball field – always a little thrill – and I observed some Bufflehead ducks bobbing and diving in the river, one male and two females. Unfortunately, the light by then was fading, and Buffleheads are quite small. This blurry shot of one of the females is the best I could do, but she can be known by the distinctive white strip on her cheek, and the white spot on her wing. The male, by comparison, is a striking black and white with iridescence on his head, but he was too far from the dock for me to get a good shot of him as the sun set. Buffleheads winter in Massachusetts. I hope these stick around so I can get better pics and add them to the Estuary Birds series.

Leaf Specimens



Female Bufflehead in shadow

JFries female bufflehead 12.19


Canada geese grazing

JFries canada geese 12.19


Tobin bridge, tug boat, and the Pier 4 barge

JFries Tobin and boat 12.19


An ironic view of the Everett side in really gorgeous light

JFries powerplant and casino 12.19

Mystic Birds, a New Exhibition, Green Life

Work abounds, and thus I’m late again. This past week, I launched at last a project in planning all last year. Mystic Birds 1, 2, and 3 celebrate some of my favorite waterbirds – Herring Gulls, Common Terns, Canada Geese, and Mallard Ducks – against the backdrop of the Mystic River estuary and Boston’s Tobin Bridge. I used some of my own photos of the birds and bridge, taken over the last year at the Schrafft’s Center in Charlestown. You can go there any time and see these scenes just as I did.

If you happen to be in Somerville this spring, you can also see these collages at the Brickbottom Gallery, in the Brickbottom Artists Association annual Spring show “Green,” running April 18 – May 18. You can come and meet me at the reception, April 29, 5 – 7 pm, and be sure to visit all the artists during Somerville Open Studios, May 4 – 5. Details at the BAA’s website.

These Mystic Birds are the first of a series of works exploring the life of the Mystic River watershed from Boston Harbor up to the Mystic Lakes. Once one of the most polluted water systems in the US, the Mystic is now one of the most improved, getting stronger every year, but still threatened by development, industry, and climate change. Learn more about it from the Mystic River Watershed Association. It is wonderful to spend time by the river, see the wildlife carrying on their business, and realize that the human world and natural world are not at all separate, but one and the same. Our own neighborhoods are environments worth saving, something I remember as I write this and listen to sparrows outside my window and a woodpecker working on a tree somewhere nearby. I hope with my new Mystic River Project to raise awareness of the vibrant nature around us all the time, and to encourage people to live in nature wherever they are, even in the middle of big cities.

So this year look for more of my love letters to this urban river. Also more walks around the rest of my city, commissioned toys and objects, artist books and self-publishing, and blog posts about greening up my studio and art practice. Spring is the time for cleaning up and getting started.

I hope to see you at the Brickbottom “Green” reception!

Experiments and holiday cheer – Stars and Mushrooms galore

Hi, all. I hope all my friends and readers enjoyed the holiday. We were cozy and small at home, and I had great fun making the decorations for our little live tree this year.

The paper stars were made using a delightful little origami model. Click this link for a tutorial from Jo Nakashima on Youtube. I dusted them with a hint of metallic gold acrylic paint – which doesn’t show in the photos but gives the stars a bright glow in the light, in person . I then strung them on simple red cord to make a garland. They are so much fun to make, I will definitely see what more I can do with them.

The paper mushrooms, though, are my success story for the season. I managed to make papier mache with thin, translucent layers of crumpled tissue paper. In the past, I’ve gotten good results with other types of paper, but this month, nothing wanted to work but the plain white tissue paper. It gave the best shapes, but of course was way to flimsy. So I spent a total of about three days lightly and carefully brushing the shaped mushrooms with a very dilute paste of water, PVA glue and wheat flour to stiffen them without tearing or dissolving the tissue. I then painted them, mixing the paint with more of the paste for added stiffness. I am very pleased with the results.

The bases are a last-minute improvisation. The mushrooms themselves were made without bases, but I wanted them standing. Can you guess what I have holding them up?

The display in front of our kitchen window brings a hint of a winter forest into our home. Soon, the decorations will be put away, the cats will get their toy squirrel back, and our little dwarf Alberta Spruce will go back outdoors in the cold where it likes to be. And then a new year will begin, with a new look for this site, new projects from my studio, and lots of plans.

I wish you and yours great happiness and growth in 2019!

Paper Decorations, Website Changes, and Feeling Eager for a New Year

I am spending this week making holiday decorations. There will be more paper bows like the first ones I made last year, plus paper mushrooms to make a “forest floor” around our tree and paper stars to twinkle above it and amongst its boughs. I’m having lots of fun playing with paper forms and surface treatments.

Also this week, I am working behind the scenes on an overhaul of this website. The new look will be brighter and livelier, with better organization. It will go well with some big projects coming up in 2019, including new books, dollhouses, toys, more of my Cities series of collages, and lots of art and writing experiments.

It’s been a crazy and distracted year, but I feel excited about the holidays and the new year. I’m ready to buckle down and get to work.

By the way, the new background image for winter is my own photo of white pines in Charlestown, at the Lower Mystic estuary.

mushrooms in progress
Paper mushrooms in progress on my work table