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.

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

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