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.

Storms, Color, Summer

JFries geese border

I’ve had an unusually productive two weeks since launching my newsletter. The thing must be magic! Here are some of the highlights, including a new work for another upcoming exhibition.

I’m going to be binding some new journals and re-binding some older books, so I made a selection of paste papers for them, which led to me playing around with the paste paint. That resulted in some not too bad monochromatic landscapes, which then led to shades of the color blue scrolling through my mind. A certain dusky shade of blue-gray struck me as perfect for a collage that had been simmering in my mind for some time, so I set about inventing the color with layers of paint and dyed tissue paper. The resulting collage of geese flying across the moon will be shown with the Brickbottom Artists Association summer exhibition, which just happens to be on the theme of “BLUE.” That will be shown online from mid-July. See the Home page for details.

I finished an additional collage today – The Death of Orpheus – but I did it on paper so I could experiment with a new pasting technique to prevent warping. Fingers crossed on that one. Two more collages on canvas are in the works, inspired by views from my studio window – one a particularly spectacular spring morning, the other a rather spectacular super moon.

Nature has been pushing me along. These past weeks have been full of moon views and thunder storms. The garden is filling up with flowers, bees, butterflies, and rabbits. My landlords’ mulberry tree, outside our kitchen window, is bent under the weight of fruit and crowded with birds and animals. And all day today, my landlords’ dogwood, outside my studio window, hosted two fledgling mockingbirds fresh out of the nest, crying for food as their parents came and went, stuffing them with mulberries.

I can’t help feeling a little allegorical. I took the lesson of these weeks from the text on the collage of the geese, adapted from a Siberian shaman’s song:

“The birds’ way of returning,
The birds’ way of leaving behind the sea,
If I lean on these ways,
I find support for my legs.”

Where are you finding support in these difficult times? Drop a comment and let me know what flashes or colors or things outside your window keep you going. If you have any questions about the works below, I’ll be happy to answer.

Also, issue #2 of the newsletter is scheduled for around July 16th. Sign up now for more updates and exclusive content.


Paste Papers



Estuary Moon, part of the Mystic River Project and Cities

JFries Estuary Moon 6.30.2020


Experimental landscape

JFries indigo landscape 7.1.2020


Death of Orpheus, part of Literary Works, another experiment

JFries Orpheus 1 7.2.2020

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

Inspirations: Staying Home

JFries at home border

COVID-19 has people all over the world confronting the idea of being at home in ways that we may never have before. Many are chafing at the restriction imposed by the virus, but why? Isn’t “home” supposed to have a good connotation? It’s where the heart is, right?

I’ve always felt a vague fascination with interior spaces. The light through a window, illuminating floating dust. The clues hinted at by personal possessions, by people’s neatness or their mess. The sense of place and time we get from furniture, decor, organization, tools and appliances. Our homes express much about us, more than we plan or may realize.

One of my pandemic pleasures has been sneaking glimpses into the homes of TV people – reporters, politicians, various kinds of experts broadcasting the news from their houses. I’m forever peering over their shoulders. Are their bookshelves serious or for show? What about their color choices, their window treatments? Is this room lived in, or has it been turned into a stage set? Some of the newspeople superimpose their shows’ regular studio backgrounds over wherever they really are. I guess it promotes professionalism and normalcy, but I wish they wouldn’t do it so much. When they share their personal space, even if it’s just the guest room they never use or a cleaned-up corner of the garage, it humanizes this crisis we’re living through. It highlights that we are all sharing the same experience together.

Yet the idea of “home” in this common experience has become fraught with tension. What does it mean that so many of us are uncomfortable being where we live?

I’ve mentioned my in-development project, “Orchid Beach.” It’s a story – probably a digital graphic novel – that uses the idea of home, but it’s a crime thriller, quite dark and intended to disturb. And I’m just not feeling it. I don’t want to subvert the idea of home right now.

So I looked at other works, and I realized to my surprise that, despite my personal interest, I don’t have a lot of home-focused art or stories. The ones I do have are, well, quite dark and intended to disturb.

JFries House of Hours

The collage “House of Hours” brings us into an Escheresque hall populated by shadows where time and faces float away from us and inner space dissolves into outer space.

JFries Doll's House interior

My mini picture book “The Doll’s House” is a gothic melodrama of undefined family conflict which ends with an invasion by an overwhelming natural force. Oops, heheh, that one might be a little too on point at the moment.

These works are meaningful to me, but they don’t reflect my relationship with my real home at all. Naturally reclusive, I love being at home, and I love this home in particular. I’ve been in it for twenty years on purpose. We have our issues. It reveals maybe more of what I wish wasn’t true about myself (lazy slob me) and not enough of what I believe is true about myself (creative, organized, professional me who has great taste). It has too few electrical outlets and you can’t put a nail in the walls, but it’s warm and comfortable, the light is fantastic, and the vibes are happy.

And yet, I tell dark, disturbing stories about home. Why the disconnect? What am I trying to uncover, what do I want people to confront when I work with the concept of “home”? Privacy. Secrets. Personal history. Relationships and solitude. Memories. So much of my work focuses on the world outside, on distant landscapes and tall city buildings, but there are stories to be found indoors as well, in those inner spaces where we sleep and dream.

So I’m starting a new project to get my thinking on this a little less vague. Because of the pandemic, I can’t access the printing services I normally use for collages, so it will be a photography-focused online series. Should be amusing since I just have just a doddering old point-and-click Canon, no studio lights, and only the picture-editing program that came with my Mac’s antique operating system. But these are trying times and needs must, so I shall MacGyver something.

I played around a few years ago with photographing miniatures. I’ll start with that experiment and see where it takes me. I can’t guarantee we won’t end up back at dark and disturbing. But since I’m staying home, I’m free to explore. 😉

Please enjoy some small domestic scenes and views from the outside looking in.


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

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

Happy Thanksgiving: Autumn Book and Pumpkin Pie

Well, the holiday season is officially upon us, and in the midst of life’s battles, I have to admit I have a lot to be thankful for. We have our health at my house (knock wood). I enjoy my work, my town, my friends. There are birds outside my window and cats sleeping on my bed. What more can anyone want?

Later, I’ll rant about all the things that are off the rails, going wrong, just plain nuts, and utterly intolerable, but that’s not what this weekend is for. Today, it’s about feasting and merriment, football, parades, and King Kong. You know, the traditions.

I finished rebuilding my blue sketchbook into an autumn book for sketching, journaling, and collecting field specimens, all the leaves, twigs, feathers, etc., I tend to pick up. I was inspired by the “junk journal” phenomenon, which is a great way to find beauty and function out of detritus. Even these gussied-up pocket inserts are part of my sketchbook practice, as I used them to work out experiments in paper building and collaging with natural botanicals. The binding is my favorite tetsuyoso style. Superficially, it resembles Coptic stitch, but this is in fact a very old binding from Japan. It lacks the external knots of Coptic, maintains neater tension with less fuss, and is flexible and resilient. Traditionally, the covers would be pasted on, but I adapted the Coptic method of sewing the covers on for a totally adhesive-free binding.

It might seem a little odd to make such a fancy thing just to sketch and brainstorm in, but kind of the point of being an artist is to get our thoughts outside of our heads, to make everything be an expression of how we see the world, to unify the inside and outside realities. So I think the book where I work out the kinks in my creativity should be a product of my creativity. This is what I came up with.


And I made the pie this year. It came out fancy, too. 😉

JFries pumpkin pie 2019


Happy holiday, all. Enjoy. Relax.
Express yourself.

October is masks, bats, and butterflies

We at the home attached to the studio have been sick as dogs since the middle of September, which is why I fell off the planet for a few weeks. But we are on the mend at last, and I’m racing to complete as many of my October projects as I can in these last few days of the month while still having fun.

First thing done: A zine titled “Masquerade.” It’s a little book of collages on the theme of disguise and falseness, social status and self-deception. It was inspired by Halloween, but of course, I took it in a weird, cynical, critical direction because that’s what I do. 😉 Soon, I’ll post information about hand-bound facsimile prints of this book, so please keep an eye out for that. Send a message via the Contact form or this site’s new Facebook page if you’d like to be notified when it is available.

I also attempted my first-ever video of a flip-through of the zine. Yes, it’s true, I have never tried to video anything before. I don’t know why. The video came out well, but the audio has an annoying buzz. Quick research suggests it’s probably something called a “ground loop,” having to do with the power adapter. I’ll have to solve that somehow without buying new equipment, such as a microphone like everyone else in the world uses.

Next, I’m cranking through to try to finish a wearable art object. It has bats on it! I don’t usually do wearable stuff, but sometimes you just have put on a bat. We love bats. This is Bat Week, though my wearable thing will be finished late because I didn’t know until this morning that this is Bat Week, and it’s already Friday.

I might not have time to finish the magic and reality essay book, but I’ll give it the old college try. Same with a zine about ghosts and an October-themed journal I’d very much like to make just for love. And I’ve been marbling and aging paper like a mad thing. All of this was supposed to be done over four weeks, but due to the aforementioned sick-as-a-dog-ness, I’ve had about one week of actual work so far.

In other areas of life, I have resurrected my vintage Olympia manual typewriter. Poor old girl needs a spa day, but I am so happy to be able to clack away noisily with her again. Most of the text in the “Masquerade” zine was made with her, and I can now print my fifty-word stories the way I want them to look.

The gardening season is winding down, but the raspberries aren’t quite done, and the sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds are nowhere near done. Bees and butterflies are still visiting so I won’t be clearing out anything for a bit yet.

Oh, and as mentioned above, I created a Facebook page for this site. Yes, it is the Evil Empire, and I have a dysfunctional relationship with social media, ranging from none to hostile. But needs must, and this is the 21st century, and if you can’t beat them, join them, and you can’t sabotage – um, I mean win – the game if you don’t play, so I have a page. If you Facebook, please join, follow, like, whatever it is people do, and drop me a message or a comment, ask a question, whatever you wish. I check the page just about every day, and will gladly respond in a reasonable time frame – health, work, and fate permitting. Click the button below to visit.


A sneak peak at Masquerade


Marbled papers and collected leaves


Bats have little hands with long fingers.


Monarch on marigold


Painted Lady on dandelion


Olympia!

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!