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: 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

A Walk in the Woods

JFries forest border 1.5.2020

I thought I’d share a glimpse into my creative process today. 

I did some monotype practice, making black and white dendritic prints. Those are the ones where you squish paint or ink between two panes of glass or sheets of metal – two impermeable flat surfaces – then pry them apart, leaving a pattern of branching forms on each surface made by the physics of fluids. You then pick up the patterns on your paper, producing two mirrored images.

JFries bw monoprint 1.5.2020

There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube, so I’m not going to teach you how to do it. Just go squish some paint and see what you get.

No, I want to talk about the process of designing a collage. The thing with dendritic prints, similar to inkblots, is you will see in them whatever your mind creates. I typically see landscapes, so go psychoanalyze that. The point is images emerge, and the artist will build upon them.

JFries bw forest dark 1.5.2020

So I focused on this print and thought, “It’s a forest. A deep, dark forest. Who will I meet there? What action will I witness?”

Scenes began to coalesce in my imagination, and I hit my clippings files to find figures and objects to play the parts.

Unfortunately, all the images that would work are also black and white and tend to disappear on this background. Adding color masks didn’t work.

JFries collage composition 1.5.2020

I need an image in color or which can be colored. Something in the right mood. I have this one image from a Victorian Christmas decoration. It’s about two inches high, a little girl holding a miniature Christmas tree that would be perfect for what’s in my head.

This kid has been haunting my studio for nearly ten years. Clipped ages ago but never quite fitting into a scene, she’s constantly fluttering about, in the way, falling out of every stack of papers I pick up.

Wouldn’t you know, today I can’t find her.

JFries bw forest light detail1 1.5.2020

Obviously, I went first to where I thought I’d last seen her.

Then I checked a succession of places she could likely be.

Then I went back into the files on the off chance I had inadvertently put her away where she belongs.

JFries bw forest dark detail2 1.5.2020

By that point, I was pretty well cursing her, her damned tree, and the entire Victorian era straight to the Devil, and considering stopping everything to completely reorganize all my collage clippings. Maybe my whole studio into the bargain.

Then I got called for tea, and I realized it will soon be dinner time, and I have other things to do.

Still haven’t found the papery little pest. The cat better have eaten her, that’s all I can say.

This is the life of a creative. The prints came out well, though.

JFries bw forest light 1.5.2020

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!

Spring is here!

green monoprint border 3.18.19

Spring starts this Wednesday, March 20! The trees are budding. The first green shoots are showing through winter’s litter. The birds and animals are setting up house. The sun is higher and warmer, and everything seems full of energy and movement.

I celebrated by making my annual mistake of cleaning my rooms. I learned that I don’t need any more clothes or hair ties, my cats don’t need any more toys, and the only things that are ever truly lost are the ones that are a big pain to replace. I didn’t even do the Kondo method, and I’m overwhelmed – but motivated afresh.

Experiments with monoprint continue, and I’ve started a small set of collages on paper using natural botanical bits. This first one is a tribute to the season and our city rabbits down by the Mystic estuary. It belongs to my ongoing series about walks around town.

JFries Charlestown Spring in progress 3.15.19
JFries Charlestown Spring in progress 3.15.19

First art of 2018, journal and mushrooms

I heard somewhere once, many years ago, that at a certain latitude, if the sky is clear and you look due north at an unobstructed horizon, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s night, you will see Sirius, Orion’s dog, at its apogee, with winter’s Orion setting to the west of it, and his mortal enemy, spring’s Scorpio rising to the east of it, and the two constellations will be equidistant above the Earth. So the story of Orion the Hunter, lover of Artemis, killed by the poisoned sting of Hera’s scorpion, marks the passage of winter and the new year.

I don’t know if this is true, but I think it should be, and already, the sun is setting a little later, haven’t you noticed?

This little journal collage is my first artwork of 2018. I’m calling it The Future of Orion, inspired by this video from the European Space Agency: Youtube Link.

The little snippet of text is my New Year’s dinner fortune cookie message. “Your fate is in no one else but you, in no hands but yours.”

Plus, I made some little crumpled-paper mushrooms – my first attempts – out of napkins. Super ephemeral, but I rather like them. I’ll play with these a bit more.

Happy New Year!