The Long And Winding Road : James Frederick Paints Home In New Show
by Steve Desroches
On a late July morning, Commercial Street is just starting to fill up with the normal hustle and bustle of a summer day. The ferry horn blasts, signifying it is powering out into Provincetown Harbor headed for Boston. A couple of cyclists whizz by ringing their bells as delivery trucks unload cases of beer and fresh produce that will be that night’s drinks and dinner. James Frederick is sitting at his easel working in his studio. His brush strokes are every bit a part of the rhythms of Provincetown as are the ferry, the bicycles, and tourists hitting the street looking for breakfast.
The tide comes in, the tide goes out. Frederick is now very familiar with the ever-changing shores of Provincetown as he begins his tenth season here, having moved to the Cape tip to focus solely on being an artist. The walls of his Frederick Studio Provincetown tell his life story, primarily that of his technique and choices as an artist, but of his biography, as well. When he arrived he was almost exclusively an abstract artist, but shifted toward representative work inspired by the beauty of the Outer Cape. The past decade in Provincetown has been transformative, both personally and artistically. And the work on the walls of his studio tell that biography.
“I’m a different person,” says Frederick. “Provincetown is a different place. My work is different. All the layers of those years are all here.”
Though not planned as such, 10 years in Provincetown and the intense experience living here can be actually put Frederick on the trajectory to explore his roots. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Frederick returned to the Midwest to visit family, including his sister in Michigan who had just lost her husband of over 50 years. He dug out a painting he had done of a farm in Michigan to give to her, and upon closer inspection of the piece he decided that after years of painting the maritime environment of Provincetown, he wanted to explore the beauty of the region in which he grew up. His mother having passed away the same year made a homecoming feel all the more natural. So, Frederick and his boyfriend went on a road trip, taking the back roads of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, shooting photographs to use as reference once he returned to the studio. And this week the work that came out of that journey will be on display in his latest show Road Trip, featuring the beauty of the wide-open spaces, big sky, the iconic red barns, and sweeping fields of the Midwest.
Frederick’s father was an illustrator for the United States Air Force, and never got to pursue life as an independent artist. Upon opening his own gallery his mother said he was living his father’s dream. And his father is present in the studio as Frederick uses his easel, as well as his original pastels and a big brush to whisk away the multicolored dust. Frederick’s black denim cut-off shorts have a splash of color themselves, though it’s from the acrylic paint he works in primarily now. First, he covers each canvas in dark brown, sketches the image he has chosen, and then begins to paint.
Other than his childhood in Ohio, he hasn’t lived anywhere else as long as Provincetown. Not even close. It was on this road trip that he noticed the similarities between here and there, even though the differences are stark. But the gentle, rolling surf has many similarities to “tassel time,” those August days when the corn fields are high and the wind captures the silk atop the stalk moving it in giant, undulating waves beneath a huge sky. Hanging near each other, the ocean and the farmland, when put through Frederick’s process and mind’s eye, do start to look akin. But Frederick discovered something else while back home. He cracked open and emptied a storage unit he hadn’t been in since he’s lived in Provincetown. And while not part of the Road Trip show, the studio features what he found, and represents taking a risk with new subject matter and artistic approach. Small canvases feature a digital clock radio, a Matchbox car, and a lava lamp.
“The trip definitely stirred up nostalgia from childhood,” says Frederick. “It just felt like the right time to try something new from all this old stuff I was finding.”
While Frederick is just steps away from the ocean, his mind at the moment remains in the Midwest. It’s been ages since he’s seen that kind of open sky over land and not the water. Driving through Ohio on rural roads without even utility poles had that odd feeling of familiarity, but also as an alien landscape as it represents his past. It’s no longer home, but then again it always will be. He keeps glancing at a sunset over a highway cutting through farmland. Those evenings when the sky is on fire and the greens and yellows of the crops move in a choreographed dance. His life in Provincetown has allowed him to put to canvas what has been inside all these years, to focus on documenting his world via the brush.
“Moving here was intimidating and empowering,” says Frederick. “I realized as an artist what I do is valid. It doesn’t have to reach anything other than my own standards. There are so many great artists living and working here, and it can be intimidating. But I stopped comparing and I don’t feel I’m in competition with anyone. This community is supportive and shares ideas. All I’ve found here is support.”
Road Trip is on exhibition at the Frederick Studio Provincetown, Whaler’s Wharf, 237 Commercial Street, August 4 through 13, with an opening reception Friday, August 4, 7-9 p.m. For more information call 508.247.7900 or visit frederickstudioprovincetown.com.
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