Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: Stagefright
Next story: Comic art by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson at Hallwalls

Paintings by A. J. Fries at Big Orbit Gallery

"Abandoned Glass" by A. J. Fries.

Gray Matter

Grisaille, a method of painting in monochrome, might be the first impression made of the paintings in oil on display at Big Orbit Gallery. A. J. Fries, frequently named Buffalo’s most popular painter in Artvoice’s annual Best of Buffalo survey, has delighted patrons with his quasi-photorealistic impressions of ordinary subjects. Everything from the glazed reflection of an enticingly printed cellophane wrapper on a pack of snack cakes to the fibrillating rivulets of rain on a car windshield is given an accessible investigation of its particular distinctions of surface. Fries has said that waiting for an inspiration to paint, the “musey, poetic bullshit” that drives many painters’ approach to their work, is not for him. Looking at his art, it is evident that his eye often falls on the most prosaic of phenomena for the challenge of rendering depictions of reflections, especially as seen in and through light and water.

His work is rarely seen as a body but at Big Orbit viewers have the chance to look penetratingly at what he has chosen to exhibit. The show, called “Light in Shadow,” examines the gray. A selection of thesaurus entries on “gray” offers verbs, nouns, and adjectives pertaining to a sense of a neutral state—neither the whitening of hope, faith, or clarity, nor the darkening of mood, manner, or confusion, but indistinctly somewhere in between. It is in the sense of penumbra, the blurred partial shadow that gives viewers of Fries’s work a space to put their own momentary dislocations of dimensional reality. Drained of local color, the best of these paintings open random possibilities for personal, psychological narratives, creating pictographic templates in the imagination, a kind of mind’s stencil recording the placement of houses, the quality of gravestone, the arrangement of snowflakes, the weighted mass of an air conditioner, the shine of gridded tiles and opaque distances through rain-speckled car windows—all as after-image.

Fries shoots hundreds of digital photos for his paintings, referencing the most enigmatic images. Notwithstanding his red-green color blindness, formerly his interest in the painting of gray-scale minimal volumes in a largely undifferentiated field allowed viewers to read his paintings as icons­—one scene standing for all. However, the paintings Expressway and Grand Island Bridges move markedly past the merely static status of the unspectacular to vividly sweeping cinematographic moments, especially recalling black and white scenes from the early work of the German film director Wim Wenders, such as Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities, with their sad, silvery elegance in winding expanses of roadway. Fries’s images of these all too familiar but unmemorable stretches of the I-290 are commonplace vistas where one’s window on the world has only the twinkle of taillights in a rain-flecked windscreen.

Living in Western New York, the seasonal affects of the coming winter match monochrome with melancholy. The show runs through January 21.

blog comments powered by Disqus