Frederic Weber is a cool artist who lives just outside of New York City. His work www.fredericweber.net stretches the boundaries of photography and I love it. Frederic is also very thoughtful yet direct about his work, the art world and life. Read on …
“I think the act of creation for the artist is quite similar to the state of mind when one meditates or prays. It is about losing oneself.”
MICHAEL: Hey Frederic, Your work is quite poignant. From what you currently have posted on your website, I see muted or abstracted photo collages. Very intriguing. What's going on in that head of yours?
FREDERIC: Hi Michael, I would say you are better off asking my therapist; she is the one with the degree. I have been working most of my adult life to understand what makes Frederic Weber tick. I might be getting a little closer these past couple of years.
MICHAEL: In terms of your work, what has inspired the creation of the photo collages? Are they photo collages? What was the impetus behind them?
FREDERIC: The early collage work was influenced by the Starn Twins’ work from the early ‘90s. I had dinner with one of the Starns - I can't remember which one at the moment and just liked their anti-Ansel Adams ideas about photographs. This may seem quaint now, but in the early 90s, they were really a breath of fresh air. The early collages were also a nod to 19th century glass plates used by photographers of the day. Using glass plates, I figured out a way to transfer images onto 8 x 10 glass. I then inserted the glass plate into my antique Elwood 8 x10 enlarger and passed light through the plate onto Cibachrome paper. I would use various dyes and tools to enhance or remove details on the plates. All very physical and
different than the digital photography world we have today.
MICHAEL: How do you describe your work exactly? What kind of artist are you? Are you a photographer or do you work with photography as a medium? Painting, yes or no?
FREDERIC: For me, there is no difference between painter and photographer as I compose/create my images. It is all about the end product. Does the image live or is it still born? Obviously, there are references to the history of painting in my work – painting and science gave us photography.
MICHAEL: And so, given that, how do you work? Do you photograph things? Do you use photoshop? Do you splice images? How exactly do you create your work?
FREDERIC: All the above - my techniques seem to vary with each body of work. All the work that you see on my website has been created in my studio which I built to take maximum advantage of the Hudson River light. My studio faces east and is lined with floor to ceiling windows. I have lined all the windows with diffusing material and from the moment the sun rises over the Hudson until around mid-afternoon, the light is amazing. Light and color are what have inspired me as an artist from the very beginning. It has a presence that I have attempted to communicate through the camera in both “Domestic Views” and “Gravitas.” In both of these bodies of work, I am simply looking at objects on a table bathed in what I call divine light.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the rise of photography in recent years? It has made a bold push into the international art fairs and everyone with a cell phone thinks they're a photographer. What's the difference between art and just snapping a photo? What's involved in this process for you?
FREDERIC: I think that the “photography viewed as art” ship sailed in the late ‘70s. What I think you are referring to is the rise of the art fair. They are everywhere and photography is part of this art fair explosion. When you ask me about the difference between art and just snapping a photo, I think of the paper cut outs that Matisse did late in his life -so simple that many would think a child did them. These cut outs are the result of a lifetime of experience in the arts and life itself. Art is more about the artist striving to communicate his inner experience with the outside world rather than making a great selfie with the iPhone or snapping a beautiful sunset. In a world filled with more noise than ever, I want my images to be a quiet place for viewer contemplation just as Medieval Art was for the audience of its period and is for the contemporary audience as well. The key is to create art that can transcend its own time and "therein lies the rub." How do you transcend your time and place so your work is not just the flavor of the month and soon forgotten? You have to be able to let go of yourself and let the image speak to you. It has to reveal itself and cannot be forced. I am not sure if I have answered your question.
MICHAEL: You answered it beautifully. When you're actually involved in the process of creating art, what's literally going through your mind? What are you literally thinking? What are the words and feelings that are going through you? Is the process intellectual, emotional or spiritual?
FREDERIC: Over thinking an image is sure way to end up with nothing so I am most effective when my mind is quiet - letting instinct run the show. The process of making an image is a form of prayer so the process is more spiritual rather than emotional or intellectual.
MICHAEL: I do see a certain quietness in your work. What I really see are two themes: identity and mystery. You reveal humanity but in a muted, disjointed way. What's going on there?
FREDERIC: You are correct in that the quest to understand the human condition is a common theme throughout my work. As I child, I remember going to see the Man Of La Mancha and crying as this broken down old knight fought against all odds for what he considered a noble cause. I thought then and still do how wonderful to help others through this perilous voyage we call life. I have chosen art to help others. If my work is helpful to just one person then I have succeeded in my quest. Yes, I see great art as a mystery with no simple answers. I am so weary of artist statements and theories that try and use words to neatly explain what they are trying to do, but hey that's me. What do I know?
MICHAEL: Isn't that what art history is all about though? We have scholars, historians, students, docents, museum directors, etc., all of whom are here to help the masses understand the minds and intentions of artists and where they and their ideas fit in society and history. Aren't they here to deconstruct you so that when you become rich and famous after death, we'll all have the secret formula? Come on Frederic! Relax and submit to your lobotomy. LOL.
FREDERIC: Next question.
MICHAEL: LOL. Okay. When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? I mean, what was inspiration behind it. Do you come from an artistic family?
FREDERIC: No artists in my immediate family, but my great grandfather's brother was Joe Weber who was part of the vaudeville team of Weber and Fields who inspired the Marx Brothers. My parents felt you were either going to be a doctor, lawyer or go into the family business of lubricants. Industrial and automotive lubricants thank you very much. Well, one of my passions as a teenager was Blackjack and beginning around the age of 16, I would fly to Las Vegas to spend three or four days at the Blackjack tables. One night, I had gone through absolutely all of my money at the old MGM Hotel. I was wandering around the hotel and came across their movie theater where they were playing old MGM movies and went in to watch “San Francisco” with Clark Gable, Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy. I was so moved by the film that I made the decision that night that I was going to learn how to make film. I enrolled at NYU Tisch School of the Arts to study filmmaking. One of my requirements was a photography class and I immediately fell in love with the darkroom. It was pure magic to watch the images appear in the trays full of chemical solutions. I feel a little sorry for the kids who have only known digital photography.
MICHAEL: Your work certainly has a strong, cinematic quality. Yes, digital photography seems to lack the magic, if not soul of film. But I guess everything must change. You mentioned the Hudson River earlier. I LOVE the Upper West Side of New York. Is that where you are? Or is it Philly? How does your current environment influence or inspire your work?
FREDERIC: Funny that you used soul to describe film - soul is so rarely mentioned these days especially in the art world. I live in the Village of Nyack and my home is about 30 feet from the shore of the Hudson River. Nyack is a magical place about twenty miles north of Manhattan. Both Edward Hopper and Joseph Cornell grew up here and were influenced by Nyack's proximity to the river and the old Victorian homes. There was an episode of the original “Twilight Zone” where a weary business man is returning home from a hard day in the city on a train and gets off the train at a small village. It is the perfect village where life is calm and everybody is friendly. This village is all in this weary commuter's head. Nyack is very similar to the Twilight Zone village. It hasn't been corrupted by the box store and urban sprawl. So yes the Hudson River, old Victorian homes and sense of community have all influenced me as an artist and as a person. It is a special place to live and create.
MICHAEL: Wow. That sounds great. Most artists I know - and I know a lot of artists - talk about this lack of soul in art. I don't see this changing unless everyday people are awakened about contemporary art. The status quo needs an overhaul. Your thoughts?
FREDERIC: Years ago, my first art dealer looked at me and said that I had to look at my images as a commodity that are bought and sold. I didn't respond to that well then, and still have issues with the concept. While it is wonderful to sell work, that is the icing on the cake. The privilege of being allowed the time to think about and produce art is the real prize. I think the act of creation for the artist is quite similar to the state of mind when one meditates or prays. It is about losing oneself. It is about freedom from anxiety - sadly just for that moment. As far as the status quo and overhauling the art world, I choose to be optimistic that artists, dealers, writers, and people like you will bring about change.
MICHAEL: Thanks. Do you think New York is the center of the art world? Does an artist seeking personal and worldly success need to be in New York?
FREDERIC: If by the center of the art world you mean the center of creativity, the answer would be no. If by center you mean money, I would say yes.
MICHAEL: And so, what does that mean for artists like you who I assume want career success? What are they to do? Move to New York? Stay in Phoenix? Get a website and flood New York galleries with photos? What?
FREDERIC: Artists have to figure out what life situation works out best for them to free to create their art. I loved living in the city, but I wanted a spacious studio and I wanted my own darkroom. This was not going to happen on my budget in Manhattan, so I left the city for Nyack. I actually enjoy my 40-minute drive to the city when I have meetings or want to see a museum or gallery show. I think that media plays a part in getting your work out there, but actual face to face contact is hugely important in getting your work seen. As my old momma used to say it ain't easy or everyone would do it.
MICHAEL: God forbid, but if you got hit by a speeding semi tomorrow, what would you hope your remaining body of work on this earth would communicate to people? Of course, people would have their own interpretation of your work regardless, but what is YOUR statement about your work and life?
FREDERIC: I would posit that a recurring theme throughout my various bodies of work is the Latin phrase "Memento Mori" or remember death. In early Christian thought, it was very important whether you were rich or poor to constantly remind oneself that you were a mere mortal and your life should always be about preparation for the afterlife. I see the concept of Memento Mori slightly differently. There is the duality of the great joy of life's wonderful moments of beauty and the sadness of how truly fleeting life is. For me Memento Mori is not about the preparation for the afterlife, but always trying to remember to savor life's moments, create meaningful work, and to help others whenever possible.
MICHAEL: Frederic, this has been a great chat. Thanks.
FREDERIC: Michael, I am sorry to see the chat end. I really enjoyed our conversation. If you are in the Nyack area or in the city, let's have a cup of coffee.
MICHAEL: We will.