A new-folk pioneer

The Current recently spoke with local artist Karl Frey about his education, inspirations, artwork, and his attempts to revive what he calls the Lost American Folk Aesthetic (as Frey stated, it’s not necessarily a movement, it’s merely a term he uses in his artist statement). Frey was first touched by the muse as a child in SoCal, watching Saturday morning
cartoons, and simply being a kid.

“I was inspired by cartoons like Transformers, but only could draw Garfield,” says Frey who currently teaches drawing, art appreciation, art history, and comics at Northwest Vista College and the Southwest School of Art & Craft.

Frey’s path to professional arthood was pretty normal — high school went by in a flash; he focused on his studies while an undergrad at California State University in Fresno, and obtained a graduate degree at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston at the ripe age of 25. 

A small history of his shows are depicted on a comic-strip timeline found on his eye-catching website karlfrey.net, along with other experiences: a semester in London and plenty of time collecting chicken memorabilia.

“At one time I had a huge collection of chicken toys. I had a survey of about 215 chicken toys or more,” says Frey. His fascination with pop culture (which includes — but is not partial to — poultry) started to rise to the top of his priorities. Frey’s sculptures, paintings, and Rorschach drawings reflect society and nature — his inability to focus on one area led him to work with various

One of Frey’s experiments is a series of blown-up dog-chew toy-shaped canvases which were shown at Joan Grona Gallery in September 2006. “I construct each oddly shaped stretcher out of wood and cover them with canvas that is treated with gesso and Venetian plaster,” says Frey. “Each image is painted in gouache and oil and sealed in beeswax.”

Frey’s others works include Lego-shaped paintings, sticker paintings, Lego landscapes, sticker landscapes, editorial cartoons, comic books, and a children’s book that was a collaboration with his wife, Frances Frey. He also worked with the design group known as The Prime Eights. Did we mention he’s also a musician in the local indie outfit Surreal McCoy? 

Frey says he yearns to bring the Lost American Folk Aesthetic to the attention of art critics, collectors, and makers. “Carving your own toys for your kid has gone away because of mass production of extremely detailed playthings. My favorite toys are the ones that seem to be frivolous, leaving in the imperfections makes no two toys the same,” says Frey.

On his website, Frey simply describes his work as follows: “My work fails if it is elitist; it fails if it is inaccessible. It succeeds when it is engaging and causes reflection on the very cultural process of seeing.”