Painting? I ask myself, as I sit across from Zoë Frederick, taking in her sculptural-concoctions that fill her small studio at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). I have seen the soon-to-be MFA graduate’s work online via social media and her website, but never in person. When I ask Frederick if she still sees herself as a figurative painter (as her site suggests), she explains that while she still gravitates towards painting and the mindset that comes along with, she has recently ventured into other territories. I look around further. A tennis ball sits in a pair of fleece-lined boots (toes touching) and large red X’s sit on a shirt made of linen hanging on a mannequin. There are more curiosities: a large, charming blob plopped in a corner and a strange sacramental suit of some sort made out of what looks to be a beach floaty. Although I come up short in the search for painting, I find myself in a much more interactive and amusing world.
I have long held the belief that it is the job of the artist to get under our skin. I enjoy work that is un-apologetically honest and that arrives at a place of synergy, work in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Frederick’s work certainly falls into this category. A subtle humor peeks out from each creation, as if to offer a quick wink or a slight smirk. Her departure from painting, diving into the deep end of zines, soft sculpture, and video, appears to be a natural fit. Traditional tools are not forgotten, as is evident in the building up of texture, color, and line through sewing and manipulation of surface. I would argue, however, that the unusual use of traditional craft materials and technique is born out of a place of necessity. After all, these are not traditional times. Frederick’s attention given to the body, ranging from wearable amorphous shapes to the appropriation of clothing and mannequins, evokes a history of femininity that is certainly in need of re-visitation in 2017. One need look no further than the streets of Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles, or any other city in the country this last weekend, to understand why. The punchy-pop-reality-tv narrative used by Frederick highlights many all-to-real and immediate social concerns.
“I’m writing about this relationship between Trump’s non-reality, or altered-sense of reality, and the truth. And trying to connect it also to reality television, and lumps.” (laughter) “Still working on it.” -Zoë Frederick