by Helen Dwork | May 14, 2014
Gregory Frux earned an MFA from Brooklyn College while working as an architect for the New York City Board of Education, whose Public Art for Public Schools program he would later curate. Cityscapes explore industrial sites, bridges, waterfront, nocturnes, and ruins, while wilderness work derives from a lifetime of trekking locally and around the world. Frux has been artist in residence in four national parks—Weir Farm N.H.S., Glacier, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley, and worked as shipboard artist in the north and south polar regions, Antarctica, and Norway. His work is in the collections of Library of Congress, American Alpine Club, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Department of Education, and National Park Service. For more information, visit www.frux.net or www.artandadventures.com
Helen Dwork: You work primarily on cityscapes and wilderness landscapes. What is the difference between work produced in a familiar and unfamiliar environment?
Gregory Frux: Drawing is always about exploration. I would venture that, although we live in the city, the urban landscapes around us might be less familiar than we think. So, wherever we are drawing there is a strong element of investigation and discovery. My “Landscape Drawing for Expeditions” workshop at the Art Students League will explore some amazing places—evidence of the Ice Age in Central Park and a floating dock for railroad cars—all within a mile of the League. Drawing in the city can be very challenging, but with the right approach it is a very worthy undertaking.
HD: How do you choose a scene to capture?
GF: I think that you have to connect emotionally with the scene. On some level there is a story you want to tell, imagery you want to explore. This is a subjective response to all the information out there. You have to make a choice each time you draw. It is striking how different artists will be attracted to different landscape elements. That is one of the exciting aspects of landscape drawing and painting. Being clear about your intention is an element of becoming a mature artist. Organizing what you are seeing in a meaningful way is part of the difference between being an art student and a professional.
HD: How does the way you work affect your choice of technique and supplies?
GF: Working outdoors is intrinsically challenging. Temperature, weather, and changing lighting will limit how long you can work. Tools need to expedite the task, and I go over possible tools in some detail during my workshops. Pencil, pen and ink, charcoal pencils, and watercolor washes are all effective ways to get down the essentials. Being well-prepared and organized are the crux. For the work I do, minimal weight and maximum efficiency are crucial, as I often include art-making on my mountaineer trips.
HD: Elsewhere, you’ve mentioned Frederic Church, Thomas Moran, Edward Whymper, and Rockwell Kent as influences. What have you learned from these artists?
GF: Church, Moran, and—to a degree—Kent devised ways to create artwork onsite that embraced the immediacy of the sketch and made that part of their aesthetic. Moran did this with his watercolors and Church with oil sketches on paper. Kent painted in Greenland, working outdoors using his dog sled as an easel! All four of these artists used their field work to enrich their major paintings and graphics. Nothing matches working on-site for authenticity.
HD: How do you think expedition art has changed with the times?
GF: Travel is easier. Speedy access to remote areas has become a reality. I had the opportunity to work as an artist on a ship in Antarctica and the level of support was superb. Painting outside on deck, I was able to step inside to rewarm at my leisure and even get a cup of cocoa (of course, Fredric Church likely did the same in the 1860s when he painted his Iceberg studies). Superior clothing can keep us warmer longer and portable art supplies extend our range, but expedition art is still a challenge. It comes down to managing your comfort and well-being, which is a learned skill that I include in my workshops. Digital tools, especially cameras, are wonderful supplements to artist observations, but they can also be confusing and distract from direct observation.
HD: You’ve said that “a good expedition artist carries knowledge of geology, botany, history, etc. and can inject information into his/her work to enrich the content.” This sounds like a lot to fit into a workshop, so how do you prioritize what you’re going to teach?
GF: Everyone will have their own affinities. Someone might be more interested in 3,000-year-old trees, someone else the granite escarpment they are rooted in. I will take time with each class to give the natural and human history of the location. This can serve as an entry point for further investigation, and I will bring some reference books to suggest avenues for further study. It is a big topic, but my workshop can lay a solid foundation, so artists can continue on their own.
Don’t miss the first post of the “Talking Shop” series with video artist Nicole Cohen. The Art Students League of New York holds a number of weekend, evening, and week-long workshops, in which League instructors and prominent visiting artists work with intimate groups of about a dozen students. Workshops focus on a particular aspect of art-making or specific medium or techniques. A current schedule of upcoming workshops can be found here.