Timothy Frerichs

When Through Tue 10/17

Where Roy Boyd, 739 N. Wells

Info 312-642-1606

Several of Timothy Frerichs’s tender, allusive mixed-media works on paper at Roy Boyd memorialize visits he made to Virginia when his brother was dying of cancer. Frerichs would bike with his seven-year-old nephew down to the Potomac River, where they’d find shells, seeds, and pods. Frerichs suggested drawing their specimens, which they did together. Chestnut 14 is a large-scale drawing of a chestnut he found–actually three rotated views of the same chestnut superimposed on one another. This schematic approach, which requires the viewer to mentally assemble the sphere, distances the work from realistic drawings and overly pretty nature paintings. “Realistic representation implies an objectivity,” he says, “and creates a separation between viewer and object.” For the “Potomac River Metastasis” series, represented by four works here, he collaged torn paper onto drawings of seeds.

Frerichs’s father was a Lutheran pastor, and the family lived mostly in Iowa. But starting at 7 Frerichs spent four formative years in Germany–“a magical place for me,” he says. The experience gave him the sense that in Europe the land and culture are more closely tied than in the United States, where he says it’s more often seen merely as property. He and his friends explored World War II bunkers and saw Neolithic burial sites marked by large stones, and during a pre-Christian fall festival “everyone walked through the village with lanterns to chase away evil spirits.” Moving back to rural Iowa, where he was called “Nazi,” was a “culture shock.” When Frerichs was in his mid-20s he and his wife spent a year in Germany, from 1991 to 1992, once traveling with a friend who bought postcards everywhere. “It seemed to me that buying postcards was more important to him than looking,” Frerichs says. “We rented a car, and he had his nose in a guidebook and would suddenly say, ‘Stop here!’ and jump out and take a picture and jump back in. I think his goal was to establish ownership of the experience.”

As a child Frerichs copied from books of Greek and Roman myths and from Albrecht Durer, whose detail he loved. He earned money for college by working outdoors, doing farm work and road construction, and believes the openness of midwestern land still influences his use of white space. Spending an undergraduate semester in Germany, he lived with a family who ran an organic food co-op and became sensitized to environmental and political issues when they found that some of their milk was radioactive after Chernobyl. In the early 90s, while living and teaching in Missouri, he began to oppose genetically altering plants. “It’s crazy to modify plants so you can apply a chemical that kills everything else. You kill the bugs, which play a vital role in keeping the soil alive, and eventually you kill the soil.” Two other relatives raised in farm country have died of cancer at relatively young ages: his mother at 60 and his wife’s sister at 51 (his brother died at 40). He started to wonder whether environmental toxins were a factor in their deaths.

Frerichs’s “Linnaeus Gardens Folios,” mounted in boxes on the wall (the gallery will open them for you), are in part the result of living in Sweden with his wife in 2002 and 2003, when she was working on her dissertation on organic farming. He explored Linnaeus’s famous garden, in which each plant is labeled with the Latin name the scientist gave it and its common name in Swedish. He noticed that for many tourists “the plant name was more important than the plant itself. To name is to know, but when you categorize you separate the object from its environment.” Frerichs had come to question scientific approaches to nature after reading Bruno Latour. “We assume that scientific methodology is objective,” Frerichs says, “but it’s just like any other history, biased according to its origins.” Copying the labels onto most of the drawings, Frerichs creates a strong contrast between them and his own extremely supple renditions of the plants, underlining the arbitrariness of naming anything.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Fred Camper.