Meteor man

Brian Fridge and his graphite spheres epitomize the rash of rising stars in Dallas' art constellation

It's all cyclical. The art scene, the rock scene, the theater scene -- as cyclical as the economy, as the real estate market. Every city sees the ebb and flow of its cultural face, the exit of its veteran stars (or the dulling of their edge), the entry of a new guard. Dallas is no exception, and right now the art scene is on an upswing. Not surprisingly, it's happening a few years after similar swells in the country's anchor cities, New York and Los Angeles... but still.

With rising local artists such as Ted Kincaid, Erick Swenson, Scott Barber, Steven Hopwood Lewis, and Brian Fridge, to name only a few, it seems the fate of the region's art scene is in safe hands -- for a couple of years, anyway. We're going to enjoy some pretty great art for a while, and we're going to watch the evolution of some promising careers. The evolution will be gallerized.

A few weeks ago, a reader wrote a letter to the Dallas Observer about how so often this city's young talent is compelled to hightail it to other cities to seek fortune. The letter-writer, Dallas' own Deep Ellum guru Jeff Liles, was making a plea to the Observer and the city to appreciate and nurture our indigenous creative-types, make them feel needed here. Around the same time, in an Observer editorial staff meeting, a columnist mentioned that, as happens every few seasons, there's another rash of theater types, artists, and musicians taking off for bigger, shinier places -- places with a wider cultural horizon. Oops, there goes Sally Nyusten Vahle of Kitchen Dog Theater, destination: Los Angeles. Ow, off goes half of the Good/Bad Art Collective to New York. Then musician Chris Plavidal heads to New York as well. And so on.

Graphite comes off on your fingers, you know.
Graphite comes off on your fingers, you know.
High art or decoration? Considering the innovative way they're made, Fridge's spheres sidestep any definition.
High art or decoration? Considering the innovative way they're made, Fridge's spheres sidestep any definition.

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Annex of the Conduit Gallery

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But Brian Fridge, young creator of things atmospheric, if not stratospheric, is sticking around, for now anyway. And showing, and selling, and thank God for it. You may have seen his snowy television monitors at any of several group shows, even at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary's recent group video show, Wired for Living.

At that exhibit, one of Fridge's pieces stood alongside works by such luminaries as Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman and still managed to stand out. His large television monitor, encased in a clear Plexiglas box, plays an image of something alien, something unrecognizable: a silent storm of glinting particles that circle and swoop through jet-black space. It's not mere static. The millions of radioactive specks form pattern and dimension and path-like movement. The TV's screen is more window than flat visual aid -- it looks as though you could reach right through the glass and subject your hand to this hypnotic storm. As if it were some bizarre feat of home-video making, it comes off like a fluke discovery, like the work of some burgeoning scientist who has discovered through his telescope a new comet tail or rotating galaxy far beyond our own.

Fridge says he made the video in his deep freezer. The swirls are ice and steam, the movement caused by an inserted vacuum or a whoosh of Fridge's unseen hand. Odd how something so humble (though admittedly inventive) can, when presented as art, look so epic and transcendental and timeless. I first saw the Fridge snow last year, at a private show curated by Victoria Montelongo. She had placed the monitor on a stairwell landing, halfway between an office building's upper and lower floors. To get downstairs (where the show continued), one had to pass Fridge's piece, and the effect was curiously calming. Nothing loud or shocking or hostile about it, nothing presumptuous. Its subtlety spoke volumes, if you took the time to listen to that silence, to watch that movement.

Even if you haven't seen the freezer videos, you may have seen Fridge himself, gangly and bespectacled and sauntering around the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, working as both security guard and installer. Like many graduates of art school, in this case the University of North Texas, this guy makes his art while paying rent through a day job. If anything, Fridge knows that's the case for most artists in most towns -- why head to one of the coasts if that survival pattern stays the same (and the rent goes up)?

All along he's been making graphite orbs, 3-D complements, really, to his galaxy-swirl monitor snow, and they're on display in the Annex at the Conduit Gallery. Looking as weighty as molten lead, as glossy and smooth as liquid mercury, these ashen spheres are the size of beach balls and not much heavier. He has coated cardboard craft balls with a dense layer of pencil-lead graphite; it looks as though he dipped them in the flawless powder a few dozen times, and then textured their surfaces with neat, even patterns of overlaid graphite lines. Rocks plucked from deep space? NASA models of black holes? Ultra-chic decoration on the pristine white shelf of some anal German interior designer? ("Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance.") However you look at them, the thing is that you definitely want to look closer, and God help you, you really want to touch them.

At the show's opening, Fridge was bombarded with direct questions about his methods, his meaning -- something rare for an art opening (often the artist will stand off to the side while patrons politely, silently peruse the work). "How heavy are they?" "Will the graphite smear if you touch them?" (Now, now.) "Are they coated with anything extra?" "Are they planets?" Fridge stood in the tiny annex room and shyly answered each inquiry as best he could, but his oft-amorphous answers were perfect for this work. Again, a case of humble innovation turned above-and-beyond. It's as though the orbs themselves were saying to him, humming to us, "We are what you need us to be." Ah, the flexible, insidious siblings of his flexible, insidious freezer snow. Stick around, Fridge. We're watching.

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