Roy Fridge

Roy Fridge’s recent show, “Souvenirs of the Voyage,” consisted of collage/drawings, sculptures of found wood, bones and nails, a functional boat (approximately 10 by 15 feet) and Hermit Shrine, an open, eight-foot high triptych. In the center of the Shrine is a cut-out of the artist “dressed” in real clothing, and on the sides are the artist’s journals and memorabilia. The literalness of this piece and of the boat contrasts with the other works in the show. Unlike the iconic art of fellow Texan Michael Tracy, however, Fridge’s work has no heavy sacrificial or idolatrous overtones. His art is playful in tone, with the mood of a treasure hunt.

Fridge’s background in film and set design may explain why the Shrine as well as the smaller box pieces have a theatrical presentation They are like little stage sets with objects behind sliding panels. The smallest of these boxes is only six inches high, an enormous change in scale from the boat and Shrine. These small pieces border on being cute, almost like a gift store tableau. Their content is dominated by Fridge’s fine craftsmanship; so that although they suggest magic talismans, this is secondary to the refined estheticism of the materials.

For Fridge, voyage symbolism is central. This comes across most clearly in his two-dimensional collage/drawings which were, for me, the most intriguing pieces in the show. They combine delicate watercolor washes of Gulf Coast topography, photographs of Fridge on his boat, and blue-ruled pages from his journal They work because of their careful ordering of disparate materials and recording of artistic self-exploration. They are presented in intentionally naNe terms, which allow the artist, as he has said, to be more direct, although their naïveté risks being simplistic in its accessibility.

One journal entry, dated July, 1960, explains that he fled his responsibilities to go to the sea just as Gauguin had gone to Tahiti. This bit of romanticism is balanced by the reality of what Fridge actually did, which was to move, three years later, to Port Aransas, a beach front community on the Gulf of Mexico. That gap between reality and romance is similar to the gap between the specificity of the Hermit Shrine and the Imaginary emotional character of the other pieces in the show. Fridge’s drawings are the expression of his movement between his real and Imagined existence. But as Fridge assiduously records his Journeys he stops short of any encounter with the unknown; he remains on the map. He appears to be reluctant to totally immerse himself in fantasy. He clings to his Shrine and to his framing, calling on his friends to come and find him. He writes in one drawing, “I do not close the door, though, hoping to be asked out . . . ,” and elsewhere,“ I would like the shrine to remain as proof of my being ”Even as he is pursuing freedom, he feels an ongoing need for affirmation of his existence. He calls himself a part-time ascetic. What his art needs is less part-time asceticism and more wandering, without frames and without documentations. Meanwhile, he balances between superficial palatability and the implications of real exploration.

Susan Platt