The Comfort in being Blue: A Conversation with Frederick Weston
Mar 03, 2020
I first met Frederick Weston during my 2016 internship at the art-non profit Visual AIDS (VA). One day during my internship, he came into their small VA office in Chelsea, his smile instantly lighting up the room. Frederick is one of the many members of the VA Artist+Registry, the largest database of works by artists with HIV/AIDS, and has been an active member since 1998. It was in this context that I first met Frederick and learned of his work.
I first encountered his work in the 2016 group exhibition EVERYDAY, curated by Jean Carlomusto, Alexandra Juhasz, and Hugh Ryan, presented by Visual AIDS at La Mama Gallerie. His collage work covering the full spectrum of blue tones, layered with texts and shades of pale teal to deep sapphire, fascinated me. His type of collage practice is what I always strived for when I would collage in college, having amassed a huge archive of images, phrases, random scraps of paper saved over decades, curated together in such a way to make one statement, in unity, from a mass of seemingly unrelated parts.
And through this practice of saving, rearranging, creating he is able to showcase his personal preferences in style, fashion, love, attraction, and the ongoing experience of being a male queer POC living with HIV/AIDS. Whether he is arranging strips of blue, or assembling the faces and bodies of gorgeous men into one sexy hunk, he is able to center his voice and we are able to see the world through his eyes.
Thinking of those things, you can imagine how excited I was to realize two exhibitions were currently on view in New York where I could go see his work.
Frederick Weston: Blue Bedroom Blues, was a solo exhibition/installation on view at ACE Hotel (January 5 - February 6, 2020) that immersed the viewer into mini recreation of Frederick’s studio/bedroom with his experience living with HIV and signature color, blue, being the central theme.
Souls Grown Diaspora, curated by Sam Gordon, is a group exhibition, of mostly self-taught artists, “that explores a generation of leading contemporary visionary African-American artists from the wider United States, and situates their work into an art-historical lineage shaped by the Great Migration.
Seeing his work through a solo installation presentation, as well as in a group exhibition with works that are active in conversation with each other, eloquently shows the strength of his work. the ability to stand alone but also that his work is able to converse with artist's works in various mediums and practices, that adds insight and pushes the viewer to have a dialogue with themselves about their own perceptions and place of privilege.
It was these thoughts swirling in mind when I started constructing my questions for Frederick, and he answered them while keeping one hand steadily on the past and his gaze unwavering looking towards the future.
Alexandria Deters (Alexandria): The exhibition Blue Bedroom Blues, is on view at the ACE Hotel New York, formally the Breslin, and where you used to reside. What was it like for you having your installation of your bedroom/studio, recreated in your former home?
Frederick Weston (Frederick): I lived at the Breslin when it was in development (read under construction) to become the Ace Hotel. I was among the last notorious holdouts... those who had no intention of moving away and giving up their rooms. It was a contentious time, and rather like living through some sort of an urban hell. Eventually I found a wonderful apartment and took a buyout, so it turned out heavenly.
It was strangely interesting to be invited to show my work at the Ace Hotel. When Ace's management first arrived to show their plans for the future of the Breslin, their promise was to make their mark on the art scene in Manhattan. I guess they are doing that. The irony is that I got to show work that I was making at the time I was living in the building. It took me a while, but I did get invited to come back.
I wasn't so much trying to replicate my old room at the Breslin as I was trying to create a bedroom center-pieced with the gallery's own bench, dressed in my bed lined and representing a made-up bed that visitors were free on which to sit. The only "problem" was if you came to visit while the show was crowded, you might not get to see the bed for the people sitting on it. Otherwise, if you came and there were only you or a few others present, you might feel disinclined to "touch the art."
As for finding myself back under the roof of that grand old building I am so fond of, it was just a blessing. Even stranger things have happened to me.
Alexandria: One of my favorite aspects about your solo exhibition / installation is that you included a replica of your bed, aka your studio. I too, consider my bedroom/bed my studio. Why do you think that you find yourself most inspired and creative in a bedroom, rather than a separate building/room for studio?
Frederick: I often like to say that I do some of my best work in bed. It sounds so suggestive and provocative. That being said, I actually am most inspired in the bathroom! I do my best thinking there. I'm most "inspired to be creative" in the bedroom... in my bed... and I rarely invite company into my bath... (I digress). You may make of that whatever you will. If I do enough thinking in the bathroom, I can be inspired to be creative all over the house!
Alexandria: For your amazing collage works, you use material that you have acquired and collected over many years that you keep binders and file boxes at your studio. Having acquired a large mass of material what is your process in choosing what clip from a magazine, photo, etc. goes into a piece?
Frederick: I like to make use of discarded and recycled material in my work. In that way the work takes on the personal... historical... biographical. It's such hard work keeping all this seemingly useless material... keeping all this information... keeping all these images. So much of my practice is in keeping, filing, referencing, storing, organizing, and finally using it all. Using it all; making the work is the most fun part of the process. I am thrilled that the world is receptive to my larger scaled work. It is exciting trying to get all that information into a composition that in itself is informative because of its color or theme.
Alexandria: You work is heavily influenced by your experience living, surviving, and thriving, with HIV. Blue Bedroom Blues is inspired by this continued lived experience. What was it like for your personal to go back and reflect on this experience?
Frederick: I guess Blue Bedroom Blues is about living and experiencing life. I mean, come on, we're in the sexiest room in the house. I do hope that HIV and AIDS are part of that healthy, sexy, bedroom conversation. I really try not to be so heavy with the message, but it is there to be sure. People are going to see or not see as they will. How much of this is about the art? And how much of this is about the artist?
Alexandria: Having reflected on this experience for your show, if you could speak to your younger self, what advice, or words of hope, would you tell yourself?
Frederick: I speak to my younger self all the time. More often than not, I find it is my younger self that speaks words of wisdom to me. I tell my younger self to keep reminding me what the dream is. I tell my younger self not to let me forget the dream.
Alexandria: While having a wonderful solo exhibition on view, you currently have works on view in the group exhibition Souls Grown Diaspora, at apexart. In the exhibition it includes archival material from each artist. Can you tell me more about your archival material that is on display?
Frederick: I only glanced at the archival material in the vitrines at the show. I only have a vague recollection from that overwhelming evening. It was all a surprise. There is the CD cover from a collection of songs I made -- "Young at Heart" -- for the youngsters in my life. I don't know where they uncovered it. They're less than a dozen copies in existence.
There is an invitation to a party, "Whatever Happened to Freddy Darling"... A party that never quite happened, yet won't stop happening.
I vaguely recall seeing some handwritten poetry... other strange oddities that I don't recall, but I do know that they were all mine because my DNA was all over them!...
Alexandria: The beginning of 2020 has started off with a such a wonderful 'BANG' for you! Including the recent announcement of being the recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts 2020 Roy Lichtenstein Award! What else do you do have planned for 2020?
Frederick: I don't have any plans, but I understand that people have plans for me in 2020 and beyond. I'm going to keep on living and trying to bring more order, peace, beauty, and love to the world. I'm going to enjoy the process.
Alexandria: I always love to ask artists what is the one question you wished someone would ask you. And you are kind enough to provide me your 'one' question: What does the ying yang sign symbolize/mean to you?
Frederick: The one question I wished someone would ask, and now they won't have to is: What does the Yin/Yang sign symbolize to me? What I see... feel... intuit... is duality and opposing forces that are One and comprise the Whole. It represents the Holy Spirit which is constantly moving and made up of darkness and light... It is the Soul and the Spirit engaging, yet disengaging... eternally.
Souls Grown Diaspora, curated by Sam Gordon, on view at apexart through March 7 at apexart (@apexartnyc).
 Visual AIDS - “Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS is the only contemporary arts organization fully committed to raising AIDS awareness and creating dialogue around HIV issues today, by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications - while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS. We are committed to preserving and honoring the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement. We embrace diversity and difference in our staff, leadership, artists and audiences.” - “Statement of Values”, https://visualaids.org/about-us, February 13, 2020.
 Visual AIDS, The Artist+ Registry - “Open to all HIV+ Artists. The Artist+ Registry gives artists living with HIV an online venue to share their work and reach new audiences. Artist members can apply for Material Grants. The Artist+ Registry also honors the work of HIV+ Artists who are no longer with us.” - “Artist+Registry”, https://visualaids.org/artists, February 13, 2020.
 EVERYDAY, curated by Jean Carlomusto, Alexandra Juhasz and Hugh Ryan,La Mama Galleria, New York, NY, November 17, 2016–December 10, 2016. https://visualaids.org/events/detail/everyday
 Program at ACE Hotel, https://www.outsiderartfair.com/program-new-york/program-at-the-ace-hotel, February14, 2020.
 Souls Grown Diaspora, https://apexart.org/gordon.php, February 14, 2020.