A firm believer in the law of attraction, Glenn Fry creates pop-art styled portraits that capture the essence of their subjects. He shared stories about his early successes, his painting technique, and some of his favorite pieces.
Glenn Fry in his lower level studio at 52 O Street Studios
Glenn Fry’s journey to becoming a successful full-time artist begins with a story about the law of attraction. Preparing for a gallery show during the recession in the early 2000’s, Fry knew that fine art was considered a luxury item, not prioritized when people were struggling to pay their mortgages and afford food. To reconcile this with his belief in art as a valuable and essential part of life, he focused his series on something that might at the time have seemed ironic: money. The series featured large, bold screen printed paintings of American bills. He titled the series Visualize Having, to remind viewers that our thoughts and perspectives have the power to bring change. He summarizes this concept with a series of epithets: “what we think about, we bring about,” “like attracts like,” “birds of a feather flock together,” “misery loves company,” all driving home the notion that focusing on the negative often only attracts more negativity.
After a successful opening night, Fry received a call from the gallery that the curator for the Federal Reserve wanted to talk to him. Initially panicking that he was in some sort of legal trouble for reproducing the image of money, Fry learned that the curator wanted to commission him to re-create the series in a larger format for the permanent collection of the Federal Reserve. For Fry, this is a case study in the law of attraction: his series about visualizing wealth resulted in an incredible (paid) opportunity to become the only artist ever commissioned by the Fed.
Fry’s pop-art style is well-suited to the DC-specific types of commissions that he receives. After his breakthrough project with the Fed, over the years he has been approached by other institutions for similar projects. For IBM’s Herndon office, he worked with designer Craig Henson and created the first 44 presidents all in his signature pop-art style. Later, Paul Weiss law firm commissioned Fry to do every Supreme Court Justice starting with Sandra Day O’Connor, and they reach out to him every time a new one is appointed to the bench to grow their collection.
Visualize Having, silkscreen on glass and paper
Fry sees his work as a sort of historical record chronicling his lifetime. His work is intrinsically rooted in the contemporary cultural landscape, drawing references from the past and synthesizing them into his own perspective. Fry likes doing portraits of well-known figures because they immediately prompt recognition, but the majority of his business is commissioned portraits. “Even though someone’s grandma isn’t a pop icon, by doing her in a pop style she becomes a part of the movement.” Fry also understands this as a sort of educational mission: “Growing up in a small town, my family didn’t know anything about art,” he shares. By making paintings of people’s loved ones, he is also spreading knowledge about pop art and what it can be.
In this way, pop art is a valuable tool for Fry because it is accessible to more people. It elevates the everyday to the realm of art, but uses processes that ensure its pervasiveness. Fry cites Andy Warhol as an influence, because of his status as the founder of the pop art genre, but also for his commitment to using the silkscreen process to create multiples so that art was not exclusively the realm of the ultra-wealthy.
However inspired he is by Warhol’s work in theory, Fry draws a line between the two of them when it comes to process. While Warhol was known for his highly prolific factory of assistants, Fry insists on doing all of the legwork himself. “If I’m going to sign it, I want my blood, sweat and tears to be in it. I’m present from the design, to the making of the screens, to the mixing of the paint, pulling the screens, cleaning up the screens - all of the un-pretty parts of it, from start to finish.”
At times, the appearance of his screen-printed works concealed all of that labor. Fry has moved away from making his works on paper for that reason - people in the past thought he printed them using a large format printer. Now he works on wood panels, so people can observe the visible brushstrokes of hand-painted sections and small details left behind from the screen printing process. Wooden panels can also be hung more easily and therefore remove any cost barrier to framing that comes with a work on paper.
David Sedaris, silkscreen on wood panel, 24 x 24"
As the majority of Fry’s work is commissioned, he doesn’t have a huge backlog of work in his studio. Several of the paintings hanging on his walls are part of his personal collection. Above his desk proudly hangs a portrait of Diana Ross with her autograph laid neatly over her hair. Fry also has a portrait of his favorite author, David Sedaris, with the author’s signature scrawled across the center. Fry’s own signature is also present in both paintings, as it is in most of his work, although it is more subtly disguised around the edges of the artwork. The two competing signatures interact in an interesting way, putting subject and artist on the same plane of importance, allowing the viewer to reflect on the value of identity - a notion that pop art is uniquely situated to frame.
Fry enjoys inserting symbols that are significant to the person he is depicting. He explains some of the symbols in his painting of Sedaris: a brown bag on his head as a humorous nod to Sedaris’s hobby of cleaning up trash by the side of the road; the titles of his books patterning his suit jacket; a giant bulls-eye in the background because of his incisive humor. By elevating someone to the status of pop-art icon and surrounding them by symbols, Fry is asserting that this person is important and ought to be remembered. For well-known people like Ross or Sedaris, Fry is adding his own perspective to the catalog of images that already exists. But for most of his work, he is doing a service for people who have often never had a portrait of them created with such care and attention to their personalities.
Fry loves his life as an artist. Like most, it took him a long way to get to where he is: he quit his job in advertising in 2000, and moved to DC to build his portfolio while bartending to pay the bills. Now, he has been supporting himself from his practice for over 12 years. While he is grateful and optimistic, he also believes in acknowledging when things are hard. He describes his painting of Alanis Morissette, another favorite of his, as a way to summarize his perspective.
“I love when people really take the time to be aware, to be in the moment,” he says. This painting of Morissette is quiet, soft, and contemplative, which captures a part of her music that Fry identifies with. Unlike other portraits with different symbols, the lack of dense imagery in this portrait leaves room for the blue hues to wash over the viewer as Morissette’s eyes take center stage, with her gaze extending beyond the painting. “Everything doesn’t have to be pretty all the time. That’s real life - we all go through different emotions.” Still, once the moment has passed, it is important to move on and set our sights on the next thing: what we think about, we bring about.
Alanis Morissette, acrylic paint & silkscreen on wood panel, 24.5 x 34"
To see more of Glenn Fry's work, head over to his Instagram @glennfryart