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Man … The Times … Man: Looking at the Absurd with Don’t Fret

Don't Fret. 'Man...The Times...Man'. MaxwellColette Gallery. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

Ever thought something but didn’t say it out loud? Ever been in a situation where another person said something that left you wondering why they said it at all? We tend to overlook many of the absurdities in our everyday lives that we feel precarious about. In this exhibition, Man… The Times … Man, artist Don’t Fret pokes a little fun at these absurdities and adds a little humor so we can laugh at ourselves and each other. At the end of the day his work brings us all down to the same level. It teaches us how to realize and look at our imperfections and those social misconceptions that we all internalize and project back onto society.

To date, this is one of the largest solo shows Don’t Fret has done. Over 150 pieces of work are on display at maxwellcolette Gallery. If you are interested in purchasing artwork from this show there are still a few pieces available. CLICK HERE to see the selections available for purchase.

Man…The Times…Man will be up for the rest of this week and there will be a closing reception on Saturday, November 26th from 6:00 – 10:00pm. maxwellcolette has regular gallery hours Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 12:00 – 6:00pm or by appointment.

Nicolette Caldwell: How has your work developed since you started wheat pasting and how it has evolved since you began?

Don’t Fret: I think I’m lucky in the sense that I am still young, so like a couple months ago I painted a mango for the first time ever. And I’ll do a pretty shitty job and then a couple weeks later I’ll paint a mango again and do it a little better, and then I can say, “you can now paint a mango with a moderate amount of skill,” and then it’s on to the next thing. I’m still at a point where a lot of things I am painting for the first time and that’s exciting to me. I’ve spent a lot of time really trying to develop my characters and their world.

So I may not be able to create something perfectly but I can make it my own. I guess that’s called a style right? I mean I’ve grown up making these things so when I look at work I did three years ago or even last year and compare it to work from last week, I can see progression, and I can see hints of what I really want out of the work. I can only hope that in 10 years the same will be true. It’s all about progressing.

NC: When did you start making wheat pastes? What were you doing before? And why did you start?

Don't Fret. 'Man...The Times...Man'. MaxwellColette Gallery. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

Don't Fret. 'Man...The Times...Man'. MaxwellColette Gallery. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

DF: I started doing graffiti in elementary school but I was terrible at it. I think I was looking for something more than writing a name or maybe I was looking for something more than a name because I was terrible at writing that name. In high school I started seeing Sonny’s rain clouds all over my neighborhood and those were really inspirational. I was fifteen and my favorite artist was probably Picasso or something. I didn’t know anything about street art of graffiti and it suddenly occurred to me that an image could be an identity on the street just as much as a name could be so I stopped writing Don’t Fret and started drawing the faces with markers. As I started developing more skill I wanted to create bigger and more intricate characters and that led to painting and then to wheat pasting. That was probably around 2008-ish.

NC: Have you always been creating art in Chicago? Or have you lived in other places? Traveled? Would you consider Chicago your home?

DF: I was born and raised in Chicago. Through life I have a lot of random connections to Sao Paulo and so I have been lucky enough to spend some time there. My time this year in Sao Paulo was actually the longest I’ve ever been away from Chicago. Chicago is definitely home, but I’ve left some parts of me in Sao Paulo as well. I also went to Europe this summer and had the chance to put up some work there.

NC: How has Chicago treated your work? Do you feel compelled to leave like a lot of other artists or are you here for the long haul?

DF: Chicago’s relationship with people that do what I do is a funny one. When you think about the times that we live in—with murder, violence, drugs, corruption, pollution, and greed, the idea of spending millions of dollars to chase around kids and slather brown paint on everything seems pretty silly. But then again I can see how it makes a lot of sense. Why fight Mike Tyson when you can fight Woody Allen instead? (How awesome would it be if Woody Allen was the next celebrity to get in on street art – he could wheat paste screenplays all over NYC?)

Graffiti is the one non-violent “crime” that seems to really get people riled up. So on the one hand it’s frustrating to try to have an adult conversation when your city tells you applying paper or paint to a wall is criminal, but when someone famous like Shepard Fairey comes to town, we will pay him to do the same thing and he will probably just pay someone to do it for him. I guess success is a funny thing. On the other hand the upside of the buff is that there is always a blank canvas somewhere and in most cases it’s usually close enough to walk. I love Chicago, so I don’t have any plans on going anywhere else.

Don't Fret. 'Man...The Times...Man'. MaxwellColette Gallery. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

Don't Fret. 'Man...The Times...Man'. MaxwellColette Gallery. Chicago, IL. 2011. (Photograph by Nicolette Caldwell)

NC: You have a solo show up at the new Maxwell Colette space. How did that come about? Is this your first solo show? What has this particular experience been like? How is working inside a space different from outside our do they both just come as second nature to you?

DF: I showed two pieces last year at a pop up show that Maxwell Colette did downtown and it was overall a good experience. I mean seeing your work on a wall 12 feet away from work you really admire like Banksy’s and Barry McGee’s is great right? It was shortly after that that I kind of starting feeling like it was time to do a solo show. I have to be honest, I prefer looking at art in an alley or an underpass but I get that most people prefer white walls and free wine. And I suppose it would be pretty silly to keep Van Gogh’s and Mondrians next to the recycling.

I don’t know if second nature is the right term, but it is something. When I work outside I try to let the space dictate the work in the sense that a character seems like they would fit in the space or seems completely absurd in the space—and in a way they are all absurd in the space I guess. I try to take the same approach inside; I just don’t have to have my studio mate looking out for the cops as often. But I mostly love making environments, building the characters’ world. So I guess with this show it was partly letting the gallery say, “put nice framed paintings here” and then, “put an outdoor market and alley here” and then, “have a beer you look tired.”

NC: I have to ask only because I’ve heard this so many times and I think it is appropriate timing for some clarification. Your work in the past has been confused with artist Goons. Could you explain some significant differences between your work and his?

DF: I guess because we were both doing characters in Chicago people begged the comparison. We probably have some common inspiration. I know he is big on Bevis and Butthead and I am a huge Mike Judge fan but our work is completely different.

NC: Where do you see yourself one year from now?

DF: I suppose I can only hope I’m in a better place than I am now.

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