POVarts talks with Atlanta-based artist MaDora Frey
Brooklyn, NY/Atlanta, GA February 9, 2021
Growing up in rural Georgia on land that was once a rock quarry and later living in New York City, MaDora Frey’s work expresses her romantic regard for landscape and her search for the sublime. During the Pandemic, Frey found the outdoors an inspiring art lab, creating ephemeral interventions in the landscape and then photographing them. Her sculptural paintings in the studio are meditations on her experiences in the outside world.
POV: How has your art changed since we met in 2006?
MF: Back then, I was making paintings, mostly figures in landscapes. I endeavored to make beautifully crafted, traditional paintings that said something contemporary but that language eventually felt limited. There was an impulse to create abstract images and I began by laying fields of color down and using reductive techniques, much like in classical underpaintings. I made abstract forms and marks with my hands.
POV: So, seeking beauty and transcendence in your current work is aligned to your early paintings?
MF: Yes, I’ve always searched to express the sublime of various environments, whether the space is urban or rural. I was chasing this quality of light in my paintings, something romantic, feminine, euphoric, spiritual—which is what’s happening with my work now. The women in my paintings were engaged in physical activities and assertively owning their environment. As I’ve been creating these works outside, I realized that I am the woman in the painting.
POV: How do your recent outdoor artworks relate to the feminine perspective?
MF: Traditionally, the landscape is thought of as a female entity, because of fertility, generative qualities, and so on. But I think we’ve forgotten about that association. People say, “Mother Earth,” but it feels like a trite expression. The last works I made are photographs created in Sedona, Arizona. While out hiking, I made site-specific ephemeral installations which are one part sculpture, one part performative, and one part making a photograph.
POV: Tell us about your recent, site-specific installation called Venus’ Looking Glass at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center for the show “She is Here.”
MF: There’s an interesting window that’s normally shuttered. It’s partially buried underground and reveals a cross-section of earth. It’s a physical reminder of what we forget while being consumed by our daily lives on the surface. With mirrors, colored window film, 6 tons of granite, and lots of labor, we transformed the space into a cosmological work. Like a church window, brilliantly colored light filtered into the room, changing throughout the day. Indicating the power of the sun and the elements that are greater than us.
POV: What were your experiences with your recent solo show at the Georgia State University’s Welch Gallery and your project with Dashboard US?
MF: “Stargaze,” curated by Cynthia Farnell at Welch Gallery, was a great experience. The exhibition became an extension of the moment captured in my photograph “Sky Mirror Box: Outside”. Featured in the gallery was a large installation of granite rocks, while the front room displayed wall-mounted works. Chris, my partner, helped me record videos and sound from the quarry where I grew up. Projecting and playing those recordings gave the viewer’s experience a dream-like quality—such as walking through a painting—and a very particular sense of place.
Working with Dashboard US was wonderful. They are an experienced, full-time art collective that creates all kinds of public art experiences. I recently exhibited a large-scale public work called Arctic Fire, for their Winter Project in downtown Atlanta. We built a pyramidal monument that had a fire burning on the top. It is meant as a beacon, or an eternal flame, and a reference to alchemy. You can walk beneath it and look up into the belly of the “fire”.
POV: You have a unique way of adapting existing, non-traditional art tools and materials to use in your work. Do you miss making it in a traditional sense?
MF: Sometimes, I do miss the simplicity of oil paint or clay, but sourcing and researching new methods and materials is an art form and often underestimated. Tenacity and patience are required to extract information from people, but it is rewarding. An example is my large-scale public work for the Katonah Museum. Because it was going outside, I needed help stepping it up in terms of materials and quality – to withstand the elements. It took me at least a month of calling, walking around neighborhoods, talking to sign shops, struggling with language barriers, to find the right lighting person to sell me what I needed. I finally found Chang, who kindly taught me how to wire my work and how to install the lights. We still text during the holidays.
POV: How do you feel the transition from primarily living in New York for so many years, and now being mainly back in Atlanta impacts your art practice?
MF: Right now, I feel it gives me a sense of well-being to be here. Before the pandemic I was going back and forth a lot to New York City. The decision to move to Atlanta took a long time to make because I have so many friends in New York and the art community is so important to me. My whole life was focused on thinking about art and the art world. It’s nice to take a step back and be in a place that’s a little more connected to nature and the outside world. The physical energy required to navigate life in NYC, is redirected in Atlanta and I can use it for work in the studio. Meeting new fabricators in Atlanta has been helpful and the turnaround time is quicker. I can go to the Neon Company and have something fabricated for me usually within a week or two if they aren’t in production for a movie. Aside from this past year, I still go to New York every other month, and I look forward to spending longer stretches of time back there post-pandemic.
POV: I know you just finished major projects, but what are your future studio plans? And how can people stay up to date?
Interview conducted February 9th by Katerina Lanfranco Editor at POVarts.com
Photographs courtesy of MaDora Frey
Top image: Sedona Yellow Sunset (site specific installation and resulting photograph) by MaDora Frey