Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
STILL GOING STRONG
Zenos Frudakis, known for ‘Freedom,’ says art is his way of cheating death
GLENSIDE » It’s his way of cheating death.
His fervent attempts are evident in more than 100 sculptures that line the edges of his studio, a 225-year-old two-story carriage house tucked behind his Mount Carmel Avenue home.
The busts of Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, Milton Hershey, George Washington and Amelia Earhart, plus a 7-foot-tall replica of former University of Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser and miniature stat-
“I feel that oblivion is at the end of the road for me. The one thing that defies it to some degree is being able to do art work. It’s my rebellion against what I know is inevitable. I feel good about some of the things I’ve made. They’re going to be around for a long time.”
ues of former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno all sit in a remarkable likeness, gleaming at passersby, each one bearing the detailed impressions crafted by renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis. “I feel that oblivion is at the end of the road for me,” he said as he worked chunks of Giudicci clay into the head of his latest work, the bust of prominent Mason Solomon Wallace, 33˚, the sovereign grand commander of The United Supreme Council’s northern jurisdiction. “The one thing that defies it to some degree is being able to do art work. It’s my rebellion against what I know is inevitable. I feel good about some of the things I’ve made. They’re going to be around for a long time.”
The 63-year-old has left his distinct imprint on hundreds of sculptures located around the world in countries such as England, Japan and South Africa and in American cities such as Augusta, Ga., and Hollywood, Fla. One called “Freedom,” a 20-foot-long, 8-foot-high bronze sculpture, found a home in Center City Philadelphia at 16th and Vine streets in 2000.
The message of the composition is clear and poignant at first glance. The eye follows the form of a man fighting his way to freedom in four lyrical figures.
The first showcases a mummylike form, stoic and in captivity, while the second figure stirs from his grave and makes an attempts to break from bondage. The third figure is almost fully peeled from his oppression, with his arms reaching out — liberty within his grasp. And the final figure is victorious — his joy uncontainable, his arms stretched wide, elated and free.
“‘Freedom’ is about defying death, coming out of the grave,” he said. “It’s about breaking free from something — whatever the [observer] wants to be free from. For me, it’s about the struggle to break free from mor-
tality and from the gravity that’s trying to pull us underground.”
“Freedom” is also layered with personal connections. The textured wall the figure is emerging from is embedded with earlier sculptures Frudakis created, and it includes images of himself and his parents etched into the background. The piece balances introspection and universalism.
“I get emails from all over the world from people who have responded to it, especially from countries where there isn’t as much freedom,” he said. “I get emails from the Middle East, Iran. I think it’s because people, universally, want to be freed of something in their lives — maybe it’s political, maybe it’s personal.”
To observe Frudakis’ sculpt is akin to watching a well-choreographed dance. He enters the performance with ease and slowly begins his movements, manipulating the clay with handmade tools, which are 50 to 100 years old. His eyes are focused, and his hands gently move in rhythm to shape an ear or form the contours of a face.
And to think that Frudakis’ first sculpture was formed from a piece of dough his mother gave him, while she baked bread in the kitchen of their home in Gary, Ind. He made a figure out of it and rolled it onto the kitchen floor getting it dirty, he said. His mother put it in the oven, cooked it up and gave it to him.
“It wasn’t exactly casting in bronze,” he said with a chuckle.
As an adult, Frudakis earned a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and a master’s in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania. He also studied sculpture with his halfbrother sculptor EvAngelos Frudakis and oil painting with Philadelphia artist James Hanes.
On many occasions, Fruduakis finds himself in his studio until the early hours of the morning, listening to books on tape or music as he sculpts — allowing them to inform his work.
A bust of Don McLean, which appears on the cover of the 1992 album “Don McLean Classics,” was crafted while listening to McLean play the guitar live at McLean’s New York home and in his own studio nearly 20 years ago.
“It was great. It was like I had my own private concert,” he mused. “Hearing his voice … I tried to get some of that in the sculpture.”
Sculpture is Frudakis’ joy, and he’s not slowing down, he said.
“There would be no point, if I did,” he said.
He’s currently crafting a 50-foot, stainless steel and bronze piece, a lifesize sculpture of Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., as well as busts of Poe, Dante and Emerson to name a few. Frudakis said he’s always striving to challenge himself as an artist. He wants to learn more, he said.
“If you stop learning, you stop growing — it’s a kind of death,” he said. “As long as I’m growing and creating, I feel like I’m alive and I can’t be buried yet.”