Newton native and artist Rick Frye never forgot his hometown.
For that reason, he considers it an honor to share his artwork from the past several years with the community. Frye’s exhibit, which he calls a project, opens at Newton-Conover Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The show is the first public announcement that 30 limited-edition prints of Frye’s original art are available.
“This project is really the beginning of something else, a catalyst, a spark,” Frye said. “I don’t know what that is yet, but when the show comes down, it will be headed somewhere else, and I’m open to what shows up.”
The show is dedicated to Frye’s mother Louise Frye who lived on South Brady Avenue in Newton. She was a major influence with Frye to pursue a creative profession.
“She was an artist,” Frye said. “She was always painting, making displays or helping people in Newton with their interior design projects.”
Frye found drawing and painting easy, even as a child, and thought everybody could draw or paint. Frye’s school teachers noticed his talent when he was 8 or 9.
“I saw that people noticed and realized my artwork was special,” he said. “I never thought that, but at some point in my career, art became very important to me.”
Frye’s memories of growing up in Newton are of cookouts and picnics and a life centered around his family, grandmothers and grandfathers and cousins who always did things together.
Growing up, Frye wanted to be a pilot and join the Air Force. After school, the 10-year-old jumped on his bicycle and rode to an airport located off N.C. 16, east of Newton. The runway was in a pasture, and a barn served as a hangar. The owners took Frye up with them and taught him how to fly.
“We had to buzz the runway to get cows off so we could land,” he laughed.
Design and painting were always on the back of his mind, and he thought about studying architecture.Then, someone told Frye about graphic design and art.
“I looked into it, visited Virginia Commonwealth University and knew I was in the right place,” he said. “I attended VCU and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art.”
While he lived in Newton, Frye’s mother also influenced him to do some work for Grace Church, the family church. He was commissioned to paint a six-foot tall Christmas angel on plywood, which is still used today.
He was also commissioned to do paintings of Rob Yount’s cars, the portrait of J.W. Abernethy Jr, (his uncle), the Robinson sister portraits and Thelma Sigmon’s store front “The Bridal Staircase.” Commissioned work also includes three paintings that tell the history of Grace Church.
Frye’s first job out of college was with the Blockade Runner Museum at Carolina Beach, where as art director he created many paintings that depicted the history of Fort Fisher and the blockade runner ships used during the Civil War. Most of that work was purchased by the state and has been on display at the Fort Fisher Museum at Kure Beach or The Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington.
“The museum was sold to the state, and the paintings were moved around — I never knew where,” he said. “I came to Charlotte, got a job at a printing company, then wound up at WBTV as a graphic designer.”
Frye worked as art director for WBTV for 25 years and received numerous Addy Awards and honors from the Broadcast Design Association. He continued to paint, but it was a private matter.
“Painting has always been a personal thing, for myself,” he said. “I never really thought people would be that interested.”
Friends noticed his work when they visited his home, and they asked him to paint for them and to do design work for them.
“Six years ago, I started my own graphic design business in my home, Studio 2210, in Charlotte,” he said. “Most of my commercial work is done with the computer, but the work you’ll see at the exhibit in Newton was originally created by hand.”
Some of it is the creation of visions Frye had in dreams or when out for a morning run, but most are created after meditation. He becomes completely relaxed and just starts drawing and has no idea where the work is going.
He found that pastels work best in this situation because they are so immediate. There are no rules. The work is not intended to represent or look like anything. It’s just a total freedom of expression.
Studio 2210 began to fill with paintings. One person left and was inspired to write a poem about Frye’s paintings.
He began to include some on his website.
“I thought maybe this is more important than I think,” he said. “That’s when I got the idea to do limited editions and make them affordable.”
When he was home for a visit, he showed family his work and they became excited and encouraging. That was a catalyst for Frye to put the show together.
“I think it was just the beginning of something much bigger,” he said. “But, it was so good for me to reconnect with family and friends in Newton.
“The best news about the show is that Grace Wepner will play for the reception,” he added. “That’s worth the whole project — she is an artist. So, you’ll not only see creative work, but hear it, too.My paintings will be making music through Grace Wepner’s music.”
Music relates to Frye’s artwork in something that most people don’t realize about him — his favorite thing to do is ballroom dancing.
“For 10 years, at least once a week, sometimes more, I go ballroom dancing,” he said.
Frye’s favorite dances are the Latin dances, especially the Argentinean tango, which is not pre-learned, but danced in the moment.
“I have a philosophy about leading,” he said. “If my partner doesn’t do what I lead, I do what she leads.”
And, this, he said, relates to the project — the spark, the catalyst for what lies in the future. It’s what the she (the exhibit) leads, not what he plans. He is open to what shows up and is delighted that people in Newton are interested in his work. The interest broadens his horizons.
“I hope the show does that for people,” he said. “I hope it broadens their horizon.”
Frye shared another flying experience. In recent years, he spent time flying gliders. The glider has no engine, is towed up by another plane and let loose to find the rising air currents and ride. Rising air is found underneath cumulus clouds, but one day there were no clouds.
Frye lost altitude and needed to land, but there wasn’t a rising air current until he looked and saw an eagle flying beside him. Frye found the same air current and for a while flew alongside the eagle.
“I have soared with eagles,” he said.
Want to go to the reception?
Newton-Conover Auditorium will host an exhibition of Newton artist Rick Frye’s work on Tuesday, Nov. 23. From 6-8 p.m., event-goers can view Frye’s original artwork, which will also be for sale with proceeds benefitting the auditorium. The reception will feature musical
entertainment by harpist Grace Wepner.