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Artist Interview: Don't Fret

By Julia Weeman in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2014 7:30PM

One of the best things about this Chicago is all of the art you can find right at street level.

So any eagle-eyed street art aficionado knows that Chicago native Don't Fret has been blowing up the streets of Chicago with a style that sets him apart from the other conceptual artists who use wheatpaste on city walls. Chicagoist talked with Fret about his work, which has a humorous voice that Brooklyn Street Art says "cracks up the streets."

Don't Fret explained how art has always been a part of his life: "I grew up thinking art and drew a lot as a child."

Fret was attracted to graffiti around the 7th grade, though, he said he wasn't exactly a natural: "I was awful at it."

But city bureaucracy shaped his art in a different way. Since Fret grew up in Chicago, the city ban on spray paint also had an impact on his work. He saw an artist called Sunny drawing "really simple rain clouds," which that stuck out to him. Sunny's art spurred him to start making wheatpastes of "characters and little poems." Fret then said he visited Sao Paulo, which he described as "the mecca of street art." The visit inspired his wheatpasting process, which ultimately led to more elaborate characters and scenes.

Other than wheatpasting, Fret is also known for his many works that are just made up of words, such as coy "dating ads" that hit with lines like "Wanted: A conversation with a woman that doesn't revolve around how much that 2-week volunteer trip to Costa Rica has 'shaped' her view on humanity."

DF is very humble about his abilities as a visual artist, saying that he feels like he isn't that great at drawing or painting, and has had to really work on his art. "At one point I was debating whether I should call myself an artist or if I'm just a writer who uses pictures sometimes," Fret said.

With the uncertainty of how long a piece will remain up or get damaged, exhibiting work on the streets can be a challenge. Fret imagines his characters as multidimensional, really delving into their unique personalities to make them come alive in his work.

"There are times where I know this is absolutely where it has to go— this is where this guy has to live," Fret said. "If I see him in the morning, that's great, but if I don't...they have to live their lives, whether it's a day or two years. It's kind of like you never know how long you're going to get."

Fortunately, Fret does have frequent opportunities to give his characters safe refuge in gallery spaces.

"There are certain aspects of what I do that works inside that don't work outside, like this new one Tea & Whiskey - it's a painting of someone who is super productive by day, but super alcoholic by night," Fret said.

Fret further explains Tea & Whiskey:

"There are little devils feeding him whiskey. Part of it's stylistic: I can spend more time with them because I'm showing them in a gallery and I don't have to worry about they being destroyed," Fret said. "I always make a lot of work for shows. I like quantity and over-preparing. I feel like that mimics some aspects of city culture—making as much work as you can."

Fret said his work often "blurs the lines between installation and experience" and that he likes to "take energies about Chicago and the street and living in the city" into his work.

By doing, he creates work that is solely his own.

Check out a video of Fret discussing his work: