As the Frieze Art Fair and its satellite fairs briefly turn London into the center of the global art world, the British artist Paul Fryer (b. 1963) is unveiling a major new two-part exhibition, "Let There Be More Light," sited both at the Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, Oct. 14-21, 2008, and Simon Dickinson Gallery, London, Oct. 15-31, 2008. The new exhibition boasts several major sculptures that treat the forces of modern science with a religious fervor, including a hyperrealist sculpture of Lucifer bound by high-power lines, a 47-foot-long facsimile of a V2 missile lovingly crafted in wood, and what seems to be a "star, captured and imprisoned in a bell jar."
Fryer’s wildcard sensibility can be traced to his childhood, which was marked by ostentatious wedding singing and notoriously dark poetry. In the 1980s he attended Jacob Kramer College in Leeds. He didn’t take a degree, but rather became an electropop singer and DJ, helping to launch several local art-based nightclubs. He came to London in 1996, working as a graphic designer and technical consultant for artists and galleries. In 2001 he collaborated with Damien Hirst, who he had met at art school, on Don’t Be So. . . (2001), a book with poetry by Fryer and images by Hirst.†
During 2003-05, Fryer performed a critically acclaimed multimedia show titled Electronic Elvis and also worked as musical director for the Fendi Fashion House. He began to exhibit his sculptures and other works, hybrids of science and high craft, in group shows, and had his first solo exhibition, "Carpe Noctum," at London’s Trolley Gallery in 2005.
Damien Hirst was a patron of the exhibition, acquiring the aptly named high-voltage signature piece, Deus Ex Machina, an intricate weapon from the world of physics -- it emits streams of lightning -- developed with the help of Colin Dancer, an engineer and physicist who is Fryer’s frequent collaborator. Hirst also owns Fryer’s haunting Pieta (The Empire Never Ended) (2006), which is displayed at Hirst’s office on Wellbeck Street alongside a suitably atmospheric Francis Bacon work.
Fryer is intrigued by mechanics, science and the nether world. He conjures images of their diabolical fusing and builds large-scale machines that seem hell-bent on bringing us closer to God. One of his more romantic creations -- not to say stomach-churning -- is Martyr (2007), an angelic nude figure, which is billed as a "memorial to the first victim of the electromechanical revolution, a lineman who was accidentally killed by falling onto wires on Broadway in 1889" (this accidental electrocution supposedly inspired the development of the electric chair in the U.S.) As an earth-born son who suffers for our technological hubris, Fryer’s Martyr at least suffers swiftly.
It is the uncompromising scale of Fryer’s works that takes the atmosphere from haunting to daunting. The venue for his "Potential and Ground" exhibition in 2007 was a disused London fire station, which provided ample room for Rehabilitation (2007), Fryer’s life-size wood sculpture of the Fatman bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Rehabilitation is hollow inside, and contains a bed, book and Geiger counter, a nod to the accessories of the nuclear age.
Nothing resides inside Time We Left This World Today (2008), a full-scale mockup of a V2 rocket. The V2 fills the nave of Holy Trinity and doubles as an instrument of scientific discovery and a Nazi weapon of war against innocent civilians. Alongside the rocket like two seismic steering devices sit a pair of vast (five meter high) tuning forks. Constructed with the aid of Colin Dancer, these aluminum icons resonate at 72 Hertz.† Perhaps they bought Lucifer down?
Scale aside, the most "Blofeldesque" of Fryer’s creations is Evening Star, a small sun within a bell jar that is ostensibly a fusion reactor, displayed at Dickinson Gallery. Fryer has previously exhibited fusion reactors at Julius Werner Berlin and Kristy Stubbs Gallery in Dallas, but Evening Star is fused within a larger jar which leads to a brighter reaction with more color variation.
In his new works, Fryer has the backing of All Visual Arts (AVA), a new London company founded by Joe La Placa, who had managed Artnet’s London office for the last five years, and Mike Platt, CEO of the hedge fund management company Blue Crest. In addition to Fryer, AVA is working with Alistair Mackie, Reece Jones and Wolfe Lenkiewicz. Rather than maintaining its own gallery space, AVA plans to mount exhibitions in unique venues of impressive scale.
SIMON TODD is a consultant for Artnet in London.