The Rapidian

ArtPrize Artist Profile: Gabriel Garcia-Fraire


"Community" /Alison Bailey

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Gabriel Garcia-Fraire

Gabriel Garcia-Fraire /Alison Bailey

Foam Board Cut Outs

Foam Board Cut Outs /Alison Bailey


“Community” finds a fitting home above a sandy shuffleboard at Pub 43 during Grand Rapid’s second annual ArtPrize competition. Twenty-three year old Chicagoan artist Gabriel Garcia-Fraire has been working the day away, installing his entry in the diverse and comfortable neighborhood bar. After hanging the main piece, mentioned above, he motions to the multitude of caricatures. “I was told illustration isn’t fine art but I don’t agree with them. Artists are mirrors of society and emotions.”
Garcia-Fraire's first ArtPrize entry centers around a 58-by-68-inch piece divided up into a grid-like pattern, showcasing curious characters in colorful backgrounds, done in acrylic and black oil based sharpie markers. His large work is complimented by numerous smaller drawings, mounted on foam board, depicting figures in various positions circling the back walls and rear exit door of the establishment. The observations he mentally recorded while creating the painting take place in facets of his everyday life. “Take a guy standing in front of the judge on People’s Court. Take an adorable older woman waiting in line at the supermarket. Each is a character and an individual. There are only so many facial gestures and if you exhaust them, then throw them all together, you can’t help but see interaction with another human being. The overall focus is the relationships with each other… you don’t know.”
Garcia-Fraire shares his mother’s story when asked about his budding artistic aspirations. “She tells me I was drawing circles [the precursor to figures] between two and three years of age.” His first memories of creating art are of starting off as a graffiti “artist” with other middle school students. He shakes his head. “Any kid with artistic talent near or in Chicago writes their name on a mailbox or wall. Though there’s a big difference in writing on a wall with marker (tagging) and having a backpack full of spray paints to meet friends at one in the morning. We had the intent and knowing you can get arrested cutting wire; you had to be quick and good.” Eventually he would go on to study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago where he was taught traditional illustration techniques encompassing color, composition, life drawing, light, perspective, proportion and shading. “You have to know the rules before you break them,” he says only slightly smirking. With one semester left, he quit the academy in order to continue with an abundance of freelance work and several personal commissions.  As the recession wore down financial opportunities, Garcia-Fraire enrolled in and currently attends The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He enjoys the curriculum, experimenting with painting, printmaking, screen-printing and sculpture. The mediums of watercolor and inks can also be found in his undertakings.
Figurative work influences Garcia-Fraire and abounds within the portfolio he has laid on the bar top for me to view. He cites the gonzo artwork of Ralph Stedman, Edward Hopper’s cold mood lighting, along with Norman Rockwell’s ability to capture the idea of a moment, and names Chuck Close as a role model due to his photorealistic paintings. Analyzing the relationships between the figures in Hopper’s “Nighthawks” he stresses, “You don’t know if they’re interacting with each other or they’re alone and isolated from one another. They could be on a date or total strangers.”
Previous showings at the Chicago Art Open, Chicago Urban Art Society, The Galaxie and The Renegade Craft Fair have Garcia-Fraire primed for the largest cash prize competition in the world. He is hoping for wider exposure of his artwork as well as obtaining one of the cash prizes, which would allow him to pay for more of his schooling. He aspires to one day own a studio and be known internationally.
We move from the bar to sit at a table closer to the live music performance with his house hosts, Lucia and Mike Page. He is happy that they have gone out of their way, providing him a place to stay while in Grand Rapids but also in their openness to share more conversation, fries, and a cold pitcher of Stella Artois.
The emerging artist makes one last comment about “Community” before biting into his chicken sandwich. “If someone cannot at least smile internally while thinking about someone they might know in one of the characters, I have failed.” By the time goodbyes are said he has already accomplished his goal many times over, and I leave him to take on the next shuffleboard victim.
Pub 43 (43 S. Division Ave.) is open every day of ArtPrize from noon until two a.m., and you may just match up the facial features or personality of your best friend or crazy aunt to a caricature. Even better, bring them along for the fun and don’t forget to cast your vote (Gabriel Garcia-Fraire: 42371) via text, online, or at one of the five Comcast voting stations downtown.

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