Back to Oil

A few weeks ago, Fred used his prize money from the Piedmont Park Arts Festival to purchase a slew of oil paints. He'd painted exclusively in oils up through 2001 -- but that year, things changed.

It started when the company where he worked became a victim to the dot-com bust. During its last days, as employees with little to do were sitting out the time waiting for their final paychecks, Fred decided to stretch out a large canvas in his office and paint a "Last Judgment." Concerned that the smell of oils would be too much for a group of the soon-to-be-unemployed, Fred turned to acrylic paint.

That was the beginning of a long relationship. Acrylics allowed Fred to work more quickly and in a wider range of spaces, like the Decatur studio he shared with several other artists. It helped him to develop techniques that would let him approximate the feel of oil. It allowed him to build layers and layers of paint, which has become characteristic of his work.

But lately, with a much larger and well-ventilated studio, Fred has become intrigued by oils again. The prize money was just the excuse he needed to buy a bigger easel, larger canvases, and many, many tubes of paint -- all of which proceeded to sit in his studio, untouched, for about two weeks.

Last Saturday, though, he extracted himself from under the cat, put on an old shirt, and declared, "I'm going to the studio." I said nothing - I do not disturb genius unless I need it to empty the dishwasher - then tiptoed downstaires to snap a few photos. I wanted to make sure we had a record of his first stroke of oil on canvas in about 10 years.

About four hours later, he came back upstairs. "I'm done," he said.

I nearly fell off my chair. Fred rarely finished a painting in less than a week. He usually had to leave it for a day or two, let ideas percolate, go back in, then repeat the process six or seven more times.

"Really?" I squeaked. Skeptical, I went downstairs. I gasped. It was beautiful, still wet. The brushstrokes were like silk. The colors sang. I had to restrain myself from touching it.

"I love it!"

Fred smiled. "I just had to knock that first one out," he said. "It' great, isn't it?"

We are looking forward to many more.

Jami Moss Wise

Swan Coach House Opening

ABSTRACTION X 2 : Paintings by Heather Greenway and Stacie Rose

OPENING: Thursday, August 13, 6-9pm

August 13 – Sept 18, 2015

Curated by Marianne Lambert

Fred's work will be on view as part of a selection of abstract work by Eric Hancock, Kathrin Mattox, and Katie Troisi. This work will be displayed in space adjacent to the main gallery and is chosen by Karen Tauches.

The main gallery will feature paintings by Heather Greenway and Stacie Rose, two Atlanta artists who approach abstract painting in significantly different ways. Abstraction continues to evolve from its origins in the early 20th century. Today, as in the past, abstraction’s starting point can be emotional and/or analytical, and this exhibition reflects these contrasts.


Even as we get ready for festivals, Fred and I are also gearing up for our annual vacation to Kiawah Island, SC. These beach trips are artistically productive for Fred - and so require arduous preparation, much like a climber about to summit Everest or a biker training for the Tour de France. He starts weeks in advance by combing through dozens of volumes to whittle his book selection to about 30. The books aren’t for reading, exactly. They’re for dipping in and out of the ocean of his imaginary landscape, kind of like the rest of us wade in the water or bask in the sun. (They are also drawn on.)

The books are packed in cardboard boxes from a long-age farmers’ market—boxes that take up approximately 1/24 of our 1,490 square foot house year round, boxes that have been saved for roughly eight years because they have very nice images of tomatoes on them and because they were inexplicably transformed on their first outing into The Boxes Fred Uses For The Beach—boxes that have been spared from repeated secret attempts, under cover of winter, to slip them unnoticed into the recycling bin. I’m pretty sure those effing boxes will cart my belongings to the nursing home.

Since Fred’s packing system is at best eclectic, the boxes are also used for other items. One year, these included, in addition to the books, scissors, shaving gel, chalk, allergy medication, and a comb. The foil container for the allergy medication ended up being used for glasses repair, an incident I prefer not to dwell on but which Fred sees as one of the great engineering marvels of the 21st century. And in addition to books, Fred also has to choose sketchbooks, select past artwork with ideas he may want to re-work, hand-tear watercolor paper in a variety of sizes and shapes, and pick out beer.

But once we get there, it’s as if our souls expand like the sea. Our toes dig in to the warm sand, and we forget about everything except the sun, and the sky, and the way the light hits the water late in the afternoon. I forget about the boxes. I forget to worry. I look at Fred, and remember how much I love him, and am grateful for what we create together every day.

Favorite Things

Preparing for art festivals at the Wise household is not all fun and games. Besides the trials of putting together a large, unwieldy tent that makes assembling Ikea furniture seem like a child’s Lego project, there are also [genteel pause] discussions surrounding certain weaknesses of character that inevitably emerge: Fred’s complete inability to fold anything and especially swaths of tent, his failure to stop me from losing my keys, and, most crucially, his unwillingness to let me control every aspect of the event.

A few days before the recent Sandy Springs festival, for instance, I strongly suggested—he might say “ordered,” but he exaggerates—that he create some nice watercolors of musicians, which tend to sell well. Maybe some café and bar scenes too. Maybe some images of people reading. (I thought about cats, but decided that would be going too far.)

“Sure,” he said. “You know those are some of my favorite subjects.”

I spent the entire day shuttling between art supply stores, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. When I drooped in the door, Fred was taking a nap. Watercolors were strewn over the table. I took a peek.

He’d drawn skeletons and nude figures. Two of his favorite subjects.

He awoke with a snort. “Hi honey!” he called out. “How was your day?”

I glared, pointing at the table. “What are these?” I fumed. “I thought you were going to draw musicians! How long have you been asleep? What have you been doing all day?”

He was defensive. “I was tired! I was falling asleep at the table. And these were me warming up. They’re what I was feeling this afternoon.”

I continued to fume, quietly.

“I’m fast, but I can’t always turn it off and on like a spigot,” he added, meekly.

I took a breath. “I understand,” I lied. “But it’s just that I don’t think anyone is going to buy the skeletons.”

“All right then! I’ll draw some cellists! And I LIKE the skeletons!”

Eventually relations were restored, new watercolors – including a few skulls and nudes – were priced and packaged, and Saturday found us in our booth at the Sandy Springs Artsapaloosa.

Early in the afternoon, a red-haired woman, accompanied by three children and a dark-haired friend, stopped in front of our booth and stared. “I love this!” she said.

She paused. She turned her head to one side as she stared at the booth, then turned to Fred. “Did you used to show at a gallery in Porterdale?”

Fred looked puzzled, then his face cleared. “Yes!” he said. “Why?”

“I bought a couple of paintings there. A woman sitting down, pointing at her chest?”

“The Lucretia?” Fred and I nearly squealed, speaking almost simultaneously. The Lucretia was a large painting he’d sold several years ago, one of our favorites. But the gallery owner had never told us who had bought it, and we had always wondered who it could have been.

“I thought I recognized your stuff!” She turned to her friend. “This is the artist who painted those pieces in my office! I bought several of his things from that gallery. I’ve never known how to find him, and now he’s here!”

For several minutes we all compared notes, expressing our mutual astonishment at finally discovering each other. Then she began looking through the watercolors.

She pulled out one of the skulls. “Look!” she said to her friend, then turned back to us. “Skeletons and nudes – two of my favorite things! I’m going to get this one. Do you have any more?”

I sighed. I could not look at Fred. I forced a weak smile.

“Oh, we have plenty.”

Connect the Dots

If you live with an artist, discussions of paintings must be approached with care. “What is it?” is never a good start, unless you enjoy ten minute rants littered with phrases such as “fallibility of representation,” “focus on process and materiality,” and “dialogic exploration of the image.”

So when Fred finished a new painting on Monday (at right), I started with a phrase no doubt familiar to parents of artistically-minded toddlers.

“Tell me about it.”

“I’m getting back to the figure again,” he said. “I’m always going back to that. Just like in the paintings from a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about [Hans] Hoffman . . .”

I began to drift.

“ . . . balance of colors . . .”

(The flank steak from supper last night would be good on a salad.)

“ . . . still grappling with the influence of Abstract Expressionism . . .”

(Whatever possessed me to give up wine for Lent?)

He stopped.

Crap. What had he been saying? “Why the dots?” I blurted.

“The dots?”

“The dots around the figure. What were you thinking?”

“Oh!” He was gleeful. I steeled myself for another onslaught of theory.

“I used dots a lot when I was in high school. I haven’t used them much since. At the time, I was thinking about the phrase, ‘connect the dots.’ I’ve always hated that phrase, because when you’re in the middle of something difficult, you never can SEE the dots to connect them. It’s only when it’s all over that people say you should have connected the dots.”

I was now interested, and secretly pleased. Last week I forced him into cleaning out his studio, a process that may well occupy the remainder of his life on earth. He’d been looking at old sketchbooks, with those dots from the 1980s, as a result. “I’m contributing to the artistic process,” I purred to myself.

He was on a roll. “Telling someone to connect the dots is like this old line about clarity: ‘The only way to achieve clarity is through an autopsy, but by then, you’re dead.’ You never can connect the dots while you’re living, because at no time while we’re in them do we actually see the dots.”

“Why don’t you call it ‘Connect the Dots’ then?”

He thought for a moment. “No . . . . It’s really about meditation. About thinking through your life. The figure is surrounded by these dots, and that’s like all of us. There are dots all around, but all you can hope for is to keep making forward progress.”

I wondered. Is it inevitable that the dots in front of us are connected in a certain way? Or can you draw a different picture with whatever dots you see? Or does it matter, so long as you keep drawing?

Maybe it makes sense that Fred doesn’t respond well to “What is it?” Maybe he’s asking us to meditate on that. To connect our own dots. To write our own stories. To forget about clarity, because we aren’t yet ready for the autopsy.

Jami Moss Wise

New paintings

Earlier this week, Fred finished two paintings: “In the Ballpark” and “Tales of Hoffman.” They’ve been sitting in different corners of the studio for a few weeks, getting occasional swipes of paint and additions of color as we prepare for shows and Fred focuses on drawings and watercolors.

This weekend, though, we had some serious conversations about where we both hope our new venture into the art world will take us, and I suspect that these two paintings reflect that.

The title of “Tales of Hoffmann” is one of Fred’s beloved puns. It most obviously refers to Hans Hoffmann, an Abstract Expressionist painter who greatly influenced the professors in Fred’s MFA program. But it also refers to E.T.A. Hoffmann, a German writer active during the Romantic period. Like Hoffman the painter’s works, this piece combines warm colors (red and orange) with cool (blue and green) to create “push and pull,” a tension that captures the viewer’s gaze. But Fred isn’t entirely comfortable with that influence, or whether he should break from it. And so the title also refers to E.T.A. Hoffmann and his tales of doppelgangers—spectral, even evil look-alikes who haunt his protagonists, like the ghost of Hans lurking in this painting. Whether that ghost is friendly or threatening is not yet clear.

“In the Ballpark” explores another tension, that between Fred’s love of figurative drawing and the abstract use of color, and more broadly the perpetual tension between drawing and painting in Fred's work. The painting started out as a drawing of a ballpark seen from the upper deck. (Fred loves sports and especially baseball, despite his recent despair over the Braves’ impending move to Cobb county. ) He then layered on color as a way of negating the representative elements—bodies in the stands, a field of grass—while still grappling with the demands of representation. The act of making planes of color, he says, reconfigures the original drawing and reinterprets what it means to be into a ballpark. The title--yes, another pun--reflects the particular difficulty of translating the image into color: Often, you’re only in the ballpark.

Jami Moss Wise

Valentine's Show

Just wrapped up our Valentine's Day show hosted by several friends--a fun event and a successful day! If you weren't able to make it, we have posted watercolors from the show here.

Other work from the show coming later this week! Hoping you have a great week.

New Web site

Hi friends! We're thrilled to start 2015 working together to share Fred's art in some new ways, including this web site. Our hope is that you will be replenished, comforted, moved, and sometimes uplifted through Fred's creative spirit, and that his work will give back to you some of the joy it has given to both of us.

Fred creates new art every day - sometimes only a few sketches, but usually several drawings and/or watercolors, along with perpetual development of paintings. We'll post select pieces here regularly, as well as on Facebook (Fred Wise Art) and Instagram (jami_wise).

Because Fred is so prolific, only a fraction of his output is represented here. Please e-mail us at and let us know if you would like to see more, or if there is a particular style, color, or subject matter that interests you. Fred also creates work on commission on a limited, case-by-case basis.

You can get regular updates through our quarterly newsletter. Sign up at

Enjoy the day!

Jami & Fred Wise