Q&A with figurative sculptor Zenos Frudakis - portraits of living and historical individuals and poetic/philosophical sculpture

“Eleftheria” (Freedom) has always been important to me, as it has been for Greeks, and for people in general. I realized that down deep everyone wants to be free of something; that the more personal a feeling is, the more universal it is. I wanted to express in sculpture a more philosophical idea. My love of philosophy also began with Greek philosophers."

Zenos Frudakis:

Art, Philosophy, and Freedom

Zenos Frudakis is known for his public monuments, portrait statues, busts and figurative sculptures. Freedom, his best  known sculpture, has become an Internet icon inspiring many in their quest to break free from boundaries. As a child in Gary, Indiana, Zenos began to sculpt under the family's kitchen table with a piece of dough given to him by his mother as she was preparing to bake bread. Zenos father, born in Greece, came to the U.S. as a boy. The oldest of five children growing up in Greek culture, Zenos admired, respected, and was drawn to Greek sculpture. Greek art influenced his aesthetic vision; additional inspiration came from sculptors Michaelangelo, Bernini, Carpeaux and Rodin. The poetry of Eliot, Frost, Roethke and Graves, is important to Zenos, as is post-modern, deconstructionist philosophy. Zenos studied by scholarship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, completing his formal education with a Bachelor in Fine Art and a Master in Fine Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Zenos studied sculpture with his brother, sculptor EvAngelos Frudakis, and oil painting with James Hanes, both winners of the Prix de Rome.

(Photo: Zenos Frudakis at Freedom, 16th and Vine Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Zenos' emphasis has been the figure and the portrait, as demonstrated in his many monumental figure/portrait works, individual portrait busts and bas-reliefs. He excels at expressing the character and vitality of his subjects while capturing an accurate likeness. Zenos portfolio includes figure sculpture, animals, bas-reliefs, portraits—both busts and paintings—of living and historical individuals, and poetic/philosophical sculpture with a post-modern sensibility. Over the past four decades, he has created monumental works in public and private collections throughout the US and abroad. Although Zenos creates personal, expressive works of art, he is a commissioned artist with wide-ranging versatility capable of sculpting subjects from the human form to animals.

Interview by Michael Limnios   Photos & Artwoks by Zenos Frudakis Archive

How has your Greek descent influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Both my parents were Greek. My father was born in Crete in the 1890s. My mother grew up in Filiatra and was there during the German occupation. My half-brother, EvAngelos, was my mentor in sculpture and his works were informed by the ancient Greek sculptors. From my earliest memories I was very aware of my connection to Greek antiquity, particularly sculpture.

What is the hardest part of your art and What touched (emotionally) you? Where does your creative drive come from?

The hardest part early on was developing the good craftsmanship of my art. The ancient Greeks’ for for art was Techni (craftsmanship). My struggle after some mastery of technique was developing concepts and ideas for which the craftsmanship was the medium. The other part of that is my continuous contention with clients who try to direct my ideas. Once they commission me to create a sculpture and the general subject is established, I don’t want them trying to tell me how to do it. To paraphrase Schopenhauer, they want me to hit a target of their choosing, and I want to hit a target they cannot even imagine.

"Both my parents were Greek. My father was born in Crete in the 1890s. My mother grew up in Filiatra and was there during the German occupation. My half-brother, EvAngelos, was my mentor in sculpture and his works were informed by the ancient Greek sculptors. From my earliest memories I was very aware of my connection to Greek antiquity, particularly sculpture." (Photos: Zenos' father plays Cretan lyra & Mark Twain / Artwork by Zenos Frudakis)

What has been the relationship between music and art in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

I don’t listen to music while I work. I listen to books, generally those which inform me of my subject. For example, while I sculpted Mark Twain, I listened to biographies and lectures on Twain. I grew up listening to my father play his lyra, which he did with great virtuosity. He played for around 2 hours a day; I learned from this that the artist must practice.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

For me, the alleviation of suffering is paramount. Whenever possible, I make that part of my work. I agree with Socrates by way of Plato that education/knowledge can help. Therefore, I created a large bronze book sculpture about the power of knowledge, and Socrates is one of many portraits depicted on it.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of art? What is the best advice ever given you?

You become an artist because you have no choice. You are born with the talent and you realize it is your best and most effective way of expressing yourself. If you are fortunate, you can, as I have, for over 40 years, earn a living at it. But do not become an artist to make money.

Explore an extensive award-winning collection of more than 100 bronze sculptures in public and private  collections created over three decades by Zenos Frudakis, including The United States Air Force Memorial Honor Guard and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and statues from John D. MacArthur and Frank Rizzo to Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Payne Stewart. His work includes sculptures of historic figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, General Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill, as well as contemporary figures like Michael Kahn and Jack Nicklaus.

What is the story behind of idea of the famous "Freedom" sculpture? What does "Freedom" mean to you?

“Eleftheria” (Freedom) has always been important to me, as it has been for Greeks, and for people in general. I realized that down deep everyone wants to be free of something; that the more personal a feeling is, the more universal it is. I wanted to express in sculpture a more philosophical idea. My love of philosophy also began with Greek philosophers.

What is the impact of art to the socio-cultural implications? How do you want your art to affect people?

I have been greatly gratified that over the years many people have told me that my sculptures have been meaningful to them. The Freedom sculpture has received the most attention. People write to us about how it has helped them become free from many things in their lives. Many articles have been written about it, and books reference it as well.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to go back to read the papyrus scrolls of the Library of Alexandria that housed Greek writings which are now lost to us.

Zenos Frudakis - Home

(Photo: Zenos Frudakis with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & Nina Simone sculpture / Artwork by Zenos Frudakis)

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