By Caleb Wood
Jake Fried (b. 1984) began his artistic career as a painter, but as he went through the process of layering and modifying images, he realized what truly interested him was the way the images metamorphosed in the course of making a painting, and he changed tracks to become an animator.
Image from Down Into Nothing (2013) by Jake Fried
His explorations into animation have led to the development of a poignant utilization, a creative process that stacks on itself over time, self adorning in an evolution of drawings. Similar techniques have been developed by others (William Kentridge, Norman McLaren), but none as strikingly beautiful and abstractly structured. The movements that are born from the documentation reveal the growth and decay of thought. As marks struggle for dominance, heavy icons and deep tones reach the viewer in brief moments of recognition. A viewer–generated narrative has room to flourish, ultimately guided by the rise and fall of Jake’s creations, inevitably ending in darkness as the drawings become completely buried in blackness.
In recent years his films have been widely shown internationally, including at the Tate Modern, Sundance Film Festival and on Adult Swim. Last month Jake was awarded Artist Fellowship in Film & Video from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Waiting Room (2012) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink and white-out.
EoF: Mind sharing your background in the arts with us?
JF: I always loved to draw as a kid and took a lot of art classes growing up in Ohio. When I was 16 I spent a summer at RISD and then spent my last two years of high school studying painting at a boarding school outside Boston. I majored in painting at Maryland Institute of College and Art, and art history at Boston University. I’ve been a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for almost 8 years where I emphasize the connection between studying art in the museum collection with studio-art instruction.
EoF: Can you describe the most current process you use in your films?
JF: I work on one drawing that I scan consecutively as I alter the image with ink, white-out and sometimes collage, paint or coffee. I average about 1500 frames per film, 10-15 frames a day. After all the frames have been scanned into Photoshop, I put them into Final Cut at 24-30fps. Finally I compose audio for the film.
Sick Leave (2012) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink and white-out.
EoF: What motivated you to begin documenting your work through animation, and at which point did documentation become fully integrated?
JF: For many years I had been reworking and layering my paintings for weeks and months, like an endless search, never arriving at any final state. I just wanted to keep building them up, changing them forever. Around 2009 I realized what truly interested me was the way the images metamorphosed in the course of making a painting.
I began to record the evolution of the image in more concrete ways. I didn’t even think about it as animation at first, but by about 2011 I had started making films similar in nature to what I do today.
EoF: How do you view the movement that comes about in your work? Is it the byproduct of the process, or the evidence?
JF: I guess it’s both. The movement in my work is hard to describe. It’s not just form changing position or scale within a frame – I think of it as a constant evolution of an entire image.
The Deep End (2013) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink, white-out and coffee.
EoF: What goes into deciding when one frame ends, and the next begins? Is there a natural rhythm that you fall into?
JF: Yes, I have an instinct for when the next frame is ready to be scanned.
I’ve been asked this question many times and I still find it very hard to articulate how this works. Essentially I want to make a significant change without it being too dramatic. I want each frame to be unique, yet an obvious extension of what came before.
EoF: My only relationship with your work is viewing online in a private setting. What would be the ideal setting for your audience to view your work?
JF: I think most people know about my work through online viewing. I like that people can watch my films privately, when they want to. It’s also nice that they can pause my films to look more closely at any frame.
When I began making my films I thought of them as moving paintings. Ideally I wanted them to be looping on monitors hung in galleries and museums like a painting. This is still preferred, but I’ve also come to appreciate how they appear when screened in a festival line-up or on television. When they’re larger than life and start playing without warning – it can be pretty powerful.
EoF: In Brain Lapse you introduced the element of collage to your work. What discoveries did you make by allowing yourself to lift and move generated imagery?
JF: The work itself is the discovery. I was interested in what would happen if I didn’t just add or subtract the image, but also rearrange it. I like how it highlights the physicality of the surface and how everything is made of the same stuff – that that one shape is a leaf, then part of a hand, then part of a chair, etc. Everything is continuously merging and breaking apart.
Brain Lapse (2014) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink, white-out, coffee and collage.
EoF: What other new elements do you plan to employ in your work?
JF: Adding new materials or methods can inspire new work, but sometimes the opposite is true. I’ve been working with only black ink and white-out for a couple months, the limitation has actually helped me evolve and find new directions in my work.
EoF: Is there a general message you want the work to depart on an audience, or would you rather the experience be open ended with each viewer?
JF: Open ended. Even I experience my work differently depending on when I’m viewing.
I like to say the medium is the message, the work itself is the message. There is mystery in the work for me as well.
Raw Data (2013) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink, gouache, white-out and coffee.
EoF: We see layers of history form on top of each other in all of your films. New images build on information laid down from previous generations bit by bit. I can’t help but recall stories of lost civilizations, crumbling architecture, and mutated religious beliefs. Can you talk more about the structures of your work, and how the process in itself defines much of the content?
JF: Yes, exactly. Again I find it difficult to put this quality I’m after into words. In a way, I feel like I discover the work as much as I make it.
I’m interested in archetypes. I like thinking big picture – human history, life and death, nature of existence type shit. I want to make work that deals with timeless themes, ancient knowledge and a message from the future at the same time. Get at some eternal truth, something important.
Headspace (2014) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink, gouache, white-out and coffee.
EoF: What role does the reoccurring final layer of black in your films play, and how does it affect the relationship between object and film?
JF: It is important that my films don’t arrive at any final image, they are about the journey and therefore must begin and end in pure black or white, a state of nothing. Out of nothing, into nothing.
Down Into Nothing (2013) by Jake Fried. Hand-drawn animation with ink, gouache, white-out and coffee.
EoF: The sound design you create is always very conducive to your imagery. How do you go about making it?
JF: I only work on the sound design once the film is complete. Just like the drawing, I work frame by frame, layering and adjusting hundreds of small sound clips until everything feels right. I try to start with the most obvious sounds. If there is foliage growing, I add foliage sounds. If a water droplet drops, I add that sound, etc. Since there are so many minute details, this process can take a while.
Eventually I add more ‘editorial’ sounds like tones, percussion and breathing that match the build-up and flow of the animation. I’m going for something that isn’t quite sound effects or music, but something in between.
Just like the drawing, I try to let the work tell me what to do next. I will often go back and forth on a certain sound for hours. It is an instinctual feeling that something is right or wrong – I try and put everything that I know and am into every frame, every sound, every line.
EoF: Are you currently working on anything new that you can share?
JF: Always working on new things. Can’t share anything yet, but you can check for updates at my website inkwood.net
© Caleb Wood 2015