ARTISTS: Fred Tieken and the AZ45


Fred Tieken “Bad Hair Day”

I first met artist Fred Tieken when my wife Michele Bledsoe and I were in an art show with him. It was February 2013, and “Changing Lanes” at Larry Ortega‘s Obliq Gallery was a memorable beginning to a new phase in all of our artistic careers.

In the years since that pop-up gallery experience, I’ve see Fred’s work continue to pop up all over the place here in Phoenix. In this he demonstrates the dynamic of a passionate artist: he is prolific, and he’s an exhibitionist-in the artistic context of the word. Art is a form of communication. It’s meant to be shared. Until a piece is experienced by viewers it remains unfinished in a way; the circuit is incomplete, the energy can’t flow. A responsible artist not only creates art, but does the necessary work to get their vision out into the world. Fred has expanded beyond the Valley of the Sun, also exhibiting in Miami, New York, and California.

Fred’s distinctive paintings, mixed media and installation pieces are exuberant, while at the same time built on solid compositional foundations. They also display a sense of humor, which is all too rare in the super serious visual arts. The joy and playfulness that went into their creation comes across without undermining the poise and craftsmanship of the work.


Fred Tieken “Prickly Pair”


Fred and Gail Tieken

Fred and his wife Gail Tieken have also been great supporters of the artistic community as well. Recently they invited 44 other Arizona artists to take part in a November show in their new Paradise Valley venue, the Tieken Gallery.

The Tieken Gallery


In between getting ready for this landmark event and preparing for an upcoming Los Angles solo show, Fred took some time to answer a few questions about art and life.

It seems your creativity led you explore many different forms of art in your career. What is your background, and when did you start making your current body of work?
Fred Tieken: I never had any art classes in high school but I did take drafting. I started right after graduation as a draftsman at an engineering company and worked there until I got fired for missing too much work. I had a popular rock band and we played on the road a lot so it was hard to do both. Getting fired from that job was the best thing that ever happened to me! I heard about an advertising agency that was looking for a commercial artist (that’s what graphic designers were called in those days) and applied for the job. I really hit it off with the agency owner and he taught me everything he know about graphic design. He was also a fan of my band so he didn’t care that I didn’t always show up for work so long as I got the projects done on time. So I worked as a commercial artist for the next 35 years, eventually starting my own firm along with Gail. We sold that business a few years back.

In 2010 I found out that my kidneys were failing and I would soon have to go on dialysis. The thought of that terrified me. Then Gail asked to be tested as a donor and we were a perfect match. During the time building up to the operation in which Gail gave me one of her kidneys I went out and bought some canvas and started painting to relieve the anxiety. My first painting was a kind of fantasy about the actual operation. A good friend brought the painting to my hospital room and the surgeons really got a kick out of it. I’ve been painting and making art ever since and can’t imagine not doing this.


Fred Tieken “Pass the Mayo”

How do you create your paintings-are they improvised, or planned out in advance?
FT: Both. Sometimes I do some sketching first, either by hand or on my iPad. Other times I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I just start laying it down. I think I have a good year’s worth of ideas in my head at any given time.

When is a painting complete?
FT: I usually quit when it feels right but sometimes I’ll come back the next day with fresh eyes and add or change something. It helps just to have the painting around so that I can walk by it and take a look every now and then when I’m not thinking too intensely about it. Occasionally I’ll just start all over after a few days.

How did you get inspired to create the AZ45 show?
FT: Gail and I wanted to do something special for the grand opening of our gallery. We kicked some ideas around and decided a group show of Arizona artists made the most sense. It’s our way of acknowledging all the talent in this area and the vibrant art community here in the valley. We invited 46 artists to participate, thinking that about half of those would be interested. Within two days we had 44 artists confirming participation! So, with myself included, that makes 45. Somewhere along the way the AZ45 identification just came to mind. I saw it as a logo in my head and started using it. I think the other artists like it too. It’s a visual that can be used going forward. It reinforces for  posterity that at this one point in time we all came together to celebrate art!


What does art do for people?
FT: I like the quote “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” I’m not sure who first said that but I can’t say it any better.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an artist?
FT: I always try to channel my inner child. Children are all natural artists. Then we grow up and have people telling us that we can’t do certain things.


Fred Tieken “Bla Bla Bla”

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