“Struggle = Strength. Let’s make a movie.”
This was just one of the messages on the postcards that filmmakers Ben Gonyo and Michael Martinez started sending Fritz shortly after they met. Ben and Michael were looking for subjects for a film they were doing about making it in the contemporary art world, and instead the story took on a life of its own when they met Fritz, a 70-year-old artist in Rochester, New York, who was struggling to bounce back after the death of his girlfriend, Darlene, the love of his life.
Fritz is hard of hearing and moved to New York City in the late ‘70s to become a professional artist. After years of rejection, he became a professional machinist instead, solitarily and diligently working away repetitively, while dreaming about ideas for new pieces of art.
“Keep making art. The world needs it.” Ben and Michael continued to send Fritz inspiring messages like these during a cold winter over 2 years ago. They believed in his talent and longed for Fritz to pull himself out of mourning and isolation. A life-long friendship emerged from this as Fritz slowly began to find his inspiration again.
“My seed paintings represent birth and the life cycle. Everything begins with a seed, from a human to an idea. I tend to use bright colors on these. This is a happy time. It is the beginning of things… This is life. It is universal. We all started this way.” —Fritz
Fritz started carving out his place again, but this time it wasn’t to be recognized by the unpredictable art world he attempted to break into more than 40 years earlier. It was rooted in getting back to a place inside his soul that pushed him to keep going, to keep making art.
“My NY Times prints are hand-carved linoleum block prints… They take a long time to create. ‘Old Man Asks to Start Over,’ has to do with regret. It’s rather sad to think that some of us will get to the end of our lives and look back with regret.” —Fritz
Today, Fritz continues to find new inspiration, and Ben continues to help support him by managing his shop at 11 Main. His collection includes his increasingly popular fractal drawings:
“People don’t realize that I often experience the world in a very fractured way because of my hearing loss. I have to piece things together in social settings or conversations. I don’t just pick up on things easily. I took that idea and adapted it to a visual art style. I started with animals, but I plan to do other things as well.” —Fritz
Fritz will appear in a documentary on PBS later this year. If you’d like to get to know him sooner, you can in this 12-part film series by Ben and Michael. Be sure to take a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Fritz’s journey in his Shop Owner Story:
When asked what Fritz’s friendship has meant to Ben personally, and what viewers of the upcoming documentary can take away, Ben simply answers, “Never give up believing in yourself. This goes not only for art, but more importantly, one’s own personal resolve.”
“I feel good today, I feel alive… things are looking up for me. Two years ago, I was depressed. We made a studio in the basement and I started doing prints again… I wake up every morning, I do my art, I feel accepted. I’ve made it.” —Fritz
Photos courtesy of Ben Gonyo