Water Color is His Thing: Justin Frehs

Justin Frehs‘ ( pronounced phrase) work first came to my attention when he started posting on the 614 FB page. (big surprise, huh?… I think it was for a First Monday online gallery).  Anyway, I love his portraits and the colors he uses in his water colors.  He and I started a conversation online and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he was in the process of moving back to Columbus from Youngstown.  I figured that was a perfect opportunity to feature him and introduce him back into the Central Ohio art scene. We not only talked via email, we had the opportunity to meet in person at his current home/ makeshift studio. 
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Justin  puts it very succinctly: I have been an artist as long as I could hold a brush…seriously. I knew at a very early age that I had something most people do not. Starting in grade school (2nd grade or so) teachers would have me draw their portraits and tell me I was going to be a “famous artist” one day.  So suffice it to say that art is in his bones….yes, his mom and dad were both artists.  Dad was a professional fine artist and did murals at OSU and an album for Jethro Tull!!! Because he was extremely shy about sharing his art, especially comparing himself to his dad, friends and family pushed him to put his talent out there for others. Girls  from school(starting in 4th grade-today!!) have little love letter/notes I would make them…. I would do a sketch in pencil then write a love letter on top in ink. Girls still have these and message me them all the time…blows my mind. 
 justin 12
He grew up and went to school in Worthington: Liberty Elementary, McCord Middle School and  Worthington Kilbourne (class of ’98). He ran away many times starting in his  freshman year of high school to go to raves, and ended up moving all over the country with his mom and stepdad: Leesburg, VA, WV, St. Louis, and then Youngstown.  However, he found his mentor in  an amazing art teacher in Youngstown at Fitch High School. Starting his sophomore year, she drove him around  to different art schools on the weekends in an effort to assist him with his portfolio; having  professors help him find  focus for his portfolio and critique his work. ‘It gave me such an awesome edge my senior year’.  With her help,  he won annual sch0lastic art contests on several levels, and had full ride offers to Pratt, Parsons, CCAD, The Ohio State University, and a partial offer to CAI (Cleveland Institute of Art) and Pittsburgh Art Institute, as well as several other prominent schools.
justin 7
Instead, he chose to not attend art school, but became a DJ with house music at raves both in the US and Puerto Rico and lived a very hedonistic life …no regrets, right?!  During this time, he was deep into drugs/alcohol, the night life, women, you name it, living like a rock star but  absolutely miserable.  He lived this lifestyle for more years than he likes to remember and finally came to the realization that this was not who he wanted to be, not who he was raised to be. He chose to get himself back on track and around 2000-2002, with the help of his mom, got a job as a graphic designer in Youngstown and spent a couple of  years working and designing everything imaginable and loved it! They had an art supply store where Justin spent all of his free time (and money !!! LOL!)….silk screening, making stickers, using a C&C router, vinyl graphics, banners, shirts…anything and everything he could get his hands on!   Despite having this great job (and some other good ones along with some horrific ones!), he was unhappy, was in a bad relationship and  quit painting for almost 12 years
.justin 3
Eventually, he got sober on his own and got a great job at a tech company and turned his life around. Unfortunately, during the Enron debacle, his company also went under and he lost everything. That led to Justin falling back into old habits while next working for a cell phone company doing tech support for Blackberry.  Despite this good paying job, he missed Columbus and decided to move back in 2006. However, a destructive relationship led to more destructive drug use and yet another move back to Youngstown. Even though lots of negative events occurred during this time, he did get clean.
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Happily, he has  been clean for almost 5 years now and took the leap into art again in 2014 after, unbeknownst to him, friends put his work out into the world and it all sold in ten minutes!!! Then he was bombarded with orders/requests…so I had to make a decision in December…do these 50 plus order or put the suit and tie on and go be miserable from 9-5 and not create. Now he has come to the realization that he is a born artist….if I don’t create I go nuts! Literally get an itch I have to scratch. Needless to say, he chose art and it has turned his life around.He is blessed to have orders everyday and  work that sells as soon as its posted. While we were ‘talking’ online, Justin told me that his goal was to move to Columbus by the spring but the people he has met since he came here about a week ago have been so amazing and helpful, that he is already moved!!!

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 When asked to categorize his art, he stated that it is modern, with hints of expressionism, impressionism, abstract and even fine art depending on the piece, medium, mood and time of year and what music is playing while creating.
Inspiration comes from life, music, other artists, love, pain, isolation and people.  Mostly, people, actually.  People being people. I love to see people when they think nobody is around or watching and let lose (emotionally and physically) whether that be drugs, crying, laughing, sleeping, confusion…whatever….its real and raw. People see that and thats what always sells right away. It’s genuine.  He says that he  spent many many years perfecting the way he captures this raw emotion and it’s been a hard long process but it has paid HUGE dividends in the end.
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Excitedly, he says that he has learned so many new-to-him techniques.
Remember I am 36 and just got back out there {into the art world}. But growing up I would study an artist inside and out then practice all their pieces, then do my own, then move on to another artist and repeat. Then studied human anatomy, bone structure, nervous system, muscle mass, and regions of the world for people…and countries history so I could see the pain or happiness one sees everyday…this causes people to carry themselves differently…age differently.
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 He sells his work anywhere and everywhere. Right now,  he exhibits his work is on his page(facebook-Justin Frehs) my facebook art page: Beautiful H2o – Art By Justin Frehs, and The Art and Artists of 614 FB page.April 2nd – May 1st he  will have work up and for sale at First Commonwealth Bank in the Short North. I will be there Friday for Gallery Hop as well as an opening party that night at gallery hop doing a meet n greet for my exhibit?. May- June he will have pieces on exhibit at the Grandview Grind. He will also have work at 614 Fitness throughout the year with pieces rotating every couple weeks. On Saturday March 2nd and October 12th, he has been asked to present and speak for the Central Ohio Watercolor Society.During this presentation members will talk about Justin and his work, he will speak for a short time and then paint for two hours in front of approx 50 people while explaining his style and techniques.
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Speaking of his creative process, he says that he thinks it is like every other artist. It depends on the mood, the time of year, what music he is am listening to,his surroundings, etc.
I will give an example of me painting….The other day I was at my Suboxone/Methadone clinic getting my monthly Suboxone. It’s a clinic in Youngstown OH. They drug test you, then check you for HIV, HEP C, and other fun STD’s before you can even see your Dr.(doesnt matter if its daily, weekly, monthly, you have no say so. If you get bad news there is a separate room the nurse and Dr. put you in to tell you, you have HIV, AIDS, or something bad. I was alone waiting for my Dr in this tiny room, and  I hear this girl next door sobbing and slowly just losing it….but could tell she was doing everything possible to hold it in, the Dr. came in gave me my script and left. I was a little behind from putting my hoodie back on, walked out and could see the girl through the door which was left cracked open…she had her hands in her face and I could see the tears streaming down and the water marks on her hipster jeans…just 20 min{utes} before I gave her a smoke out front and she was telling me how she just met an amazing new girl she was really into and just how happy she finally was. Kicked heroin two weeks ago and was getting a job…now her life had just been flipped upside down in ways I could not understand. It was a somber, sobering moment. I came back to Columbus with that image burned in my head and soul. I had to create it. wanted to capture the wild range of emotions I had just witnessed…so I put on some Mark Farina Mushroom Jazz, The Cure, and Mazzy Star. Did my pencil sketch…was happy, then did my warm up painting(something I do to steady my hands , get my colors right, and get focused) then that went good, then painted the piece I called “When She’s Alone” Great reception when I shared it and it sold in 12 min. People picked up on every emotion I felt. That alone is rewarding. If I didnt need to eat, or buy supplies I would not charge to do this. I still feel weird about accepting money for my work. but that’s my process on almost every piece. I see something…something that has to have a pretty big emotional impact…lasting effect if you will.
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Besides talking about his art and what got him to where he is now, we discussed the need for artists to not only create but to have a business plan if they truly want to pursue a career in art.  Justin feels blessed that he got a business background from his previous despite not really enjoying the corporate world. He explained that his customary practice is to spend from 8 a.m. till noon contacting clients, galleries, dealing with promotion, etc. before he begins to create.  That way he covers both ends of the ‘business’ of being an artist. We discussed the fact that so many artists don’t want or know how to spend the time on the business end and end up with their art decorating their own walls rather than being on someone else’s…depressing, huh? I sure hope that now that Justin is here in Columbus he can use his success/knowledge to help other artists find the balance to make their dreams come true whether through workshops, personal interactions or whatever!
justin sean
I’m excited that I got the opportunity to get in on the ‘ground floor’ of Justin’s evolution as an artist here in Columbus and even more psyched to see where he will go on this journey…keep an eye out for him as I truly believe he is gonna make this happen!!
 Contact info for readers:
Beautiful H2o – Art By Justin Frehs




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