By Kenneth LaFave
Fred Tieken’s Gallery and Studio is a colorful oasis.
Do a search for “Fred Tieken” and you will find Fred Tieken the graphic designer, Fred Tieken the rock ‘n’ roll saxophonist, Fred Tieken the classic car collector, Fred Tieken the artist, and Fred Tieken the gallery owner.
As you may have guessed, they are all the same guy.
“The looser and more childlike I am, the better,” Tieken says, speaking of the quality of his paintings, which exhibit a kind of free sophistication. But he could also be talking about his life, which he’s led in total abandonment of the usual expectations. As a musician in the 1950s, he fronted a racially integrated rock ‘n’ roll band when segregation was still the norm. As a graphic artist, he relied more on improvisation than on pre-ordained design.
And just seven short years ago, as a “retired” man of 75, Tieken embarked on a new and demanding career as a painter.
His workaholism started early. “In my early days, I burned the candle at both ends. I would work the day at a design firm in a town in downstate Illinois, then after work I’d head for Chicago, play a gig, and be back for work in the morning. To this day, I’m not a good sleeper.”
Tieken put aside the saxophone a few years ago, and today channels the creativity he expressed in music as a young man into paintings that look like the visual equivalent of a busy bebop solo.
His paintings are what you might expect from a man who doesn’t follow rules: Colors clash, images collide, styles get juggled and celebrities sometimes intrude. In some paintings, words appear or even dominate. Take a look at the digital reproductions at fredtieken.com/gallery, and you find, among other images:
A man opens a pizza box and exclaims, his face contorted in rage, “I said no anchovies!”
Andy Warhol stares at you, as a kind of still life with bananas.
An enormous orange cat, wearing cowboy boots on all paws, stares over its haunches at the bird riding on his back.
A man carries a bird cage. The bird inside looks longingly down at two similar, uncaged birds, who gaze sadly back.
A green-eyed figure with bars for teeth, holding a hand grenade. The words “War is hell” are written over him, but “hell” has been crossed out and “fun” substituted.
Seeing Tieken’s paintings reproduced online is one thing, but viewing them as the giant canvases they really are is quite another, and it is easy to do if you are in the Airpark, because Tieken owns a gallery – The Tieken Studio and Gallery, 5202 E. Gold Dust Ave. – where his paintings hang beside those of others.
Not many artists run their own galleries, but for Tieken and his wife, Gail, it came about almost naturally. “We were on an acre and a third, and so we thought, ‘Let’s put a building in the back.’ And then Gail said, ‘Why don’t we just turn it into a gallery?’ It was perfect, because it didn’t hinder our home. When you enter our property, you go through a gate and a sign points in one direction to the gallery, and in the other to my studio, which is attached our house. It’s all very modern-looking, with lots of glass. For openings, we rent Klieg lights and serve wine in real glasses. Art collectors from New York and Germany say they’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Gold Dust Avenue gallery, dubbed Tieken Studio and Gallery AZ, is but one of three that Tieken’s enormous, virtually overnight success as an artist has enabled him to open. A second, small studio is located in Venice, California, and in October, Fred and Gail opened the Tieken Gallery L.A. in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.
For more information on Tieken Studio and Gallery AZ,
or to read more about Fred Tieken’s varied career, go to fredtieken.com.