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The Queue: Tom Fruin

The Queue: Tom Fruin

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Tom Fruin

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Winter 2024 issue of American Craft magazine
Watertower, 2012, salvaged acrylic and steel with arduino programmed light, 22 x 10 x 10 ft. Photo by Guerin Blask.

Watertower, 2012, salvaged acrylic and steel with arduino programmed light, 22 x 10 x 10 ft. Photo by Guerin Blask.

Tom Fruin’s colorful sculptures spring forth from New York City’s urban detritus.
When Tom Fruin moved to New York City in the 1990s, he wandered the streets of his new city, taking in his surroundings and its trash. He collected and combined discarded drug bags (printed with the dealer’s logo), candy wrappers, boxes, and feathers into elaborate quilts, visually conveying his experience of his new environment. In the 30 years since, he has scaled these scavenging and quilting techniques into ever-larger and more visible work. His sculptures, made from found plexiglass, signs, and steel, adorn buildings, plazas, and urban spaces all over the world, like a stained-glass crazy quilt. He has made signage for the Wythe Hotel and St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, among others. Jon Spayde wrote about Fruin and his 2022 illuminated sculpture Hi 5 Taxi Cab in “Light Houses” in the Winter 2024 issue of American Craft.

tomfruin.com | @tomfruin

Bird of Paradise, 2023, welded steel, salvaged acrylic, 86 x 65 x 10 in. Photo courtesy of Tom Fruin Studio.
Bird of Paradise, 2023, welded steel, salvaged acrylic, 86 x 65 x 10 in. Photo courtesy of Tom Fruin Studio.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I’ve been making increasingly large architectural sculptures using salvaged acrylic and signage in a quilt-like patterning as a comment on the changing environment. I like to place these works in the public realm to upend people’s expectations of their surroundings. They become kaleidoscopes of color during the day and become beacons of light when illuminated at night!

If you could create and install an outdoor sculpture anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’ve been lucky to exhibit my works all over! My ideal spot would be a highly trafficked but unexpected spot where I could reach an unsuspecting audience in their everyday lives, like going to work. Maybe off the freeway somewhere in my hometown of Los Angeles?

In your career, you’ve worked extensively with found materials. What do you collect now and how do these items make their way into your work?
I still collect all kinds of junk like discarded neon bar signs and signage of all kinds. Discarded wrist bands from clubs and concerts and found plexiglass still make appearances in all of my large-scale work.

What are your favorite tools in your toolkit?
I have a bit of an obsession with tools, especially hand-crank punches, shears, and sheet metal machines. I find that manipulating the material by hand forges a connection that seems to convey the proper amount of respect and admiration for the materials. That being said, the found materials themselves are my favorite tools in my work. There is a personality in aged, heavily used materials that lends a gravity and depth to my sculptures.

If you could have work from any contemporary glass artist for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
There is so much amazing contemporary art featuring glass! I'd love to have one of Mike Kelley’s Kandor sculptures depicting cityscapes of Superman's home planet in colored resin, protected by glass bell jars hooked up to pressurized tanks. Or Bruce Nauman’s neon Double Poke in the Eye because of the way he slyly co-opted sign tech to comment on the human condition.

Which craft artists, exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
A few months ago, I saw the most amazing show in New York City at Americas Society/Council of the Americas: Bispo do Rosario: All Existing Materials on Earth! He obsessively embroidered names and images in fabric and clothing as part of a “divine mission” to order the world. He even made a super-special outfit to wear when he'd meet his higher power. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Argentinian artist Marta Minujín is showing in her current show at the Jewish Museum.

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