Fred Whitley Is Making Things Weird


Sonae Keoni

11/4/20229 min read

the interview takes place on our residence hall’s 4th floor, in the menschel room: a room so stuffy u canFeel it when u walk in [all-of-a-Sudden the air grows so thick& so heavy – that it becomes tangible. it hangs around U, then lays across ur shoulders. a scarf]. we shrug it on, this stiffness, and sit on the couch.

it’s empty [the Room], save4 the gray furniture and ping pong table in the middle. uCan imagine the sound of small balls hitting itsSurface, the walls, then ducking under some impossible-to-reach spot like a poltergeist. 4some reason, in college, People pretend to like ping pong.

s: hey! hello, how are you?

f: i’m so good.

s: so good? that’s good to hear.

we laugh, admittedly a little awkwardly. the beginning of an interview is always ALittleBit awkward. it tiptoes this invisible line of Profesionality&Casualty, and i think every-time the interviewEE(r) feels a little Awkward.

s: so, i need to ask – just for the people reading this at home – how would you describe yourself and the things you make? i know it’s a loaded question.

f: i would describe the things i make as disjointed. disjointed, arcane, and secretive.

s: secretive?! what makes your work secretive?

f: WELL [said pointedly], i want it to look secretive.

s: okay, but is there a certain quality that a secret has to you? because i think a secret can be subjective.

f: like, i want people to feel like something was going on with me while that photo was being taken. in addition to what’s being captured.

s: so the art is both behind and in-front of the camera. that’s interesting. secretive. i like that a lot. how would you describe yourself now?

f: either like, a clown … or a stupid person … that reads a lot.

s: your existence is an oxymoron basically.

f: yeah.

s: mm. but i guess you can be stupid and read.

f: yeah … or no. maybe im like a stupid person who knows a little bit about a lot of things.

s: but you read – what kinds of things are you reading?

f: anything by neil gaiman. after reading like, two of his poems i determined he had a good vibe.

s: sometimes that’s all you need. anything else?

f: dr. seuss. minus the racism.

s: yeah… you gotta separate the art from the artist… except for… he was making racist art.

we both laugh. the whole thing feels a little absurd.

s: his existence was a very defining part of my life for whatever reason. do you remember being in elementary school and dr. seuss was just fuckin’ everywhere? like, i feel like so many of his books were just absolutely shoved down my throat, and we’d watch all these movies – i remember we had like, a day where it was his birthday and we had to learn about his life. like… we HAD to. regular lessons were canceled and everything was seuss-themed.

f: when this interview is over i’m going to watch the lorax.

s: can i come?

fred&i have fallen in2 this trap of blissful domesticity. our residence hall is small, confined2one building, and we live down the hall from each other. every morning he shows up@ my door, a vice; 2 sprawl across my table; make coffee, ignore me& talk on the phone. later those nights, i’ll do the Same.

it’s mutualistic. one of Nature’s rules of survival. &tonight (that night) he promises me that i can join him – and we did [watch the lorax].

s: have you always been interested in art? or were there other things that kind of pulled at you from an early age – and if so, did/do those things influence how you make art at all? like, you mentioned liking to read, does that ever inspire you creatively?

f: there was this one poem by dr. seuss and this other one by william carlos williams – both of them inspired me a lot.

s: yeah?

f: yeah.

s: yeah. so, your other hobbies kind of influence your art at times?

f: i’m trying to [be intersectional]. i code and do computer science stuff. i’m trying to integrate it into my art.

s: what, like coding as art? and like, this is me, beginning to talk out-of-my-ass you’re coding the machine to draw – i don’t even understand it fully.

f: yeah! it’s this thing called fractals: the computer generates a bunch of lines and pixels on the screen and that’s it.

s: that’s so cool. have you dabbled at all, or as you learn to code is that the eventual goal?

f: i’m just playing it by ear and seeing how things go. i’m joining motorsports, and by the end of the year i should know how to build a car from scratch. so i think i’m going to build a car from scratch next year.

s: a full-sized car or a mini-car?

f: a sports car.

s: woah!

f: a racing one. because they do that every year. i don’t know where they put the cars, though.

this excitesMe, the idea of RaceCars. we talk about decorating them, driving them, being behind the wheel. i imagine a heist, committing a massive act of grand-theft-auto& taking all of Motorsports’ cars. Revving the engine loud, and slipping the gear in2 somethingSporty then slipping away.

s: how would you describe your creative process?

f: a lot of it is spur-of-the-moment. a lot of the stronger things i’ve made, i made when i wasn’t trying to make art. usually during the wee, wee hours of the night.

s: i wonder why the wee, wee hours of the night inspire creativity in so many different kinds of people – because a lot of the artists i talk to also feel the same. i was talking to a friend about this today, and he was saying it’s probably because you’re tired, so your brain has less energy to be critical so you just work-and-work-and-work. you’re kinder to yourself at night. and slightly delusional. so you think everything is good.

f: such a good time to work.

s: now, switching topics, how would you define home?

f: i think it’s something that changes. it’s wherever you feel comfortable. i don’t know if this is just me, but i could never feel comfortable anywhere else. but for some reason, when i moved and we were staying in a hotel room for the first week, i felt at home there. normally i’m super tuned in to everything that’s different, but the night i landed [in *** ****] and i got to where we were staying, it didn’t feel weird.

s: i agree, home is something that changes. and it’s something you bring with you. like the concept of home and feeling comfortable in a space. but i also do feel like THAT is really subjective. like, feeling comfortable. whenever i go to hotel rooms i feel so uncomfortable. and i can barely sleep because this space feels so foreign and stuffy and not lived-in. home to me has to feel lived in. do you agree with that?

f: definitely. i’m also more in favor of the idea of it [home] not being a place. home is people. i could be anywhere, but there’s a list of people in my head that, if they were there too, i would feel at home.

s: what’s your list of people?

there’s a pause.


f: next question.

we laugh

s: what was an item you brought with you to make this new place feel more like home? for me, it was my stuffed animals. i knew i needed them here. it would be traitorous if i didn’t bring them.

i have2 stuffed animals that sit on the Blue of my comforter. xX_Pantiez_Xx, an overgrownHotPink cat that used2 smell like Strawberries, until i hugged it [the scent] (and the stuffing) out of her – and Pete Wentz, a miniature PinkBunny with an X for a nose, who always looks a little Brain-dead.

i don’t even really hold them when i sleep. it’s more-so because they’re good company.

f: i had to bring all of my overalls.

s: what have you been doing in this new location that’s been making it feel more like home?

f: sitting in my bonnet and doing my hair with the door open.

s: yeah. not feeling any kind of way about it is good. because you shouldn’t. i’ve been doing the same thing at night. is there one word you’d use to describe your hometown?

f: i’d describe home as a spectacle?

s: why?

f: mm, more like a circus.

s: and you’re a clown.

f: yeah.

s: yeah.

f: yeah.

s: what makes your home a circus?

f: the frothy monkey [his old job] was a circus because i worked with all of my friends. like, we worked on school days, so we’d get out and carpool to the restaurant to clock in, and at 3pm sharp, a functional, successful coffee-shop would turn into a circus because two 16 year-olds, three 17 year-olds, and an 18 year-old would run amuck. multiple mucks.

s: i mean, i’ve had your coffee – it’s pretty good. you guys were just a nuisance on the job?

f: yeah, we’d do a lot of stupid shit.

s: what was the stupidest thing you did on the job?

f: my coworker that i wasn’t friends with – we were frying donuts, and i was telling him ‘hey, don’t put water in a pot full of hot, bubbling oil,’ and he did just that. there was like, this little sprayer thing and he sprayed water right into the oil and almost started a grease fire.

s: oh my fucking god. he sounds… very stupid.

we start to talk a little about how bizarre it is that the food Industry EVERYWHERE happens2 be run by teenagers. it’s an Ease-of-Access kind of thing, entry level jobs – but it’s still funny that companies will entrust Entire locations to like, 3sixteen year-olds who just failed their algebra class&need2 make $20 to waste on an Eighth.

where im from, there was thisOneeeeeeeee ice-cream spot that was essentially ran by Youth. i’d swing by4 a free scoop& witness TechDecks on the counter; monsterCans piled highHighHIGH(ER) in a corner; sculpture made from trash; someoneTwo years younger chain-smoking in the back. the ice cream was good. Worth-it.

the location is closed now.

s: what old habits did you bring with you to this new place? and what old habits do you think you’ll bring back home? for instance, when i visit home i know i’m going to be jaywalking a shit-ton and it’s going to cause some issues.

f: yeah, i think also jaywalking. and paying with card.

s: you didn’t usually pay with card?

f: no.

s: you just had a bunch of cash on you at all times? what, from working at the monkey?

f: oh, i’d just go to an ATM and withdraw a good amount of cash and use that.

s: that’s so weird. why? how long were you doing that for?

f: just like, while i was home.

s: how much cash is a good amount?

f: i would only withdraw like, 100 bucks every two weeks. i wasn’t spending a lot of money.

s: were you withdrawing one, one hundred dollar bill? or like, twenties?

f: twenties.

s: what’s your favorite bill? mine is a twenty. feel like you can get a lot with –

f: a one hundred dollar bill.

s: oh.

f: for like, the holographic thing on it. yup.

s: do you feel like its been difficult adjusting with the context of where you’re from?

f: not really –

s: well, what’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed culturally or aesthetically?

f: paying for bags and no free refills. i hate it. feels bad.

s: i guess it’s kind of nice that they make you pay for bags cause plastic is such a huge issue, but it was still a shock for sure. my first shopping trip i was like, ‘what do you meannnnnnnnnnn it’ll be fifty cents?’

f: exactly.

s: back home, did you and your friends have a spot you guys would frequent?

f: well, n*shv*lle was very boring. there wasn’t a lot to do. but we’d go to this warehouse-bookstore-place – and it’s all used. they’d sell books, cameras, electronics, instruments… and a bunch of other things, so we’d just go there a bunch. there was like a little lounge area in the middle of the warehouse.

s: what was the best thing you found there?

f: i found that william carlos williams poem in a bookshelf there, and i took it home with me.

s: stole it?

f: yeah.

s: woah. you delinquent. they’re gonna find you.

f: oh, well.

s: i have one last question for you – how can people support you on your journey?

f: simply by looking at my art! talking about it! whether it be in depth conversations or things like, ‘hey his art looks neat.’ anything helps!

Sonae Keoni is a 19 year old story-telling enthusiast, based in a world full of hot-pink cats, grieving giantess-mermaids, and underwater motorcyclist-criminals.