Video: Michael Frederick paints MetroWeird

Chris Bergeron

Michael Frederick paints the daylight phobias and night sweats that Norman Rockwell glossed over in his wholesome portrayals of suburban life.

A transplant from Buford, Ga., the 38-year-old Framingham artist creates on canvas an unsettling parallel universe of martial law at the gas pumps, thwarted desire beneath the elms and high tech idolatry on manicured lawns.

Welcome to MetroWeird as envisioned by the artistic offspring of Edward Hopper and Edvard Munch.

A professional portraitist as a teenager, Frederick studied art at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. His painted scenarios glow with the feverish intensity of a blind man whose vision has been suddenly restored.

A solitary bird flees raging hill fires. Blimps resembling Ronald McDonald float ominously over a city. Arms folded across his chest, a gaunt man lies in a roadside ditch as a crow hovers overhead.

Offering no explanations, Frederick lets viewers create their own stories to explain the sense of vague menace overtaking picket fence suburbia. “I'm trying to paint mini-dramas of the human condition,” he said. “I don't see a Thomas Kinkaid kind of world.”

Obviously not.

Instead of gussying up Anytown, USA, in glowing pastels like Kinkaid, Frederick paints spare visual narratives that poke your eyes.

Viewing his work can induce a shudder or a shock like chewing on a loose filling or finding a maggot in your salad.

Frederick's paintings will be displayed next month at Gallery 55 in downtown Natick. He'll be showing and selling 15 recent oil-on-canvas paintings that explore dark truths stewing beneath glossy suburban surfaces.

The show, “Michael Frederick: A Selection of New Work,” runs from May 9 to June 9 at 55 South Main St. An opening reception is scheduled for May 9 from 7 to 10 p.m.

Gallery founder and owner John Mottern calls Frederick an important emerging artist whose distinctive style delivers a “wow factor.”

“For me, Michael's work is really refreshing. I think people will respond to the way he tackles current issues, political, cultural or psychological,” he said. “Michael isn't afraid to show what he feels. It's not just good work. It's important work.”

Mottern, a professional photographer who's covered several presidential campaigns, believes Frederick's recent paintings will intrigue viewers.

“Stylistically I think of Michael as a contemporary artist who gives his paintings a surreal edge that evokes a story or set of questions,” he said. “I like that people can sit there looking at his work, shake their heads and ask themselves what they're seeing.”

Prior to the May 9 opening, five of Frederick's paintings can be seen in Mottern's recently opened Galley 55 West, a 6 West Central St. showroom that displays works by artists whose work has been featured in earlier exhibits.

Located at the intersection of routes 135 and 27, the new gallery offers works by 30 artists, including painter Roy Nydorf, painter Susan Gartrell of Natick, watercolorist Pamela Goldberg of Groton, Natick sculptress Karin Stanley and fine arts photographer Gabrielle Mottern of Sherborn.

A trim man with a Southern accent, Frederick earns his living as design director for a Boston broadcast and promotions agency. But from his home studio, he paints striking vignettes of anxiety, entrapment and alienation with haunting power.

“How I paint isn't as important as what I paint,” he said working on an unfinished canvas titled “Slow Burn.”

“The content drives its look. I'm trying to force the viewer into the drama.”

In “Satellite Prayer,” an attractive young woman kneels as in church, lifting her cell phone like an offering to a glowing satellite sailing across the sky. Entombed in an underground cell that barely contains him, a young man in “Safe Room” strains to hear the static of a television in an adjoining room. In “Perimeter,” a squad of lifesize plastic soldiers surrounds a gas station selling fuel for $6.82 a gallon.

Except for the opaque titles, Frederick lets viewers untangle his enigmas.

He grew up in an artistic family. His mother was a classically trained pianist and his father “dabbled” at painting, he said. As a fourth-grader, Frederick realized he had a talent for art when his father saw his drawing of Prince Charles and asked if he'd traced it.

His high school teachers encouraged him and he earned a college scholarship to study art that reinforced many of the lessons he'd already taught himself.

After several group and solo shows after college, Frederick focused on his career. His wife, Missy Frederick, works as a writer and producer for PBS's “Frontline.” She jokingly refers to his downstairs workshop as “the dungeon.”

Frederick cited English painter David Hockney and New Yorker George Tooker, often described as a “magical realist,” as influences.

Preparing for his first solo show in 15 years, he hopes the new paintings expose the often ignored gulf between humans and the natural world, our obsessive faith in technology and the information glut that deadens any sense of everyday wonder.

In his unfinished “Slow Burn,” a solitary cardinal, escaping a fire, hovers above a red-and-yellow emergency road cone. A viewer might wonder at the cardinal's plight, driven from its natural habitat by a man-made calamity, fleeing to an uncertain future.

“I like combining things on canvas that create situations that suck in viewers and make them think,” said Frederick. “It's just the way I look at things. I'm not trying to make people feel warm and fuzzy.”


Gallery 55 is located at 55 South Main St., Natick. It is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and by appointment.

Gallery 55 West is located at 6 West Central St., Natick. It is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, call 508-740-0260 or visit