How has fatherhood impacted your artistic practice?
Gabriel Friedman (GF): I didn’t consider myself an artist when my first daughter was born. I had considered myself an artist when I was younger and there was a point in my 20s when I walked away from art; didn’t want anything to do with art. I wanted to learn other stuff about life. Then, when my first daughter was born, there was a part of me that needed to be creative again. It took a couple years and I realized that part of me really was creative, but also, I realized that if I was going to be a good father, I needed to be who I was. So, I had to change my life to be a better father and therefore be an artist.
Gabriel Friedman in collaboration with Denise Duong
At what point? A love song duet, 2021
wood, steel, saved objects
How do you see your children growing up around your art?
GF: I see them benefitting from it. My grandmother and my mother were both artists, my dad was kind of an artist but more just a unique guy. Growing up around the arts in my family, I remember there was a point where I realized I have something special; my life is not normal. Even though growing up it felt normal; there was a point growing up when I realized my friends didn’t have art in their mom’s art show, didn’t have a dad that left home at 18 and hitch-hiked all over the country and hung out with the Merry Pranksters. They didn’t have a mom who was doing avant-garde art shows in Paris in the late 70s. So I think that’s part of what I realized after my first daughter was born; that to be the best parent would be to pass that unique experience on. For example I remember when I was a kid, my dad had a pool table. It was normal, except the felt was bright purple. I remember thinking this was really cool, because nobody else had this! Even if it is something small, if you have something in your life that is special, or a different color; you know, if your house is a different color, or if something in your life is unique, it is really inspirational to children because it’s kind of empowering – that feeling that I’ve got this special thing in my life.
There’s another thing I would say about being a parent and an artist and thinking about my children’s experience: it’s important to me to try to strike a balance between being a stable parent and being an inspirational parent. I thought about this intentionally and constantly when I first became a parent. I decided if I’m going to be an artist, I can’t be the wild rock star that runs off and lives this amazing inspirational life and isn’t really there for their children. On the flip side, there are parents who do all the normal stuff and are super stable, their kids can go to college and do all this great stuff, but they’re maybe not inspired and they end up doing something they don’t care about. I felt that there has to be something in the middle where I can be inspiring to my children but also be present.
An ode to our wonderful imperfections, 2021, wood
How can people continue to support artists in their communities – maybe more specifically, how can communities support artists who are also fathers/caregivers?
GF: Well first I’ll give my experience on the working father. There was a point when I separated from my older daughter’s mother that I was a single working dad, but I wanted my child to be around other kids. I learned really quickly that there were almost no other single, present dads to do stuff with – I couldn’t find them! I had one great friend who was in the same boat, and then all my other friends were single moms or moms whose partners were working all the time. And that was great! It was really fun. The great proportion of single working parents are mothers, and they deserve that credit. That being said, being a single working dad, to be present, is a little bit alienating.
And more generally, how to support artists or artists as parents is with patience. Art can be hard to do. Even if you’re really good at it! And if you’re a parent that is present in your child’s life, you have drastically less time to focus on being creative. I think just being conscious and patient is really supportive.
Gabriel Friedman in collaboration with Denise Duong
Unexpected Us, 2020
Public installation Scissortail park, OKC
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists or dads?
GF: I don’t know if it’s a tip, but I think one thing I learned in the past year, is that even when the whole world kind of stops, which no one has ever really experienced except for us now, whatever it is that you do—you kind of still do it. It changes, but all the artists I know kept kind of doing their thing whether anyone was going to see it or not. All the musicians kept making music. I remember explaining this to my older daughter, Olivia this year. She was asking something about “what do you do?” I explained that what I do isn’t my job, it is who I am. Artists are people that are propelled to do what they do. So even if there isn’t the art show or the performance, the artists are going to hopefully feel driven to still do it. So, not advice, but something I feel like I learned and have been thinking about recently.
Booya Car, 2019
Public sculpture installed along a hiking trail at Lake Stanley Draper in southeast Oklahoma City.
Gabriel Friedman is an Oklahoma City based sculptural and large-scale 3D artist, photographer, builder, teacher, and father. He received his education at the San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston Arts Institutes. His works and mediums are site-specific, ranging from the whimsical to the absurd. He has training and extensive experience in a variety of materials and mediums including carpentry and woodworking, naturally harvested materials, metal and welding, blacksmithing, general construction and contracting etc. His works reflect his intent to create a long-lasting, positive impact with a focus on his immediate community. Gabriel creates each piece unique in form and function.
You can follow Gabriel on instagram @g.e.buildman