CMA Stories

“I feel inspired by my surroundings and find myself thinking about the things I encounter daily… and eventually turning them into art” — 5 Minutes With Artist Tom Fruin

On view as part of Home Sweet Home: Is a Home a Sanctuary? Tom Fruin‘s miniature homes, created out of plexiglass and steel, are models for Fruin’s larger-scale works. Inspired by Copenhagen garden houses that provided refuge to state workers, Fruin’s sculptures illuminate our complex relationship with city dwelling. Get to know the artist below!

Your large stained glass sculptures, Watertower and Kolonihavehus, are iconic public artworks in New York City. Watertower, perched atop a building and viewable from the nearby Brooklyn Queens Expressway, pays homage to the functioning water towers of New York City, while also becoming a beloved part of the NYC skyline itself. For those unfamiliar with your work, both sculptures are a continuation of your practice of reclaiming discarded materials — a practice that you started years ago traversing abandoned parts of New York City in the early morning. Many of the materials you used to create your early work were discarded by individuals. For your larger, most recent pieces, you assembled reclaimed materials — primarily plexiglass and steel —  that were discarded by factories and stores. In all of these works, there is so much lived history in each individual panel. Can you tell us more about when and why you started using discarded materials to create sculptures? How does the weaving of different histories, people, and places serve as an inspiration for you?

There is so much stuff everywhere in NYC. Someone is always moving in or out, during every month, on every block, and leaving stuff behind. My use of reclaimed material has less to do with environmental concerns than simply using readily available (and free!) materials that are ubiquitous in this city. I feel inspired by my surroundings and find myself thinking about the things I encounter daily… and eventually turning them into art.

As a bonus, these previously used items are imbued with history and an aura. The nicks and scars of prior use convey a lived-in feeling that transfers to the artwork, so the resultant sculpture is much more nuanced and significant.

While a lot of your recent work has been created in architectural scale for public spaces, you have been adapting these ideas and processes to create smaller works, including the Color Study sculptures on view in our current exhibition, Home Sweet Home. What challenges have you faced while making the works on a smaller scale, and how do you think the difference in scale will affect the way viewers interact with the pieces?

It is important to me that larger works encourage circumnavigation to understand the full form, so these wall-based works help to work out the evolving pallet of colors used throughout human-scaled pieces. The shift in scale allows one to experience the pieces in a different way — houses on a wall are presented “on a silver platter” offering the viewer dominance. We can objectively observe and see the pieces as they are. Architecturally scaled objects immerse the viewer in the experience involving the setting and lots of variables that are more easily controlled in a gallery setting.

Your sculptures are made of offcuts from sign shops and plexiglass found around the Chinatown neighborhood in New York City. Why did you choose to source your materials from Chinatown for this series?

I live near the sign shops where the plexi is sourced from. As the work scaled up from found object quilts to large outdoor structures, I switched techniques and materials — from sewing candy wrappers to welding acrylic. In the same way that the trash indicated the behavior of the people that discarded it, the plexiglas is indicative of the city it came from – all the material used is offcuts from signage and products that make up this city. It should both blend in and reflect the place in which it is made.

Do you have a favorite quote about “home” from a movie, book, or song?

I have always liked the concept that “home is where the heart is” — could be any place where love is present …

In your own words, what does “home” mean to you?

“Home” and “Quilt” are almost interchangeable for me: warmth, security, family, tradition.

What do you think makes “home” feel like a unique concept as a New Yorker?

Back in my East Village days, I would joke that I lived in a huge home with the pantry half a block away… it was the corner deli! I treat my apartment as a safe haven and my personal space. All else is outsourced to the neighborhood.

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