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Local artist Stew Frick dominates the art scene by customizing clothes

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Local artist Stew Frick dominates the art scene by customizing clothes

Native Pittsburgh artist Stew Frick’s fashion work heavily features abstract designs.

Native Pittsburgh artist Stew Frick’s fashion work heavily features abstract designs.

Anna Bongardino | Contributing Editor

Native Pittsburgh artist Stew Frick’s fashion work heavily features abstract designs.

Anna Bongardino | Contributing Editor

Anna Bongardino | Contributing Editor

Native Pittsburgh artist Stew Frick’s fashion work heavily features abstract designs.

By Siddhi Shockey, Staff Writer

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As a child, Stew Frick assumed everyone saw different days of the week or letters not just as symbols, but as an array of colors. When they got older, they discovered these experiences were actually a particular phenomenon called chromesthesia, in which auditory and visual sensory information interact. This synesthesia helped Frick discover their calling in art and fashion.

Frick’s fashion art primarily consists of geometric shapes, sometimes dripping with metallic or pastel-colored ooze. Some designs highlight shades of greens, browns or pinks. Often they are simply words or colorful vines that stretch up sleeves of a shirt or the heel of a boot.

The designs are almost otherworldly and abstract, as if pulled from a fever dream.

“Often a thing of it will be that you see ‘A’ as blue or you envision different days of the week or of the year as different colors or shapes and patterns,” Frick said. “You’ll conceptualize them in a physical space around you.”

Their chromesthesia has allowed them to collaborate well with musical artists like Brittney Chantele or indie rock band Distant Futures. For an upcoming project, Frick has been working with artist Benji to create one jacket for each of the 13 tracks on Benji’s newest album. Each piece is inspired by Frick’s synesthetic experience with each track.

Frick’s own clothes are decorated in bold hues of blue and pink, some depicting words celebrating queerness. Whether they are modeling their designs or crafting clothes for local singers and bands, Frick thrives in a league of their own.

Frick — a Pittsburgh native, born in Coraopolis — has coined the term “clothing customizer” as their official job title. They often begin with a clean canvas of items ranging from boots to sneakers to jackets, made of either leather or cloth, and then add their creative designs.

Frick’s love of art didn’t begin until much later in life after they had decided to leave college and pursue a career that would hopefully involve clothing customization. During their time at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, they studied business and marketing, a career path Frick hoped would create a foundation for starting their own clothing design business.

“The [business classes] were interesting enough, and I started taking them with the thought in mind of making clothes one day,” they said. “But it just all felt like if I followed the teachings that I got in college, even if they might technically get me more money, it was all soulless and disappointing to think of my life following that path.”

Frick spent some of their early life living with family in Germany and returned to Pittsburgh during their childhood years, going on to attend IUP before dropping out to pursue clothing design and graphic art as a career. When they are not working on their art, Frick works part-time at a road and infrastructure company, grading roads in the greater Pittsburgh area. Although time-consuming, their work allows them to support themselves, both in their art and in meeting their daily needs.

With their family mostly rooted in the sciences, Frick wasn’t sure of their path in clothing customization. But they were sure it was better than finishing school with thousands of dollars in debt. Around this same time, they began pursuing art more by creating more sketches and canvas paintings. Frick didn’t immediately begin working with clothing upon making the decision to leave school.

“I started with canvas paintings,” they said, “and that’s really just because I hadn’t worked my way up to ruining a shirt yet.”

Some of Frick’s paintings can be seen as murals on the walls of  The Bushnel — a house venue for music performances in Oakland. There, Frick’s friend Brittney Chantele a singer-songwriter, activist and artist — often performs. Chantele and Frick hit it off right away after meeting at a poetry reading event and began collaborating on pieces. Frick began to customize hoodies for Chantele’s music performances that she would use to advertise her music and Frick’s art.

“Basically, we developed this relationship where I give Stew my old clothes and they put their art on them and passes them onto me,” she said. “Then I usually wear them for a performance where I know that I’ll be photographed.”

Frick has done similar projects with groups like Distant Futures. They are featured on the band’s album cover wearing an original Stew Frick: a shirt with the word “were” printed vertically in scratchy red handwriting on the back. Connor Schweisberger — guitarist and vocalist for Distant Futures — was excited to collaborate with Frick again.

“There is so much self-appreciation that they put into their art,” Schweisberger said. “I’ve never seen such mutual respect and admiration in an artist because they put their whole heart into everything they do.”

Through their collaborations, Frick has found a burgeoning network of support in the artist community. With this, they have expanded their business through their online store, Sweet Tooth, or through their social media.

Frick has since worked with stores like Three Pigs Collective, a vintage store in Lawrenceville that showcases the work of different clothing and jewelry artists in the Pittsburgh area. Through this collaboration, Frick began working with leather jackets, a staple of their current customizations.

Ultimately, Chantele believes Frick deserves more credit for their work. She claims their impact on her life has been greater than they give themselves credit for.

“You know, I think they embody the ‘walk-the-walk, talk-the-talk’ mentality,” Chantele said. “They treat others the way they would like to be treated and I see that in so much of what they do.”

Frick enjoys being immersed in the artist community, but they readily admit that it is also nerve-racking to put themselves out there. They find that at the end of the day, everyone is simply looking to enjoy art together, no matter their background or level of achievement.

“I started making art as an escape to try and express trauma or express any kind of emotion,” Frick said. “At the end, it’s an ability to re-contextualize yourself and be able to escape the banalities of life and stress.”

 

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Local artist Stew Frick dominates the art scene by customizing clothes