Meet the Member: Frederick Weston

Frederick Weston is a self-described “fash-ist”. Because “fashion is the only true democracy that exists in the world today,” he says.

The incredibly charismatic, interdisciplinary artist has been part of the Senior Planet community for years. Frederick is also a longtime member of Visual AIDS — a leading New York City non-profit which uses art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving a legacy. He works in varied media: collage, drawing, sculpture, photography, performance, and creative writing. Born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1946 and raised in Detroit, he came to New York in the ‘70s to enter the world of art and fashion, studying menswear design and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Last spring, he had a groundbreaking solo exhibition in New York City, Happening, which included multimedia collages made from a variety of materials, such as magazine clippings, plastic bags, and fabric swatches. Some of them contain the faces of celebrities, including George Foreman and Barack Obama.

We sat down with Frederick, whose smile is as big as his magnetic personality, and discussed everything from Senior Planet to art to AIDS to the late Toni Morrison.

 

SP: You’re an incredibly strong presence. How would you describe yourself?

FW: I’m a starving artist. I’m an emerging artist. And I’m a professional AIDS patient. 

 

SP: What does it mean to be a ‘professional AIDS patient’?

FW: When you get an AIDS diagnosis, in order to get your entitlements, you need to take a vow of poverty. In order to get housing and the health care that you need you have to say you don’t have anything in your pockets. Because the minute you start to have anything they’re going to start taking things away from you. So I’ve just managed to learn, to live, and to seek out a rich life under those circumstances. I really consider going to my day treatment program, taking my medicine, keeping my viral load down and my T-cells up, kind of like my job. 

 

SP: Tell us about your art.

FW: I do collage. I got involved with collage by way of art therapy. I started writing again as therapeutic writing and then it became a performance, and then Visual AIDS. I’m getting recognition as an artist now. Basically, because I’m 73 and a professional AIDS patient who has managed to survive and has been practicing art all this time.

 

SP: What’s been your experience at Senior Planet?

FW: I joined Senior Planet to reintroduce myself to technology and because I didn’t have a computer. The day program I’m in has ancient equipment and the library has old computers. Senior Planet has the best of everything. I go there to access information. I took the classes Computer Essentials and Beyond the Basics with trainer Elizabeth Pooran. They were great!

 

SP: In addition to accessing information and technology, how else has Senior Planet played a role in your life?

FW: I’ve met friends there and now I’m bumping into people that I know from other places who happen to go there. I was there the other day and I met a lady I know from another community. It’s a fun place! What we don’t know we don’t know together, and we try to learn.

 

SP: You are a firm believer in the 12 steps.

FW: I’m in recovery. I do the 12 steps. Everybody has some kind of addiction. I think the 12 steps benefit everyone, no matter what your addiction might be. Whether it’s chemical or behavioral.

 

SP: What person would you most like to have dinner with?

FW: James Baldwin and Nina Simone. And Toni Morrison. My mother died recently… I’m going home next week to close up that business so that place is kind of raw. And i just lost two very good friends in my day treatment program. And my day treatment program is ending. There’s a lot of sadness and grief at the moment. When I mentioned Toni Morrison, that just touched it. I needed a minute because I was verklempt.

 

SP: What’s next for you?

FW: I’d like to open up a ‘sober bar’ — no alcohol is involved and everybody’s welcome. Like Studio 54 before the drugs and the alcohol.

 

SP: What does aging with attitude mean to you?

FW: Aging with attitude is all about my mindset. It’s about being positive as opposed to having a negative mindset. I see it as looking forward to a brighter day.  I don’t have to be negative about yesterday. I can write whatever narrative I want.

Note: You can see Frederick’s work here.

Photo: Caitlin O’Toole

11 comments
  • DeShanta
    REPLY

    Art Supplies and materials are Expensive and Since taking a ‘Vow of poverty’ how does he afford art materials? Art is therapeutic and would benefit all seniors yet there is little to no art classes for seniors. Free Art Classes for seniors is non-existent, so where does he get his free art supplies? And how about providing and sharing your art and art supplies to help all seniors? There isn’t a need for a ‘Sober-Bar’ there is a need to help seniors who after paying their own rent, utilities, medical insurance, prescription co-payments and food there is very, very little money left over, these seniors struggle with bus fare getting to doctors — forget social activities, as they are just hanging onto keeping a roof over their head. Many seniors live alone, lonely and leery to spend should they manage to save a few extra dollars one month, knowing next month being short a few extra dollars would create a crisis. So forget the ‘Sober-Bar’, creating preserving a legacy all self promotional notions and help all struggling seniors and create free art programs for them all. All your power and ability and energy to put all your art together, get those supplies, the studio space, think about what you can do for the regular seniors who are struggling out there and how two hours of creating art would benefit them –put their art in a show.

  • Ken
    REPLY

    About his comment: “Everybody has some kind of addiction. Whether it’s chemical or behavioral.”
    I want to say, Physically and emotionally health people Do Exist and it is unfair to make a broad and generalized inventory taking comment. To say everybody has some kind of addiction is judgmental and a share the blame rational.

    • Carlos K
      REPLY

      He says he in a 12 step program. He needs to look at the dysfunctional controlling behavior known as ” taking someone else’s inventory” which is covered and discussed in all the literature. this behavior is ego based, controlling and excused based perspective it is a technique often used to spread and smear blame which avoids accountability for one’s own actions

  • Geraldine
    REPLY

    I really enjoyed reading Fredrick’s story, I would like to meet him.
    We all have life stories of life.
    When I sat down with a person, I like to ask what is your life story? What makes you you? Some take it as prying so I too have learned to go along with the small talk.
    I would like to see other people of color stories as we age with attitude.
    I always enjoy life stories as we age, we’re not all sitting in a rocking chair waiting for our life’s ending number to be called.

  • Tweet
    REPLY

    Fred is my brother from another mother! We have been soulmates since my first days of college in 1970.

    By his presence, wisdom and humility, he continues to enrich the lives of my family, his Alpha Phi Alpha brothers and perhaps, anyone who has ever met him.

    Fred is a one of a kind blessing!!! Thank you Fred for existing.

    • Frederick Weston
      REPLY

      Tweet ? …
      Soulmates indeed ! I thank God everyday for placing people like you in my life !
      I am because You are and Mother/Father/Everything/God is !
      Stay safe, stay saved, stay sane, stay soft, stay sober …

  • Jamie
    REPLY

    A Quote: “When you get an AIDS diagnosis, in order to get your entitlements, you need to take a vow of poverty. In order to get housing and the health care that you need you have to say you don’t have anything in your pockets. Because the minute you start to have anything they’re going to start taking things away from you. So I’ve just managed to learn, to live, and to seek out a rich life under those circumstances. I really consider going to my day treatment program, taking my medicine, keeping my viral load down and my T-cells up, kind of like my job. ”
    This an “ah-ha” moment?

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