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