PAUL FRYER AT THE FIRE STATION, LONDON
'Rehabilitation' by Paul Fryer
"Have you had a look inside my wooden bomb?" were the first words out of Paul Fryer's mouth on Wednesday night. I wasn't sure, at first, what he meant. But you couldn't miss it really, the pale wood 'Rehabilitation' sculpture, an exact copy of the atom bomb. It greets you in the courtyard of a lovely old fire station in Chiltern Street W1, the venue for 'Potential and Ground', Fryer's new show. The grand old Victorian fire station is disused now but it still has an old red FIRE sign hanging outside. The words PAUL FRYER in big white letters greet you on the black iron gates. It felt unusual to have a show in a big space not normally used for exhibitions, in an area where there aren't many art shows. It felt like eighties New York.
'Rehabilitation' is a literal reproduction of the Fatman bomb the Americans dropped on Nagasaki. Paul Fryer took its measurements from NASA's original blueprint microfilm. The wooden bomb seems to be bursting with potential, funnily enough, considering it represents something so painful and wrong. Around the back, there's a tiny peephole through which you can look inside to see a perfectly made-up bed; hospital corners and everything. The lens of the peephole makes the bed look inordinately long; there's a real Tardis effect going on. The plain white pillow and scratchy-looking blanket remind you of a bed in an army hospital, or an asylum. I think Fryer is talking about finding refuge, and how that contrasts with the unpitying nature of the atom bomb, that allows for no refuge at all.
That was the first thing of note. Then inside the fire station's garage sits 'Deus Ex Machina'. This lightning machine comes from his first solo show, 'Carpe Noctum', in London, March 2005; it was purchased by Damien Hirst for the Murderme collection but Hirst has lent it back for this show. It's the second of Fryer's electromagnetic machine-sculptures; the other one, 'Petit Mal', was shown for one night only in the Temple within the Great Eastern Hotel, in April last year. Fryer and his physicist colleague Colin Dancer keep putting their heads together and coming up with these giant fiery pieces. 'Deus Ex Machina' fires out lightning in all directions towards the cage that imprisons it; it's a high voltage resonator, and it has to be inside a big metal cage, or it might kill someone. Whenever Dancer switched it on last Wednesday, you could see jaws dropping all over the place.
Jude Law came by in a pair of very pointy shoes, with frosted blond tips in his hair. He's a very big fan of Fryer's work and seemed fascinated by the waxwork Ophelia in a glass box. It's the second Ophelia Fryer has made. This one's made from white wax; the other one was black. White Ophelia's left toes are slightly curled. That little movement was probably her last before drowning. The whole piece is affecting in its tenderness.
"There has GOT to be progress," is one of Fryer's much loved maxims. The repeating of the mantra seems to be working. It's been a long time coming but that intense work ethic and the seemingly Sisyphean challenges he sets himself are finally paying off. People just keep buying stuff now. 'Pieta', the waxwork model of Jesus in an electric chair sold for Â£100,000 at the Zoo Art Fair last year - the most a piece of work has fetched at that fair ever. He's made another 'Pieta' for 'Potential and Ground' which has just sold for the same amount. It's downstairs at the fire station in a wooden panelled room, the only lit room in a whole dark basement of works. He's a traditional Jesus, with a crown of thorns, and he's looking terribly forlorn in his execution chamber. Then there's a cast iron skeleton head behind a cage, called 'Pit' and it's glowing red hot - an incredible 950 degrees because of a 7 kilowatt induction heater and a load of fire bricks. And then you come across the heart-stopping 'Perpetual Study in Defeat' that was first shown at Sudeley Castle last year. A real star in a jar. By harnessing a Fusor system - a simple particle accelerator invented by Philo T Farnsworth in the 1950s - Fryer has created an extremely high vacuum in a jar. Using charged grids, any particles of gas present collide in the centre and form a ball of plasma that has a temperature of over 10 million degrees centigrade, the same temperature as the surface of the sun.
The collectors who bought at least half of the sixteen pieces of 'Potential and Ground' want to remain anonymous but they're obviously not short of cash and they're all European. Over Â£400,000 of work was sold on Wednesday and several of the pieces are to be exhibited publicly in Venice during the Biennale in June. Lots of the art world came out to show support. Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Harland Miller, Kenny Schachter, Dinos Chapman, James Birch et al. Even Fryer's old art teacher, Mr Barnes, from Leeds came down. He hadn't heard from Paul for over 20 years but seems proud of what he's achieved. "But we never did this kind of thing in art class, mind."
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and Elliot McDonald, the people behind 'Reconstruction', the annual sculpture exhibition at Sudeley Castle, are backing Fryer for this show, along with Kristy Stubbs, his American gallerist. Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst kindly opened her five-storey house in Fitzrovia for the after-party, complete with caterers and too much champagne. It must have been about five in the morning when there was a bit of a kerfuffle downstairs. Someone lamped someone else, it was all a bit messy, blood was spilt, but it soon blew over. He won't be invited again. -Laura K Jones