By Josh Fryfogle
Who’s to say where art ends and life begins?
As for me, I am less confident than I’ve ever been with making that distinction. The lines between the two have blurred and faded.
I used to think of my art as music. But now my music is more a part of my life than my current self-expression.
All art needs is a medium. It’s up to the artist to decide that medium. Music was mine, for a while. But before that it was poetry, when I was young - pre-teen even. I loved words. Writing was a regular activity for me, before I had even learned to really appreciate reading. Whenever I would read, I would often be inspired to write. I remember wondering at my wordiness, having so much I wanted to make real, even if it was just penciled impressions in a composition notebook, or slamming each keystroke on an old, mechanical type typewriter.
A penchant for poetry, along with guitars ever-present, gave rise to songs. I learned pieces of popular songs, but rarely the other parts. Mostly I just wanted to learn technique for later use. I was more interested in writing my own songs, only learning popular tunes when I decided to play the club circuit years later, here in Alaska. But the more I learned those cover songs, the less I wanted to perform.
My heart wasn’t in it. My art wasn’t in it.
Art is changing. The change itself, not the result of change, is the art. Something must change from the natural to the artificial. When I felt that my music wasn’t changing into anything new, but rather repeating an existing pattern, I lost interest.
The artistic urge didn’t go away. After some years of unexpected life changes, and the adjustments that come with circumstance, I started to find where my path begins, with poetry again.
I must have written a book of poetry and prose over the last few years. Still, those poems and words seem less like my art, and more like my life.
So maybe my art is only the part of me that is changing in the moment, taking the material world around me, starting with what surrounds me, and shaping it. Leaving a gift to the present, a physical symbol of the artistic processes of the past.
I first met Andrew Penyak at the Meta Rose Square in Wasilla. I was leaving Pataya Sushi when I saw this guy with a guitar. And a backpack. And lots of layers of clothes, fingerless gloves, smiling.
As I stopped to admire his guitar, he asked me if I played the instrument.
“Yes,” I said.
“Here you go, brother!”
I took the acoustic from his gloved hand, and sat down to play a familiar tune. 'Stand by Me', and we sang along together, verse, chorus, verse. It wasn’t my song, it wasn’t his harmony, it was the moment.
Afterwards, having bonded a bit through spontaneous song, we hugged. Andrew looked me square in the eyes, “Whatever you're going through, it’s going to be okay - God is going to come down from heaven and make it all right!”
I mean, wow.
I was taken aback from the whole scenario, song, and Andrew’s second-sight. He prophesied healing, he held my shoulders and assured me. He didn’t ask what might be happening, either. He just assumed there must be something that I would like to see change - some art that needs to be made of some common thing.
I left the mall changed a bit. This destitute man had sang with me, an uplifting song, and encouraged me without question. He had sincere concern for me, empathy.
The next time I saw Andrew, weeks later, was at Koslosky Center in Palmer. Same clothes, guitar, backpack - he was fresh out of Mat-Su Pretrial. I was restocking papers, so no time for singing. He showed me a photo album of his wife and daughter. He cried. We hugged again, and I encouraged him. He had just gotten out of a cage - because he had lost it and smashed a parked car with a sign. Distressed about his missing family, the man had cracked. It was clear he regretted it. I bought him a coffee card from Vagabond Blues and went about my paper route. I thought about him all day, how he immediately told me he was just out of jail. He wasn’t obligated to tell me that, but he wasn’t hiding that truth.
The third time I saw Andrew was back in Wasilla, at Fred Meyer. He was playing his guitar for passersby, making a scene. I grabbed my iPhone and started videoing. I didn’t ask, just did it. Art was happening, as I sang along to 'Danny’s Song'. It wasn’t his song, it wasn’t my video, it was the moment.
It was inspired, and Andrew and I were just aware enough to let it happen, change.
I posted the video immediately to Facebook, without review. I bought my groceries, went home, and watched as the video was viewed thousands and thousands of times. As I write this article it has been shared by over 800 people, viewed by over 32,000 viewers. Not bad, not bad at all.
Since then, I have gotten to know Andrew a little better. He has some history with the legal system. He has gone through lots of change. Lots of art happening with this guy. And as any artist who’s been at it a while will tell you, art includes lots of failure. Failed attempts are part of the process that is art. There is no success without failure. The songs we listen to, the paintings we look at, these are just proof that something changed, someone did art. So every artist must get used to changing, through trial and error, faith and failure. The artist keeps making adjustments, seeing what will happen, and making more adjustments.
The video seems to have gotten Andrew some attention. People are sending offers from all over Alaska for Andrew to perform at their venues. That’s great. But for Andrew, he has other things at work in his life, changes being made. Music is the sound his art makes - his heart makes...
“Music is how I pray,” he told me.
Art is different for everyone. For me, I’m thinking it has more to do with affecting positive change in my community. At this point in my life, my interests and desires have converged. I am interested in politics, but I don’t plan to hold office. I care about my faith, but I don’t find it in buildings. I am concerned about the economy, but I don’t desire a lot of money. I love my children, because I want them to grow up.
Who’s to say where life begins and art ends?