Artist Abiy Frew keeps an eye on the immigration crisis abroad while working in Key West. He knows all too well the precarious world of leaving one’s home country; a combination of displacement and hope for opportunity abroad. A native of Addis Ababa, Ethopia, Frew immigrated to the United States in 1998 but keeps looking back.

“I still struggle with what’s happening on that side of the world,” said Frew. “I have seen gentrification first hand in my home country, people pushed out and lost.”

Frew translates that sense of dislocation with his ethereal sea series about to be shown at the Studios of Key West. He studied figure painting at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and his newest series incorporates figures muted in an intangible landscape of colors.

“It’s about finding your way out and figuring where you belong,” said Frew. Frew is open to dialogue and discussion about his work, typical of expressionistic painting, driven by emotions. Like the journey of immigrants, his paintings are not clearly defined and exude the same sense of personal struggle. Mixing images, colors, with materials such as sticks, charcoal and cement create indefinable worlds the viewer passes through and wonders where it will end, like gazing out at the sea.

“Abiy’s paintings are powerful, expressionistic things, though always built on a foundation of academic training,” said Studios Director Jed Dodds. “His work is a far cry from most of what you see in Key West, and we thought it was important to be seen for just that reason.”

In 2005, Abiy was the recipient of the Huldah Bender Kerner scholarship for outstanding achievement in painting at the Academy. He has exhibited in numerous group shows in Philadelphia  and has been commissioned to do portraits as well as a public mural in Maryland. He has received a number of awards in variety of mediums, including the Charles Toppan Prize for excellence in drawings.


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