Sam and Caroline Frye of Bowling Green were amazed when their 7-month-old son, Joey, started to walk, skipping crawling.
He did a lot of other things precociously. He potty-trained himself and his ability to draw at a young age made the Fryes aware that he had an above-average intelligence, but he also had difficulties. He would display disruptive behaviors when he heard certain noises, especially a vacuum cleaner, sending him into angry, screaming rages.
By the time Joey was 3, his parents realized that his behaviors were not normal, and he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which is now called autism spectrum disorder.
Joey loved to watch animated series on Public Broadcasting Service and attributes those shows for triggering his imagination. “At 4 years old, I started using watercolors, crayons and paint,” said Joey Frye, who’s now 21. “I created my own styles and artistic liberties.”
Frye said his disorders aren’t a handicap, rather, they are an advantage. He uses the positive characteristics of ASD that enable him to focus on details and patterns. “I call it a gift and a tool to use for other purposes,” he said. “I see things literally.”
While he was a student at Caroline High School, he and his mother had the idea to start an art business called “Artism by Joey.” Clients request personal details to be included in commissioned drawings.
His first commission was for a friend of his mother’s who teaches yoga, loves animals and plays the piano. “I incorporated these three elements into one picture and made a story,” said Frye. “We named it ‘Yogiano.’ The drawing entailed an elephant playing the piano on stage while other animals performed yoga.”
He credits his unique brain for creating eclectic subjects. His mixed-media style includes aspects of colorful traditional folk art, as well as whimsical comic book characters.
The expressive paintings include bizarre compound images, such as his piece “Shrimp Cock-Tail” that is the body of a shrimp with a rooster head serving drinks on the beach to a crab with a birthday cake on its back—“Crabcake.”
Frye’s artwork is grabbing the attention of local residents and the nonprofit Heroes 4 Autism.
Last month, the Frye family attended the Heroes 4 Autism fundraiser in Phoenix at the Torch Cigar Bar. Frye donated a series of three paintings called “The Adventures of Cigar and Whiskey” for the silent auction. All three sold and he has been commissioned for more paintings.
Soon, Frye will finish his art classes at Germanna Community College, where he has earned a Certificate in Fine Art.
“Joey is [a] pleasant and cheerful hard worker,” said professor and local artist Ed King. “He is creative and a self-starter. I wish more students could be like him.”
Starting in June, Frye will have a two-month exhibit at the Sidney E. King Arts Center in Bowling Green.
His parents are proud of his talent and work ethic.
“What is more amazing is when his patrons remark on how he gets a sense of just the right thing to put into the paintings he creates for people,” his mother said. “We never know what he is going to do … but each one just magically turns into something very, very special.”