An Interview with Billy Friebele


“Timescape,” a 2006 installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Photo courtesy of Billy Friebele)

Hyattsville artist Billy Friebele brings the digital world to public spaces.

Whether it’s using a GPS unit and a video camera to track shoppers at Target or looping video of a year’s worth of commutes, his work bridges the line between the online world and the real one.

Friebele recently received a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council for his artwork and has had his art featured at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and the American University Museum.

In an email interview, he talked with the Hyattsville Wire.

How did you become an artist?

I never really made a decision to be an artist. I was a philosophy major in college, and I started to play around with making objects that tested some of the theories and ideas I was learning at the time. I found it to be a good way to explore the material that was difficult to comprehend through non-verbal expressions. I was a musician before I was an artist, and this has influenced my process as well.

Some of your pieces appear very conceptual. How do you describe the medium you work in?

My projects start from ideas, and I follow them through various mediums. While there is a digital component to most of my artworks, I also enjoy creating sculptures and drawings. A lot of my work involves translating time-based events through sculptural or two-dimensional forms. So, when people ask why type of art I make, it is a longer answer than “I am a painter” but I think moving between mediums allows me to explore intersections rather than the characteristics of a certain category of art production.

Is it harder to work as an artist when your pieces vary so much?

It may be harder in the sense that you can’t easily describe what you do in a short sentence, but I wouldn’t say it has much effect on how my career. Many contemporary artists work in multiple mediums.

What’s your day job?

I am a professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

When did you move to Hyattsville? What drew you here?

I bought a house in Hyattsville in 2003. I grew up in Cheverly, which is not too far away. I like Hyattsville because it is convenient to get downtown easily on the Green Line of the Metro. Also I like the diverse population. My studio is in my house and I really like being able to work at home, something that was harder to do when I lived in D.C.

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