3 Questions with Pearl Fryar
Topiary artist Pearl Fryar on passion, ability, and never surprising yourself.
3 QUESTIONS is series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
“Success is three things:
Work, Passion, and Marketing.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
Academically today, we’re setting kids up for failure. Everything these days comes down to a test score. If you don’t fit the mold that was created for you, you get talked into it and then find out you don’t have the ability. You’re set up to fail. So don’t let some test stigmatize you, or tell you what you can’t do. I had no training. It was all creative ability, plus work and passion. My success was my accomplishment.
Success is work plus passion plus marketing. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, or professor, in the final analysis, it’s all about marketing.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
It’s something that I want to do, and I have the ability to do it. Anything you do to become successful is really just work plus passion. When you combine passion and a job, it becomes more than a job. I’m driven by my own drive and ability.
I was always creative as a kid. No one ever recognized that. But I know my abilities. No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t surprise me. I’m not trying to please anyone else. If anything, I’ll never meet my ability. Maybe if I had started twenty years earlier, or ten years earlier. You just work, and then at some point all you have to do is take it to the top.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
In 1980, I was forty years old. I could afford my talent. All my accomplishments were because I could afford my talent. Even then, I was working with throw-away plants, junk. It’s a continuous process. Nothing happens instantly.
Pearl Fryar is a sculptor who uses live plant material to create original, elegantly abstract forms of topiary. He is self-taught and as such has taken risks and developed techniques outside the normal bounds of horticulture. Since the early 1980s, Fryar has been creating fantastic topiary at his garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. Many of the plants in Fryar’s garden were rescued from the compost pile at local nurseries, and under Fryar’s hands, these “throw aways” have thrived and have been transformed into wonderful abstract shapes. Fryar and his garden are now internationally recognized and have been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, television shows, and even a documentary, A Man Named Pearl. Born in rural North Carolina, the son of a sharecropper, Fryar has overcome substantial obstacles through a position of selfless giving. Today, the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden draws visitors from around the globe.