11" x 10"
Pencil and various inks on polypropylene
The chaos and order of BJJ take artistic form in Fredrica Introne’s paintings.
“When I close my eyes at night, I see jiu-jitsu,” says Fredrica Introne, “those moments when time slows down, focus becomes razor-sharp, and you feel so utterly, exquisitely alive. That’s what I’m trying to capture.”
Fredrica’s works expertly evoke both the corporeal and meditative aspects of grappling. Her approach encompasses 'abstract figurative' painting, the contemporary style pioneered by Francis Bacon that's venerated by heavyweight collectors and art buffs alike. This is offset by contrasting, calligraphic details and aspects of anatomical drawing. Her subjects are dynamic, gymnastic tangles in the vein of American master George Wesley Bellows. But while Bellows painted boxing and wrestling in the early 1900s, Fredrica portrays 21st Century Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The Michigan-based blue belt found BJJ after she was forced to abandon Muay Thai, due an injury that caused the central vision in her right eye to fail.
“The biggest benefit of training has been with respect to my art,” she says, “I have a wicked perfectionist streak, but for whatever reason I never had any expectations with respect to my jiu-jitsu. When I found jiu-jitsu, I was so happy to be training again that I didn’t torture myself over taps or mistakes. I decided to take the same approach to art, detaching myself from the outcome and digging into the process. Art and jiu-jitsu both hold the potential for a very, very long arc of technical improvement - it excites me that I still have so much territory left to cover in both disciplines.”
Enjoy some of Fredrica’s latest art just below, and there’s an extended Q&A interview at the foot of the page. She posts new work on Instagram at @fredricaintrone, where you can also find news of any print edition releases. “I do encourage people to share competition photos with me!” she says, “I’m always looking for exciting reference pictures. People can get in touch or send me photos via email: firstname.lastname@example.org." Plus catch Fredrica in action at IBJJF Masters Worlds, this year in Las Vegas.
11" x 10"
Pencil and various inks on polypropylene
The Sweaty Guy
11" x 14"
Pencil and various inks on polypropylene
9.5" x 12.5"
Pencil, ink, calligraphy marker, watercolour, watercolour pencil, salt, chalk
11" x 15"
Pencil, ink, calligraphy marker, watercolour, salt, chalk
11.5" x 15"
Pencil, ink, calligraphy marker, watercolour, watercolour pencil
Ronald Mann's Leg
15" x 11"
Pencil, ink, calligraphy marker, watercolour, chalk, on paper
9" x 6"
Pencil, ink, calligraphy marker on paper
Battles of London: Where are you from, where do you live?
Fredrica Introne: “I grew up in Memphis and Colorado, went back to Memphis for undergraduate school, went to graduate school in Boston and law school in NYC. I now reside in Michigan, roughly an hour away from Detroit."
What is your artistic background – are you self trained or do you have formal qualifications?
“My artistic training is not precisely what one would consider formal. I took a few courses in college and spent some time in Rome, where I studied a bit of ancient art. For me, though, the most serious work I did was well before that, in secondary school.
In the early nineties I went to a very small independent high school in Boulder, Colorado. At the time, Boulder was a very funky and freewheeling place, and we had an unusual woman named Jane Faigao as our art instructor. Jane had a sort-of ‘anarcho-buddhist’ approach to art instruction. She was always pushing us to unyoke our expectations from our observations; to be open to the weirdness of the living world. She regularly brought in nude models, usually people who were very old, or very odd looking.
It was a fantastic opportunity to look at the body in ways that really blew our teenaged minds. I can’t imagine anyone getting away with that in a high school setting now, but Jane really got us to take our art seriously. We worked hard, often for several hours each afternoon, almost entirely on figurative work.”
Is art a part of your regular career?
“I am professionally trained as an attorney, but I no longer practice law. For many years I was troubled by the fear that art was primarily a narcissistic pursuit, so I did my best to act like a responsible adult. I’m done with that now, and painting full time.”
Why did you choose jiu-jitsu as subject matter? Do you train at all yourself?
“When I close my eyes at night, I see jiu-jitsu. Like lots of people who train, I’m obsessed. There are so many compelling aspects of the sport, but right now I’m really in love with competing. I think anyone who has competed knows what it’s like to have those moments when time slows down, focus becomes razor-sharp, and you feel so utterly, exquisitely alive. Win or lose, those moments spark in your memory for years. That’s what I’m trying to capture.”
How did you discover BJJ?
"I originally trained in Muay Thai [Thai boxing]. Sixteen years ago, I moved to New York City for law school, and happened to rent an apartment next door to the gym where the legendary Phil Nurse [English expatriate striking coach for Georges St Pierre, amongst others] was teaching.
Classes back then were in a dank slippery basement with a painted concrete floor. We did hundreds of V-ups on that wicked surface. I can only imagine how much tailbone skin was lost there.
Training with Phil is hard to describe. Outside the ring he’s this very soft-spoken, affable, graceful guy – inside the ring he’s relentless, calculating, expressionless, awful. He cultivates that same dispassionate, unrelenting mindset in his fighters and has an amazing intuition for just how far a person can be pushed. I learned to listen to him: I trusted him when he told me to keep working, and in return he showed me that my athletic limits were not where I thought they were. It was a real privilege to train with a coach like Phil. I fell in love with Muay Thai and had a handful of amateur fights.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time is that I have exceptionally thin retinas. While training for my last fight, one of my eyes started to bleed just behind the retina. I didn’t notice it right away, and I had no idea when I stepped into the ring that it would be my final bout. Over the course of the next few days I lost all central vision in my right eye. I was counselled to quit training immediately and avoid sparring for the rest of my life. They were able to stop the bleeding, but they were not able to restore my vision.
Two years ago I discovered jiu-jitsu. Because there’s no striking, the risk to my eyes is minimal. Finding another combat sport felt like coming back to life. Every time I step out on to the mat to roll or compete I feel so utterly grateful to be there.
I train in a small university town in mid-Michigan. The BJJ scene here is not huge, but our coach, Matt Linsemier, is a forward-thinking guy who’s always working to bring in new knowledge and encourages his team to do the same."
Do you prefer gi, or nogi – jiu-jitsu with or without the robe?
“I love both gi and nogi; gi because of its potential for complexity, nogi for the fast pace and freedom of movement. I also dabble a little in judo, and would love to have the time to learn some more wrestling, which is very big here in Michigan.”
How has what you’ve learned in training filtered into your work?
“I think everyone who trains has found that it helps with keeping a cool head under pressure. For me, though, the biggest benefit has been with respect to my art. I have a wicked perfectionist streak but for whatever reason I never had any expectations with respect to my jiu-jitsu. When I found jiu-jitsu, I was so happy to be training again that I didn’t torture myself over taps or mistakes. I decided to take the same approach when I started making art again, to detach myself from the outcome and just dig into the process. Art and jiu-jitsu both hold the potential for a very, very long arc of technical improvement - it excites me that I still have so much territory left to cover in both disciplines.”
Do you have any jiu-jitsu figures that you especially admire?
“The jiu-jitsu world is full of unsung heroes. I’ve met so many fascinating, strong-minded people, most of whom will never be well known. It takes an unusual sort of person to dedicate so much time and energy to this strangely gruelling sport. Getting to know other jiu-jitsu people, even my own opponents, is one of my favourite parts of going to tournaments. Of the names you might recognise, though… I’m a fan of the iconic Chris Haueter, who is not just a hardcore old school jiujiteiro but also an artist and a supporter of other artists. From a style perspective, I really enjoy watching Bruno Malfacine. Also – Bill Cooper. That guy’s jiu-jitsu is completely unhinged, I love it."
Do you sell your work at all? Either the jiu-jitsu pieces or otherwise?
“Yes, I periodically release limited edition prints of the jiu-jitsu pieces.”
Which artists have inspired you over the years?
“I studied classics in college and spent a lot of time looking at early Etruscan art and Hellenistic sculpture. I could spend hours looking at the Terme Boxer. I’ve also always loved Louise Bourgeois and Francis Bacon."
What is your working style – are you free-flowing or more methodical? Are you one of those artists who paints over a canvas multiple times, or are you more spontaneous?
“I usually start out being pretty methodical, then I like to open up and let things bleed and get a bit chaotic.”
Do you use models, paint from photos, or from memory?
“I wish I could use live models more often. I mostly paint from reference photos and from memory. I’m constantly looking at things like gi folds and grips while I’m training.”
What are your plans for your jiu-jitsu art, do you have any shows coming up?
“I’ll be selling limited edition prints from time to time, but for now I’m much more into focusing on producing work than worrying about its disposition.”
Where can people see more of your work?
“Instagram is the best place to follow my work – I'm @fredricaintrone. I don’t generally take on commissions, but it really depends on the subject matter, whether or not it’s something that I find personally compelling. But I do encourage people to share competition photos with me! I’m always looking for exciting reference pictures. People can get in touch or send me photos via email: email@example.com. I’ll also be competing at IBJJF Masters Worlds this year in Las Vegas and would be happy to connect with people there.”