Over more than six decades, Mary Frank has produced a protean body of work, encompassing sculpture, painting, drawing, paper cut outs, and photography. Selections of her work will be exhibited at Elena Zang Gallery, in a show entitled “Mary Frank: Work from 1958-2016, Paintings, Sculptures, Photographs,”
opening October 1. Frank began her distinguished career in the 1950s carving wood sculptures, and one of these will constitute the earliest piece in the exhibition.
The show will also include clay and bronze sculptures of heads and figures, displayed in the gallery and beautiful garden, as well as paintings, photographs and a large triptych, made in the 1990s, which can be opened and closed by viewers. In startling contrast to this epic-scaled work, which utilizes broad, rough brush strokes, are Frank’s eight small shadow papers, which will hang in the windows. In these delicate works, cuts made with scissors outlining the shape of a dancing nude, animal or cloud catch the light, revealing the form in lines of white luminosity.
“I like work which asks questions, involving emotional states of mind,” she said. “Beauty is not enough, because we live in urgent times. I want the work to speak back.”
Her inventive use of materials is inherent to the raw emotion and metamorphic magic of her images, which consist of archetypal figures, be they nudes, robed figures, animals, plant forms, or a combination (i.e. a quadruped shape containing two brooding faces) in elemental landscapes. In the mysterious, dreamlike narratives of her paintings, forms emerge out of the atmospheric ground in a series of encounters whose spatial disjunction suggests transformation.
In contrast to the hand-hewn, truncated masses of her early wood sculptures, her clay sculptures of heads, with their flowing hair and upturned faces, are lyrical and spectral; in some pieces, viewed in the round, the solid mass of the head is revealed to be a mask that wraps around a void. Frank’s recumbent, life-size clay nudes, consisting of a series of fragmented parts, contain a latent energy, as if they are about to spring back to life. In Frank’s work, opposites — life and death, sorrow and joy, contemplation and action, nature and the human, memory and anticipation — constantly cycle back into each other, expressing a wholeness that links her art to ancient traditions.
The newest body of work, from the past six years, consists of photographs juxtaposing her paintings, cut-outs, and small sculptures of human or animal figures with natural objects, such as leaves, flowers or stones. They are mysterious in their making and origin and incorporate shifts in scale, tonality, and material.
For example, a cut out of a woman’s head is placed over charred wood. The profile is outlined in an orange line that suggests an aura, suggesting the supernatural. Many of the photographs use small stones on which she has painted groups of standing, crouching or gesticulating figures in black ink; a number of pieces, in which the figures appear to be adrift in a stormy sea, raising their arms against an enormous ocean wave, were inspired by the treacherous journey taken by thousands of refugees, Frank said. The images, mainly in black and white with touches of brown, blue, or red, are extraordinarily moving: the poses of the thin black figures powerfully convey their desperation and the foaming waves are viscerally expressed in the spatters and washes of paint.
A recent visit to Frank’s studio in the countryside outside Woodstock revealed her intuitive creative process. A large glass bowl filled with water inspired a series that incorporates the distortions of sculptures and roots submerged in water. Painted stones and a small sculpture of two figures in a canoe-like boat were clustered on a table, and various images painted on the wooden floor of the studio are used as backdrops in many of the photos. The arrangement of photographs, drawings, pages scribbled with words, and postcards on the walls suggested an emerging meandering narrative, which even encompassed the utilitarian clock on the wall: it was draped with a snakeskin, as if it had grown two sinuous braids, and several birds’ nests and a butterfly arranged in a curving line above it suggested a crown.
Opening reception for “Mary Frank: Work from 1958-2016, Paintings, Sculptures, Photographs” at Elena Zang Gallery, located at 3671 Route 212 in Shady, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, October 1. The show will be up through the end of October. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.