Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Frank Holmes' Agony and Ecstasy: 20 Images from the Ohio Theater Project

44"x 66" -- oil on linen 
“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” 
 ― Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

Many words come to mind when I think of the scope and scale of this project. Breathtaking is one of them. Mind-boggling is another.

In early 2008 Frank's gallery in Los Angeles notified him that a client--an Australian art collector--was interested in his work and that he should contact him. Frank did, sending a portfolio of about twenty-five color reproductions of his paintings, plus a price guide. Soon he heard back by email. The client was very enthusiastic and wanted Frank to create a specific image for him: an ornate, profusely decorated, 1920s movie palace in which he, the client, would be sitting alone. As Frank read the email he kept shaking his head repeating over and over to himself, "I can't do this, I don't want to do this." When he reached the end of the email it was as if the client had read his mind and produced this clincher: "I know you can do this, Frank." And, to strengthen his case, the client offered nearly twice Frank's top price. After thinking more about it, and realizing--like it or not--he couldn't turn down such an offer, Frank softened and accepted the commission.

The next step was to find a suitable theater where he could take reference photos. The client let Frank choose the theater, which was nice but not so easy--suitable movie palaces aren't all over the place. Ron Kroutel, a fellow painter and friend since the early 1970s when they both taught at Ohio University, was instrumental in locating a theater in Columbus that was once a movie palace and had been restored to its former glory. Ron used his connections and Frank gained access.

Armed with a new Nikon SLR, Frank went to Columbus. He had already planned the painting's composition and thereby knew where he needed to be to shoot. He took dozens of pictures from this general area. "If I'd had an ultra wide angel lens, I probably could have got everything I needed in one shot. In any case, I got enough. I used 15 or 20 of the photos to make a mock-up of the entire image. They didn't fit together perfectly but I fiddled with them until they did."

When the client had approved the mock-up, another long-time friend--this time from Frank's Pratt Institute days--Joe Koncelik, who lived in Columbus, came into the picture. He was kind enough to lend a hand and make enlarged prints of the mock-up that could be transferred directly to the canvas.

Next came the actual painting. "Even though I planned to use the photo information pretty literally," Frank explained, "I still wanted the end result to be painterly. I was able to achieve that, but only gradually did I realize what I'd got into--how much there was going to be to do. And, maybe more importantly, I was flustered because this wasn't a painting I was at home with--it wasn't like what I normally did--it was totally off the track. When I was reading the email and saying 'I can't do this,' that's what I was talking about. But I was committed--there was no way out. I love to paint and solve related problems, and I wanted the painting to be good and the client to be happy--but this was like going to the dungeon every day. Painful." Frank was pretty
down. What he thought was going to be more money was turning out to be less money. "In my desperation I got in touch with the client and, as best I could, explained the magnitude of my dilemma. He very kindly sent me a bonus--I sent him a little painting in return which, I was happy to learn, he liked. The bonus helped, but by the time the painting was finished the money was long since gone."

"To survive 'The Monster' as I called it, I also did other paintings as a sort of therapy. Some were my 'Black Shape' paintings, which featured large black rectangles looming far out in or over what seemed to be the sea. Doing that helped, but it was only after years of grinding away on the theater that I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. That was wonderful. At last I would have the pleasure of seeing everything look like I'd hoped it would--and the pleasure of putting on the final highlight!"

Right now Frank is working on a new series of paintings--interior walls with baseboards and hardwood floors, sometimes a corner, maybe a door. Bright colored plinths of various sizes inhabit these spaces.

"These are simple straight forward paintings--not like the theater. What I'm after is something that's compelling and appealing but not the norm." At the moment the paintings are in the 20 x 30 to 30 x 50 inch range.

* * * *

The patron.

EdNote: With the exception of the top picture, the images showing the work in progress were reproduced from 3x5 glossies that I photographed and imported to digital, hence the slight variations in color. The aim of this blog post is to tell the story.

See: For Sale: Frank Holmes' "Big Date"
See: Interview with Prix de Rome Recipient Frank Holmes, Part II


maudie shanley said...

Wow, Frank! What a project! I have to go back to see how large it is. your skill is awesome; and it certainly is a totally different kettle of fish from your usual. All rococo and curvy - I look at my lovely "morsel" (not the right word, but it temporarily skips my mind) and find it as I did when I first saw it - peaceful and wonderful. Thank you - and congratulations on this oeuvre!!

ronden63 said...

Excellent! Very Intricate and original.