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by Ilka Scobie
|Mary Frank, "The Remembered Present," Sept. 13-Oct. 14, 2000, at D. C. Moore Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Recurrence in Mary Frank's imagery reads like a poem -- mountains, owls, nudes in motion, landscape and tidal waters. The 23 paintings in this show -- all acrylic and oil on panel or linen -- aspire to a shamanistic power that at its strongest embodies a metaphysical vision quest.
Especially compelling are three hinged triptychs on panel, which present an expansive inner image that reinforces the notion of the painting as an opening into another time and space. The most abstract of the trio, Momentum, is an ochre Joan Mitchell-esque swirl of strong, gestural brushstrokes, punctuated with black calligraphic lines. When opened, the rhythmic surface suggests white-capped waves crashing against rocks. The mesa-like structure of Zion unfolds to a desert landscape, which holds a striding female apparition who is dwarfed by ancient and barren branches.
In the painting Creature, a four-legged figure, drawn in earth-red profile, crawls through abbreviated vegetation. The emblematic apparition also appears in the vividly hued Grasses and the more subdued Fate. The same anthromorphic form is repeated in the six-panel work titled Being, this time counterpointed against a crimson field.
Is this faceless creature an embodiment of a guardian spirit or power animal? Frank's early dance training in Martha Graham technique reveals itself in the gracefully convoluted central nude woman of Being, a form that is coiled with the power of Afro-Cuban movements. Similarly, the crouched white outlined figure of Self poises for a cosmic leap, as a haunting one-winged owl hovers nearby.
The elegant simplicity of Landscape Remembered, which is reminiscent of Arthur Dove's work, and the undulant background of Creature evoke an intimate geography, perhaps inspired by the gentle Catskill Mountains, where Frank has a studio. Earth as touchstone is a consistent theme in Frank's densely worked surfaces.
Mary Frank's continued narrative explores solitude and a transformation between humanity and nature. While connected to an older tradition of abstraction, the saturated colors and direct strong painting create a profound visual vocabulary. Frank's consummate vision celebrates female experience and enriches the perimeters of contemporary art with wisdom and power.
A survey of Frank's work, "Mary Frank: Encounters," featuring over 40 paintings dating from 1985 to the present, opens at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, N.Y., on Sept. 23, 2000.
ILKA SKOBIE is a poet.