The career of Natalie Frank, whose challenging solo show of fleshy new paintings just opened at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in Chelsea, would not have been possible ten years ago. The arch eroticism of John Currin, the kitschy bentness of Odd Nerdrum and the market’s celebration of distortion and ugly beauty in Lucien Freud have made Frank possible.
I toured her show recently with collector Ranbir Singh, who was astute enough to buy a Frank self-portrait two years ago, recognizing that, from a market perspective, Natalie’s solo portraits are her strongest work. At the current show, Ranbir immediately took notice of a profile of a homely yet alluring Oriental fortune teller. A dancing black woman, redolent of voodoo and Katrina, also entranced us. Then, accompanied by gallery director Jay Gorney, we took a whiff of two new Frank self-portraits in the back room.
These pictures feature a new conceit in Natalie’s solo portraits: an upraised nose and disturbed head, in this case her own. An element of insecurity, nay self-loathing, was present. Nevertheless, these small pictures emerged, disturbing and entrancing. As for the large tableaux upon which Natalie strains, these are still works-in-progress. She borrows the obscurantism of Neo Rauch and the theater sets of Max Beckmann, filling them with the fleshy neuroses of Freud. Happily, Natalie has abandoned her pretensions to fashion, for a not-so-clear message of flesh as a kind of victim of cultural imperialism.
The two most successful large paintings include one of people seated in a theater wearing fancy hats (why are the best pieces in the back room, Jay?) and a lusty bedroom scene of two men in discursive postprandiality. At her worst, Natalie Frank desecrates more flesh than nude-in snapper Spencer Tunick. At her best, she is a painter to watch, whose struggles with the brush invite as much as many of her chosen figures repel.
Natalie Frank, "Where She Stops," Sept. 7-Oct. 13, 2007, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).