Light pours in through the large window in Kevin Frank's attic studio space. Old coffee cans house paintbrushes, and boxes of oil paints sit on the rolling cart next to a large wooden easel. There's a table filled with ceramic Norman Rockwell figurines that were bought on eBay. Rockwell reproductions and other famous paintings hang on the walls, as well as a plate featuring Rockwell's iconic Triple Self Portrait.
The Kingston-based artist's love of Rockwell isn't new. After attending a 1972 Rockwell exhibition in Brooklyn, the 10-year-old Frank realized he wanted to be a painter. "It blew my mind—the amount of detail he put into the work," he says. "When people hear his name, they dismiss him as an illustrator, sentimental, 'White America.' And those things might be true, but when I was 10 years old and standing in front of them—all the sentiment and corniness sometimes attributed to his work was lost on me. All I could see was someone who could paint the physical world in such a convincing way."
Often painting urban landscapes and still lifes, Frank was looking for a way to loosen up his tight painting style. Although currently his medium of choice is oil, he often uses encaustic, or beeswax mixed with pigment and resin. "It was a little strange, because [encaustic] didn't blend as easily as oil does," Frank says. "It has its limitations of pliability—it sets up very quickly. I figured out ways to blend it, melt it, carve away at it, to get the effects I was looking for." Many abstract painters and mixed-media collage artists—like Frank's inspiration, Jasper Johns—are drawn to the medium, which makes Frank's representational, realist work—subway car interiors, building façades—a sort-of novelty in the field. Featured on the cover, Frank's Museum Café is an example of his encaustic landscape painting, in which he captures the iconic white facade and round windows of the Guggenheim Museum.
Inspired by pop culture and art history—specifically the Old Masters' technique of underpainting, or rendering the form completely before painting—Frank recently started a new series centered around ceramic figurines based on Rockwell's paintings, which includes setting these figurines against a seamless white background and mimicking the light of the original painting. Frank's goal is to turn figurines based on paintings into paintings themselves while capturing—but not copying—Rockwell's original sentiment. "The figurines have their limitations," he says. "They're pretty clumsy looking and they're not elegant, but I enjoy the awkwardness of them." The figurines project was born out of Frank's desire to paint something familiar and comforting—emulating an early hero provided the perfect opportunity to do so. "It's an homage to Rockwell, ultimately," he says. "It's nostalgia for a time I never even knew."
Frank's work will be on view at two venues in May. One of his pieces, Reliquary, will be exhibited at UPAC's "Serious Laughs: Art, Politics, Humor" exhibition through May 12. A group of his encaustic and oil paintings will also be on view at Catskill Art and Office Supply in Kingston throughout May.