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Frank FaulknerBirches I: Contemporary Minimalist Painting with Tree Branches on Black
Frank Faulkner Birches I, 2012 60" X 60" Acrylic on Canvas Produced 1987, Repainted 2012 (Contemporary Minimalist Painting with Tree Branches on Black Impasto Background) The Birch Tree paintings are an elegant and sophisticated body of work painted by Frank Faulkner in 2010-2012. White birch branches are contrasted by a dark ground that transitions from black to steel gray. The Birch Tree is the symbol of new beginnings, regeneration, hope, new dawns and the promise of what is to come. The tree carries ancient wisdom and yet appears forever young. With a natural eye for design, Faulkner was well known for his abstract paintings of low-relief decorative patterns informed by his love of the applied arts, from Art Nouveau inlays to Samurai armor. The designs of raised acrylic were often coated in a layer of metallic paint, culminating into a “brilliant artifice” as critic Carter Ratcliff once described. Born in Sumter, South Carolina in 1946, Frank Faulkner received his B.F.A. from the University of North Carolina in 1968, Phi Beta Kappa, and his M.F.A. from the same institution in 1972. Faulkner’s work quickly won him numerous grants and awards, including an individual artist grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974. He was selected for the Whitney Biennial in 1975, which prompted him to settle in New York. There, he came to the attention of Dorothy Miller, Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art with a legendary eye for new talent. Since then, Faulkner has continued to garner acclaim and awards. He has been featured in dozens of one-person exhibitions (not to mention group exhibitions) in this country, as well as in Japan, Switzerland, and Germany. Faulkner’s work is owned by leading museums (the Smith College museum in Northampton, Massachusetts, for example, the National Museum of American Art and the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C.) and by renowned collectors such as Nelson Rockefeller, Baron Leon Lambert, Phillip Hanes and Abba Eban. What a viewer first notices is the sheer elegance of the pieces, no matter what materials Faulkner uses—metal, wood and fabric as well as canvas and paper. Obvious, too, is the artist’s originality. Faulkner belongs to no school. His work is patterned but is far too intellectual to qualify as so-called “pattern art,” which mainly strives to be merely pretty. Rather, he paints in his own highly organized way, filling the surface without being excessive or boring. Faulkner sets up a system, say, of dots or dashes, then subtly changes the visual rhythms in order to add life and surprise—what he calls “the gymnastics of seeing.” He works and reworks the surfaces of his canvases, often laying down one thin layer of slightly reflective gold, silver or bronze paint upon another until the final work seems to glow with inner light. John Ashbery, a leading critic and poet, has likened Faulkner’s art to minimalist music, which achieves both simplicity and beauty from its obsessive repetitions. The critic Carter Ratcliff describes it more simply as “brilliant artifice.” Faulkner’s current work, a series of paintings on paper, continues and deepens this exploration of the relationship between wrought surface and changing light. Another striking aspect of the work is the influence of the decorative arts. Faulkner has made some paintings on wood that stand independently and fold open like screens. Other pieces resemble large tapestries, and yet others take their inspiration from Art Nouveau inlays. Faulkner is quick to admit his sources. To him, the applied arts are indistinguishable from the fine art. He knows and loves Samurai armor, Classical architectural details, chinoiserie, Persian rugs—the whole gamut of the applied arts—and they, of course, inform his creations. Indeed, he is so interested in interiors that he has, while continuing to paint, spent much of the last decade restoring old houses and advising clients how to decorate their homes. (Many of the results have been featured in periodicals such as Architectural Digest and House & Garden.) Philip Herrera, June 2006
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