Natalie Frank - The Brothers Grimm @ The Drawing Center NYC

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Natalie Frank - The Brothers Grimm @ The Drawing Center NYC

Postby CAP » Thu May 28, 2015 12:02 pm

Until 28th June 2015

Like a dog returning to its vomit, I once more contemplate writing a review of a Natalie Frank show. Obviously I shall choose my words carefully, lest I draw another relentless tirade from the artist. Well, someone has to put me in my place, right? Actually we’re the best of friends these days – we both paint nudes and stuff, do coffee at somewhere terribly correct, you know how it is. :P Anyway this time she is showing at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster) and the works are gouache and pastel on paper, illustrations to fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm. The move is a good one. Apparently inspired by advice from Paula Rego (Frank obviously moves in the right circles) and again, it’s a shrewd match. But once you know that, there is something similar about the fairytale world. The artist has worked on the illustrations on and off since 2011, amassing seventy-five based on a new uncensored version of the text of which twenty-five are collected in a book, Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm. The show marks the launch of the book, I guess.

I haven’t read it and when I think of the Brothers Grimm I still think of David Hockney’s camp little book published by the Kasmin gallery in 1970. But that only dealt in six of the tales and was all about toying with pictorial conventions for rendering things like rocks or hair, tone (in cross-hatching) perspective and so on. It’s a little gem really. He was at the top of his game back then. Anyway, there are obviously other ways to take the tales, and Frank finds the new un-bowdlerised versions frankly feminist. Ok a little pun, but that made me think of Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves (and Neilie Jordan’s 1984 movie) from her short story collection The Bloody Chamber and then, in the flow, to some of Maxine Hong Kingston’s cruel Chinese folk tales going back to the 80s for me. I didn’t actually read them; she related them in a TV programme I was working on as an assistant editor for the Beeb back then. I could just sit there and roll through the rushes a lot of the time, no one really cared. But some women quietly get into some pretty sadistic stuff – Chinese or otherwise, I reflected. It was chilling. It’s like that working at the Beeb: all this sicko stuff quietly flowing through the system, to be edited out, filed away somewhere by a diligent assistant. But I digress! Maybe Nat will have a shot at some Carter stories at some point. There’s definitely some fem simpatico there.

Anyway, not being familiar with Frank’s set of tales, the pictures did not instantly strike me as illustrations. They are still pretty much Frank’s world – popping eyeballs, people up close, sweaty, hairy and mashing, But the move to a smaller scale and pastel has given them greater fluency and directness. For me the problem with her work previously (I perhaps dwelt on this a little too much last time) is she keeps trying to cram too much into a picture, as if she doesn’t really trust her instincts or is uncertain of what she wants. They strike me as cluttered, for all the bravura brushwork. Happily, with the drawings and I suppose the texts, there is less of this. The other thing I liked was the more theatrical, formalised settings, at times even inviting decorative elements. This too helps to rein in things, and thinking about the artist’s recent statements, I think it helps to create a little more distance – not just spatially, but psychologically. I was thinking mainly about the personal aspects to these, although I know she was urging feminist readings. But I’ll keep these things to myself. ;)
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