Paradoxically, the work of sculptor John Frame is at once unsettling and profoundly peaceful. His animals, human figures, and tableaux, carved in wood, bronze, lead, and stone and adorned with found objects, are graceful and touchable, mesmerizing as toys. The work is playful, like something from Geppetto’s workshop, but like the unsanitized fairy tales of ancient Europe, it is also heavy with mortality. The delicately jointed limbs, the strangely vivid eyes, have an uncanny power. Actual skeletons appear only rarely, but they seem everywhere implied. All Frame’s work retains the feeling of memento mori (the images of skulls and bones in architecture, painting, and on graves that have reminded viewers down the centuries of the fleetingness of this life’s luxuries and pleasures). The figures leer, scowl, lilt, and dance. These foreboding miniatures also offer a kind of comfort, like memento morithemselves: by reminding us that we will wither like the flowers of the grass, they can release us from petty anxieties and overweening egos. And they seem constructed with such love. The evidence of their maker’s hand is everywhere in them. Since 2006 Frame has been at work on a stop-motion animated film, whose characters are hand-carved works of art, and whose sets, dialogue, and story he created himself. It’s a project that brought him back to making art after a dry period. Clips, and a short documentary about the process, are at his website.
Some of Frame’s work is featured in Image issue 41.
John Frame began creating sculptural works in the late 1970s and received his MFA in fine art from Claremont Graduate University in 1981. He has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. In 2009, he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. Major exhibitions of the artist’s work have been held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (mid-career survey, 1992) and the Long Beach Museum of Art (retrospective, 2005). From March through June 2011, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California will host an exhibition of Frame’s current work, which includes sculpture, still photography, and film. Frame’s work can also be found in more than three hundred public and private collections, including those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the University of Southern California, and The Renwick Gallery of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution. Frame has been artist-in-residence, visiting artist or guest lecturer at more than fifty museums, universities and art-related institutions around the United States. He has also taught at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and the Claremont Graduate School.
Three Fragments of a Lost Tale is an ongoing stop-motion animation project, sections of which can be viewed at www.JohnFrameSculpture.com. Its singularity derives in part from its content—I have tried, here as elsewhere in my work, to engage with some of our deepest human questions—and in part from its form. This is not a big-budget project with a long list of cast and crew. It is, rather, truly an independent art film—each sculpted character, set, soundscape, photograph, and scene structure is the product of my imagination and the work of my own hands (and, at times, those of some willing, patient family members). Each component of the film, then, has been and will continue to be conceived and created as an individual work of art, and it is my hope that the care I take with each piece will lead to a whole greater than the sum of the parts. The completed portions of the project, including thirty-five pieces of sculpture, sets, photographs, and animated vignettes, will be exhibited at the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California from March 12 through June 20, 2011.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.