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The Vibrating String






There's no money in poetry, but there's no poetry in money either.


-Robert Graves



I went to the Dorksy Gallery on the SUNY New Paltz campus to see the Mary Frank retrospective. That sounds important and intentional but, in fact, I'd never heard of Mary Frank or, to my knowledge, seen any of her work. She seems to be an artist's artist, much appreciated and admired for many years, a drawing teacher, but little known until later in her life as an artist who sells. "She didn't play the game," I heard someone say as I meandered the gallery. I might have added: and she was a woman coming of age in the 1950's when the New York School—mostly white men—became the center of the art market's attention.


My father was a collector (Vienna Secession) and my daughter is an artist and I am an art aficionado and an artist groupie. By this I mean that art and artists have been in my life since I was a child when I went to galleries with my father in New York City and stood next to him as he discussed  a work with either enthusiasm or disdain. If his sentence began with words such as, "Look how that house just sits there. How did s/he do that?" I knew he was considering a purchase. He was an eye surgeon, with elegant long-fingered hands, and he drew well himself. I could not draw well and became a writer instead, drawing with words as best I can.


I find discussions with artists about their process—usually  in their studios in the presence of their work or works-in-progress—inspiring.  I go to shows and galleries and sometimes write about artists. I do not "follow" contemporary art per se, but I remain curious and open to everything. My one criteria for writing about an artist and/or an exhibition is my emotion as I enter the gallery or studio. How do I feel? What is this work evoking in me?  I was blown away by Mary Frank's sculptures, in particular, and could not believe I hadn't seen any of these breathtaking works before. Why all these broken bodies?


Well, of course, a tragedy, a trauma in her life, not that she refers directly to this tragedy when she is interviewed. But her daughter died in a plane crash in Guatemala at the age of 21 and her son—who had a mental illness— died just a short time after. I did not know this until later, but the broken bodies built out of clay in separate pieces immediately felt like a dismemberment, flesh and bone scattered in an explosion, the explosion internalized in the artist. Like a violin's vibrating string, it immediately activated my own wartime losses, and the eviscerating bombardments and atrocities now happening in Ukraine.


It is artists—and writers, too, of course—who help us process pain and atrocity, as they set to work creating metaphors to assuage universal human suffering.  I thank Mary Frank for her prescient and prophetic work.


"Mary Frank: The Observing Heart" will be at The Dorsky until July 17, Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. -5 p.m.

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