Art New England
Housatonic Museum of Art/Bridgeport
Chawky Frenn: Ecce Homo
By Mark Daniel Cohen
The art of Chawky Frenn is the real thing. In this exhibit's thirty-four exquisitely rendered oil paintings, Frenn faces the essential issues of our existence. His works are filled with images that find us forever positioned between the contending forces of life and death, good and evil, and religious faith and the despair of damnation.
Frenn, who was born in Lebanon and lived through the ravages of its civil war, views death and the slim hope of salvation in both the abstract and the concrete. In The Scream, he confronts the fact of death. He portrays his own face, like that of Hamlet, screaming at a skull that looks back at him with jaw gaping, silently screaming in return. Frenn sees murder and cruelty as historical realities. One of his most riveting images is of a wall of skulls filling the canvas. The work is titled "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?, Hitler."
This is art that recognizes, as the philosopher Nietzsche taught, that good and evil are not alternatives to be chosen between but an unending battle in each of us that we must struggle to comprehend. Nietzsche's spirit hung over the exhibition, in the title of one of the paintings, Homage to Nietzsche, and in the title of the exhibition itself. For "Ecce Homo" is not only what Pontius Pilate said when presenting Jesus to his accusers, it is the title of one of Nietzsche's last books.
At a time when much of contemporary art deals with matters that are fleeting and often frivolous, the paintings of Frenn are an antidote. This is work for the ages. Pay attention to this artist.