Frenn exhibit at St. Paul's is big in size and impact power
October 13, 1994
'' I paint "big" because I want you to be surrounded by the physical presence of the work, to express how the subject overwhelms me”. Chawky Frenn
"Frightening," "impressive," "amazing messages and detail" -these are just some of the comments written in the guest book by visitors to the show, "Chawky Frenn: Paintings," now on display at the Arts Center in Hargate at St. Paul's School in Concord.
The exhibit is the first in a series titled "BIG: Works of Surprising Size and Impact."
Dealing with life's most prevalent issues, God, life and death, Frenn takes his themes from the personal to the universal. "Painting always leads me back to myself," he says. "This leads me to the nucleus of what is human and common in all of us."
The impact of his works can't be missed. "I paint "big" because I want you to be surrounded by the physical presence of the work," he says, "to express how the subject overwhelms me. By painting a doll head and making it as big as 4 feet by 4 feet, the scale and the relationship of doll/viewer is reversed. Scale-wise, you become the doll of that doll."
"Memory of Yesterday, Reality of Today, Vision of Tomorrow'' (oil on canvas, 1989, 84 inches by 72 inches) is one of the first paintings Chawky created in this style. The background is a window filled with dolls heads. He saw this window in Rome, where he initially went to paint landscapes. In the painting, Frenn has included himself. He is standing off to one side, leaning against the store front, hands clasped in front of him. The viewer can see that over the years, the storefront has had many different coats of paint, all different colors.
Next to the air vent coming out onto the sidewalk is a dead pigeon with signs of rigormortis. The pigeon's eyes remain open, staring backat the viewer. What does it see? Below the dolls heads (Frenn finds the dolls symbolic of broken humanity) in the window, three small male figures appear. One figure, to the far left, has both hands covering his face, his head is bent downward, as if in despair.
The next figure has his hand extended across his heart, apained expression on his face. The third figure has one hand and one foot onthe window sill and his head is stretched upward. Looking for answers, lookingto be free from the inhumanity that suffocates him.
The dolls' heads, says Frenn, remind people of a child, "Who of us wasn't a child?"
Often the dolls' eyes are left hollow and there are nobodies attached. They appear incomplete, or broken - humanity, waiting to be repaired.
Another frequent symbol in Frenn's work are skulls. Compelling and disturbing at the same time, Frenn often paints his own nude form in different poses with skulls. He portrays himself kissing a skull, which makes a scene that reflects a relationship with death.
In many of his paintings, he pictures himself arguing or yelling at the skull, reflecting our inability to see ourselves as mortals. And yet other times, Frenn paints himself embracing a skull, accepting the inevitable. With all these different symbolic poses, Frenn is able to achieve an almost third person objective in his works.
In "Ever Seeing, Never Perceiving" (triptych, oil on canvas, 1991, 100 inches by 80 inches) Frenn puts everything into question. On the upper left, Frenn has painted Venus as a symbol of physical love. Etched into the panel is the question, 'sacred or profane?' On the upper right panel, is the representation of emotional love empowered by Christ, and etched into the panel is the question, 'crucified or glorified?'.
In the upper portion of the middle panel, Frenn has painted dolls depicting the rich and powerful. Just below the shelf that they stand on are dolls' heads. Representing the poor, they are crammed in, stacked on top of one another.
In the middle panel's bottom right hand corner, Frenn has painted himself. His arms are stretched upward and outward, reaching for something, something more .... On the bottom left panel is Eve, along with the etched phrase, 'desired to make one wise.'
On the opposite panel is Adam, along with the saying, 'to know good and evil.' In the bottom middle panel is a skeleton. In a thoughtful posture, the skeleton's head and shoulders are covered in a white scarf, his head tilted to one side. In a transformation of sorts, the hands are crossed over the chest in a saint-like gesture. Resting in front of him is a cigarette, still glowing red, beside it, a used, wooden match. The· skeleton is depicted behind bars. The devil?
Chawky Frenn received his BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1982, and his MFA in 1988, from the Tyler School of Art of Temple University. Frenn has been a visiting lecturer at institutions across the United States and Italy. "Chawky Frenn: Paintings," remains on exhibit at St. Paul's School through Oct. 22. The Gallery Is open from 10:00a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.