Haunting, helpless dolls of Frenn

Written by
Christine Temin
Published on
June 15, 1989

Globe Staff

Chawky Frenn Is a young Lebanese artist, trained In the United States, who spent the 1987-88 school year In Rome, where he found the subject that has occupied him ever since: A storefront whose window was heaped with old dolls. broken and awaiting repair. The helpless dolls became metaphors for children. (In a flowery apologia. Frenn writes, "I dedicate this show to the Children of Lebanon, and they dedicate it to the Children of the world.")

Frenn's close-ups of the Roman dolls are part of an Invitational show at Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., through June 24. Organized by NAGA director Arthur Dion, the show also Includes work by sculptor Jacqueline Ott and painters Barbara Grad and Robert Baart. Frenn Is the least familiar of the four. His dolls, with their vacant eye sockets and cracked skulls, are macabre: the paintings are as devastating as newspaper photographs of abused children. The dolls' very lack of expression speaks of suffering beyond definition. They huddle together in a window that becomes a mass grave site. "Perplexed" as­signs a human emotion to a doll's accidental pose: Raised Betty Boop eyebrows, rosebud mouth pulled down at the corners and arms held out add up to a classic questioning expression. In "Lust, Jealousy, Pride," a serendipitous juxtaposition of three dolls causes them to take on these human attributes. "Lust," an openmouthed, sleepy-eyed boy, leans hungrily toward "Pride," a glamorous and arrogant girl doll with too-blue eyes and a toughly lift­ed chin. "Jealousy" stretches a hand toward "Pride" as If ready to strangle her. The luridness of some of the colors -hair so yellow it's almost green, vivid red lips - adds to the strangeness. These dolls, so reminiscent of horror stories about toys coming to life at night, are not only abused, but abusing.