In 1962, at the encouragement of friends, Alyce and Larry Frank purchased, sight unseen, a 19th century Penitente morada in Arroyo Hondo. The unusual choice was to be their new home.
When the couple came to see their new purchase, their home in Los Angeles burned. So, by fate or circumstance, New Mexico became their permanent residence from that moment on.
Alyce Frank is an artist who refers to herself as a “Taos Expressionist.” An exhibition of portraits by that name is set to open with a reception Sunday (March 9), 1-4 p.m., at the Blumenschein Home and Museum, 222 Ledoux St.
In her work, Frank said in 1998 she is “not so concerned with the nuances of light. I use color for emotional reason, to create the kind of feeling I want in a painting,” according to Judith Kendall, a local art appraiser and consultant.
Although born in New Iberia, La. (the home of Tabasco sauce) in 1932, Frank spent her early years in Los Angeles and Oklahoma. She attended the University of Chicago at the age of 15 and graduated three years later. After college, she moved to Southern California to study at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles and there met Larry Frank, a young filmmaker and collector of primitive art.
She assisted Larry as an educational film editor. They married in 1953 and regularly explored the Southwest collecting American Indian art, which they said was accessible and affordable at that time.
Their children Ross, Melissa, and later Chad shared in their adventures. Larry Frank quickly became absorbed with the New Mexico lifestyle and began collecting Hispano American artifacts along with American Indian art. Alyce assisted and raised her family.
Looking for a personal avenue toward self-actualization after her family had grown, Kendall says that in 1973 Alyce Frank began a series of painting workshops. She studied four years with Ray Vinella and became friends with the group known as The Taos Six: Rod Goebel, Walk Gonske, Ron Barsano, Julian Robles, Robert Daughters and Vinella. Kendall says she quickly developed a unique, less illustrative, style. She often primed her canvases with red, using color for emotion, influenced by the fauves who depicted figure and landscape in a brilliant palette of non-representational color.
Later, she took workshops with Robert Ellis, Richard Diebenkorn, Fritz Scholder and Lee Mullican. For 28 years, she painted en plein aire weekly with Barbara Zaring, another influential Taos artist who currently works in abstraction. The two developed a deep personal relationship and an enduring connection to place.
Frank’s landscapes are defined by this sense of place, a strong sense of composition influenced by her skills at film editing and an emphasis on textured color. Her landscapes are a vibrant, primitive exuberance springing from the traditions of the fauves, German expressionists and Van Gogh.
Her work is internationally collected and has been the subject of more than 30 solo exhibitions, numerous museum exhibitions and dozens of publications, including the 1999 book “The Magical Realism of Alyce Frank” by Joseph Dispenza, published by New Mexico Magazine Press.
When cold weather discouraged painting out doors, she invited friends from Taos, the village of Arroyo Hondo or Taos Pueblo and her family to her studio where she painted their portraits. In the same tradition as her landscapes she said, “I don’t paint what the person really looks like, but what the person looks like to me.”
She senses the person on that day, feels the meeting and communicates that feeling through the portraiture, Kendall says. The result is a depiction of what the subject may have been experiencing, their condition on that day rather than an illustrative or realistic account.
As an example from this exhibition, in the painting “Jane in a Certain Way” the subject’s deep green eyes are direct, emotional, almost glaring. There are puzzled furrows above the eyes and an almost defiant smile. The subject of the portrait was experiencing cancer, had lost her hair as a result of the treatment and was indeed “in a certain way.” The feeling appears as one of puzzlement, defiance in exposing herself to the painter and strength of character, exemplified by this person, Kendall explains.
The portraits are most often psychological abstractions rather than an illustrative depiction. They are expressive, sometimes alarming, always characterized by Frank’s bold use of color. As with the example given, the portraits often mirror a particular characteristic of the subject.
The Blumenschein exhibition is a rarely viewed, important aspect of Frank’s works and presents portraiture of many individuals from the Taos area, spanning the late 1970s into 2005, Kendall concludes.
“Alyce Frank Taos Expressionist” continues through May 3. Call (575) 758-0505. The exhibition may also be viewed online at Judithkendall.com, exhibition page.