Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The World of John Frame and his Fragments of Tales

Where do ideas come from? In the case of John Frame they can come in dreams. Four years ago he woke abruptly and in the half-dreamlike state between sleep and waking he found the characters, scenes and story of an elaborate project forming in his head. Three Fragments of a Lost Tale, an exhibition of five years of work on his dream creations—sculptures, photographs and a stop motion film he has begun—is now at the Huntington Library in San Marino through June 20, 2011.

I have long admired the work of Brian Selznick, especially the books in which he seems to express a fascination with automata (which I also find intriguing). The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Robot King both include characters created with bits of found objects (as in The Robot King—glass, pebbles, marbles and keys with a music box hidden away in his chest for a heart. Selznick has written that Hugo Cabret was inspired by an automaton in a museum collection, damaged by fire, which upon being refurbished could draw four different pictures and write three different poems as well as sign the name of its maker.

I believe John Frame’s imagination has surpassed even the brilliant Brian Selznick, though they both have created magic. A truly Renaissance man, Frame has created a world apart with a cast of characters (some fully articulated) from wood, metal, found objects and aged and stitched bits of fabric. In the hands of a lesser artist the figures might have been grotesque or alarming. But instead they are poignant, sympathetic and even familiar beings. The unusual puppet-like figures are infused with so much artistry that what comes across is a deep sense of soulful humanity hiding behind their glass eyes. I want to know what will happen next in their wood, metal and cloth world.

Frame has said that his favorite quote is from John Ruskin:

“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together.”

Created by Frame’s hands, envisioned in his head, these figures speak to our hearts. They are so beautiful, it’s painful……

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