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  • 2 of 2: Detail of Crush (for John Chamberlain) by Jan Frank. See it reprinted in Gulf Coast 28.1.

"Crush" (for John Chamberlain)

Jan Frank

From the Art Lies feature: Prepositional Art

John Chamberlain was introduced to my work at a solo show I was doing with his good friend Renato Danese in 1998.  He was very excited about the paintings, and we started a relationship that developed mainly through phone calls, openings, and seeing each other’s shows. In the year 2000, I was approached by the architect Phillip Johnson to do a show of my paintings in a very large space he had temporarily on Spring Street (next to the West Side Highway). I saw the vastness and called John to see if he would be interested in doing a show together, and he was very excited about the project, as I was. However, before we could even get into our planning stage, the building was torn down.

His last show (at Gagosian Gallery, NYC, in 2011) prompted me to utilize his form while still working with the nude in a series of drawings. I intended to show parts of this large series in two gallery shows I was working on (Tim Olsen, Australia, and AMS Marlborough, Chile). Roughly 40 drawings, pen ink, correction fluid, on Dutch linen paper had been produced. I intended to keep going (which I did) with the hope of doing a show with John as an end product.

I found the works at Gagosian so elegantly monumental that I felt compelled to make homage to them. They introduced a sculptural glamor into my work and let me take a new step. I finished and sent out my project on December 20th. John passed on the 21st. I retrieved the drawings.

In 2013, Joe Nahmad (Nahmad Contemporary) offered to do a show of the drawings with Chamberlain’s Gangster of Love, a painted and chromium-plated steel sculpture from1985. I jumped at the chance.

We hung the show “Gangster of Love / Crushed” on June 23, 2014. Most of the day was spent placing the drawings without the sculpture, trying to visualize it, while making a hanging of the 32 drawings in the space, playing switch-switch. At the end of the day, the Chamberlain arrived. It was such a moment. It “arrived” like a head of state everyone is waiting for walking into event, and when they do silence and awe take hold.

Gangster was placed, uncovered, and the drawings started to dance. It was a very beautiful, surreal moment for me, the marriage of the work truly a phenomenal gift. I felt my accomplishment in this project and understanding why I had kept the drawings together. I am sure John would have welcomed the show.

I think that in doing a body of work in which another artist’s name / work is involved there is a visual rationale (at least in my case). I think it could be interesting with no rationale, but that’s another idea. John’s method of crunching, and later cutting, to get his image was really very close to my editing images of other artists or the female figure into an image. I think his totems, which he did throughout his career, closely resembled my work in painting, massive forms to achieve one sculpture. Also in many cases a sense of humor plays out, not by any means detracting from the historical seriousness of the work. I think what drew me to John’s work was how it possesses ease and power at the same time. If you are going to manipulate a form something has to kick in, and in John’s case, and hopefully mine, it’s a sense of uncomfortable comfort in color and form. He sculpture achieves this with a grandeur of honesty and weight, not unlike the man himself.