Frank had a breakthrough, an epiphany – or maybe just a logical next step on her path as an artist – on a horseback-riding trip in Uruguay last year.
“The gauchos brought in the horses after lunch,” says Frank, a longtime horse lover, “and boom. In five minutes, I had 50 fabulous shots.”
Shots of the gauchos and the caballos, the Uruguayan horses, with her brand-new digital camera.
The camera just might be the key to this latest turn in a career that has seen Frank gain recognition for everything from sculptured cakes (New York City, 1980s), to print-making, painted wooden jewelry and black-and-white photography.
It was after she gave up darkroom photography that she had her apocalyptic revelation. “I’m really good with color,” says Frank, who paints in oils. “But I literally had to dismantle my darkroom – and sell my negative camera and buy a digital” before she could incorporate her painterly color skills and her photography.
Prior to the dismantling of the black-and-white darkroom, she says, of photography and painting: “I could never marry the two.”
Even after the darkroom was gone, Frank’s new digital camera stayed in its box for the first six months.
But then, when she finally started using it, Frank says: “For the first time, I could use color in my photography.”
She used the Uruguay photos as inspiration for the four-and-a-half by six-and-a-half foot realistic-looking close-up oil paintings that look like photographs, at first glance. Once the first three paintings were done, she called in the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art’s Will Thompson.
“He was able to hang two paintings behind the desk at The Peaks, back when it was open,” says Frank, “and they sold in two days.”
“You’d better paint some more,” Thompson told her; nine paintings later, six go on display Thursday, in Frank’s show, Cabbalos y Gauchos, at Thompson’s Telluride Mountain Gallery (three paintings are already in possession of their owners).
Another four of the six paintings in the show have been spoken for, Frank says, sounding a bit dazed by her seemingly overnight success – and by the work that lies ahead.
“I’ve gotten a little faster” at painting, she says, thanks to “duh – a bigger brush. And after I’d done a couple, I knew how to get hair to look like hair.”
With their no-nonsense bits and reins not relegated to the background, Frank’s horses look different. “Horses are all about freedom – about the spirit of the horse,” she says.
But although her horses “have bits and reins, and they’re bound,” they remain, nonetheless, “in your face, larger than life.
“The cool part, the most amazing thing about horses for me,” says Frank, a self-described “horse-crazy kid,” is that “it just amazes me they even allow us to get on their backs.”
In addition to canvases that practically trot out of her studio, Frank has found another benefit to her newfound subject. Now, her horseback riding trips “are business trips,” she exults. To that end, she’s heading to Costa Rica this fall, with Hilary Thompson, co-owner of Telluride Gallery, then to Barcelona in November, and Patagonia in February, camera in hand, to go horseback riding.
“I’m taking this baby to New York!” she exults. “I’ve been a painter all my life.”
And now, after a lifetime of training, she’s a painter who has found her subject.