Jonathan Frank knew early on that he had both the desire and talent to create art; finding his medium took longer. A native Westerner, he grew up mostly in Denver, spending a great deal of time on the Colorado Plateau amid the majestic landscapes which he wanted to capture and recreate. He began photographing the natural splendor, but he claims he lacked patience with the encumbering equipment and need to wait for the convergence of the right conditions. He found the photos dull, despite his obvious ability to create good composition. The colors lacked impact. So, Frank began to paint.
No lens could filter light with as much luminosity and impact as Frank’s brushes create. His landscapes vibrate with saturated colors and definition. He still takes photographs which he uses as a departure point for his paintings. Usually, he maintains the subject matter and composition of the photo, manipulating small details and, of course, the colors and light.
Between the original photos and the ensuing watercolors, it’s easy to choose which landscape is the more appealing. Looking intently at his watercolors is often followed by a desire to jump into them. For example, in “Morning in Del Muerto,” the purple road leads invitingly to a dry wash bathed in shades of cheerful yellow, evocative of the first warm rays of early morning light. Who doesn’t want to follow that wash and see what other fanciful colors and shapes lie around the corner? Thanks to the layering of hues and the crisp black outlining he uses, Frank creates a hyper reality that arrests the viewer’s eye and holds it.
The irony in his claim that he did not possess enough patience to master photography is clear when one considers the painstaking process Frank uses to create his paintings. He achieves a vibrancy in the hues by layering color upon color. This time-consuming technique creates deep, saturated shades that belie the use of watercolor and achieve an intensity more often associated with acrylics or oils.
To demonstrate this painstaking process, he has taken a series of twenty photographs of a particular painting, “Ephemeral Pool,” showing each step as it evolved. Each successive photo depicts a new layer of color as it was applied (view here). The depth this process adds to the overall painting is evident halfway through the series. At that point the landscape looks complete and unlikely to be improved on, yet Frank adds several more layers of color which enrich the palette and enhance the relief of the landscape.
The last step in Frank’s process makes up his signature style; the outlining in India black ink with a Radiograph pen of every contour. I do mean “every” contour. The painting, “Convergence of Memories,” depicts Delicate Arch under a picture-perfect winter storm replete with fat flakes permeating the scene. Every flake is smoothly outlined. The effect is stunning, and particularly obvious in a landscape whose colors and mood are inherently muted by the snowfall. The painting is vivid.
Frank’s watercolors are deservedly garnering attention and winning awards. Most recently, he was honored with the prestigious National Watercolor Society Special Award (2009). His paintings have appeared in numerous publications, including twice making it into Splash (7 and 10), the premier watercolor collection. He has paintings that belong to collections around the world and that are exhibited in galleries throughout the Southwest. Despite his burgeoning success, he remains active in the artist community of Moab, his chosen home since 2005, and often exhibits at The Framed Image, where he will be the featured artist for November’s Art Walk.
Having found his true calling, Frank isn’t sitting on his laurels. The recognition he is deservedly receiving is pushing him on, encouraging him to stretch his limits, both figuratively and literally. He is painting in larger dimensions, following a “bigger is better” philosophy. Considering the detail incorporated into his landscapes, such as a secondary world reflected in a desert puddle in “Three Graces,” he is right in stating that this larger size allows for “more going on; more impact” in the composition.
Frank is also moving away from his predominantly desert scenery to the Pacific Northwest. His paintings rarely reflect human presence and, apart from an occasional raven, rarely any animal. They are windows into a pristine world reflecting more what we imagine it to be. Each painting offers a communion between the viewer and a perfect world that feels almost attainable.
During November Moab’s The Framed Image Gallery presents the work of Jonathan Frank, beginning on Saturday, November 14, at 6 p.m., as part of the Moab Art Walk. The Framed Image is located at 59 East Center Street. To view more of Frank’s work visit his website.