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|Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune
17 December 2006|
Frank Stack3 years ago, when I made the decision that the time had come to terminate the experiment called Legacy Art, I looked around the gallery and made a mental note of works I wanted to have from the artists we represented. In the eight years we had been in business, I had collected a few pieces, but money was always short and like many people I just couldn't justify buying all the art I wanted.
But when the time came to close the business, I knew that there were some artists I had worked with I simply had to have work from. Probably at the top of that list was the name of Frank Stack.
If you've been around the Columbia art scene at all in the last 40 years, you've seen works by Stack, whether you know it or not. His style of plein air landscape painting has influenced an entire generation of painters. His brilliant watercolors are widely regarded as some of the best produced in the 20th century. His figurative works, including nudes and erotica, have won acclaim on several continents. And he is highly respected for his ability as a printmaker, producing both etchings and lithographs. For four decades, until his retirement a couple of years ago, he was a professor of art at MU, and through his teaching and mentorship he helped\ educate countless artists, several of whom I have profiled in my columns.
But there is another side to Stack, less well known here in Columbia. When we first opened Legacy one of my good friends from out of town was visiting, and saw some of Stack's watercolor sketches of nudes. He looked at them quizzically, then asked about the artist. I explained a bit about Stack's history, and all of a sudden a light went on for my friend. "Foolbert Sturgeon," he said, excitedly.
My friend was right. Frank Stack had also gained fame as Foolbert Sturgeon, an 'underground' comic artist of the 1960s and 70s, and is generally considered to be one of the founding artists in that field, along with his friend Robert Crumb. And it's not like Frank has left behind that medium, as he was even involved with Harvey Pekar of American Splendor fame, helping to illustrate the 1994 book Our Cancer Year of Pekar's. In 1997 Eros Comix produced a book of Stack's titled Naked Glory: the Erotic Art of Frank Stack (ISBN: 1-56097-229-7). It is still available, and you should snap up a copy if you can.
And from that book is the following passage from an interview with Stack, which I find to be very insightful. Asked "Do you think artists are born, or is it something that can be learned?" here is Stackís response:
"One of the fundamental problems of learning to be a good artist, or even appreciating art in our society, is to confront the question 'What is good drawing?' What makes it good? And what do you mean by 'good?' If a picture is cocky and flashy, if it looks like a photograph, does that mean it's good? Actually, there are a lot of ways things can be good and bad. A more specific critical language would help address the problem, words like forceful or inexpressive, brutal, delicate, or indecisive would be better than 'good' or 'bad.' I think that some people get better intellectual preparation to do and understand art than others. Some are culturally inbred - learned by having cultured parents with art all around them so that they know art like a language. I suspect that Picasso (whose father was an art professor) or Degas never had to learn consciously because they lived in a world where everybody seemed to know about art, in contrast to our society's inbred knowledge of soap operas or pro football history. If you grow up in South Houston (the SoHo of Texas) you have to learn. This is not a society of sophisticated knowledge of, to use one of John Berger's phrases, 'How paintings mean.' If you are going to develop that knowledge yourself it's going to be hard work. In a way, it all starts as a matter of appreciation."And whether you start by appreciating Stack's comics, his watercolors, his oils, or his hand-pulled prints, you could do a lot worse. My friend now has quite a collection of Stack originals. I only have one, but it is one of the paintings I most prize.
You can find Frank Stack's work at A La Campagne, downtown, as well as at other area venues. An extensive collection of his works is available online at www.frankstackart.com
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-present
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