Strong Concepts Lead to Lasting Artistry

20 Oct 2013

When an artist is primarily concerned with aesthetics his or her work can get boring for viewers pretty fast, especially in portraiture. Paintings of lovely women and blushing children can certainly be successfully executed and visually interesting, but beauty without deeper expression can leave a viewer with nothing to take away.

Rose Frantzen's portraits of the citizens of Maquoketa, Iowa.
Rose Frantzen's portraits of the citizens
of Maquoketa, Iowa.

Rose Frantzen and Mary Whyte are two painters working in different media and living in different parts of the country, yet both pursue figurative work with individuality and their own distinctive takes on meaningful portraiture.

Grappling with Self by Rose Frantzen, oil, 52 x 38.

Grappling with Self
by Rose Frantzen, oil, 52 x 38.

Frantzen is a thoughtful, searching painter whose work is not about creating pleasing pictures—or at least not foremost. She creates allegorical paintings of figures that outwardly depict internal human struggles. In Grappling With Self, it looks as if mental torpor or indecision—deduced from the closed eyes and deadened mien of the figure—has become a physical vortex. Likewise, Yearning strips away all the defenses and dignity of the figure, leaving him exposed and convulsing, if not outright tortured, by an unnamed inner desire.

Similarly, Frantzen's portraiture pushes beyond painting likenesses to finding and emphasizing the integral and essential in each sitter. Her latest series, Portrait of Maquoketa, is more like a social experiment, and turns the concept of a commissioned portrait on its head. Instead of taking on formal, contractual commissions, Frantzen decided to paint anyone from her small hometown of Maquoketa, Iowa, who was willing to sit for her. Over the course of a year, she created 180 portraits of the town's inhabitants, revealing both their personalities and the character of Maquoketa itself. The result is a feeling of being welcomed into a community you may not know, but still feel connected to.

Yearning by Rose Frantzen, oil, 40 x 72.
Yearning by Rose Frantzen, oil, 40 x 72.
Eclipse by Mary Whyte, 2009, watercolor, 22 1/4 x 30 3/4.
Eclipse by Mary Whyte, 2009, watercolor,
22 1/4 x 30 3/4.

Mary Whyte has chosen to take working people as her most recent subject. She's painted a series of 50 paintings over the last two years of the men and women who work in the American South. From fisherman to drive-in movie manager, the subjects that Whyte chooses are all imbued with a story and personality when she sits down to paint them. Eclipse shows a tobacco farmer gazing off into the distance while standing still and silent in a humble drying warehouse. The viewer knows nothing of his life or his toils, but empathy is evoked just the same.

Both Frantzen and Whyte have sensitive, acute visions that are able to extract and offer up stories about figures that go beyond physical likeness. Frantzen's ability to see the story of a person's life in the tilt of their head and set of their lips takes shows a desire to move beyond the physical. In much the same way, Whyte has spent much of her career carefully looking at the people around her, and creating meaningful portraits from those studies.

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j.b2 wrote
on 4 Oct 2010 7:34 AM

If you get to Iowa stop in to Maquoketa & check out The Old City Hall Gallery. The paintings on display will not dissapoint the viewer. You will be impressed!

We are fortunate to have world class art in our own backyard..

It's great to see a fellow Iowa artist get a little well deserved press!!!