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Artist of the Month - October 2005

The Candid Art of Jonathan Frank
By Annabelle Numaguchi

I enjoy reading fiction populated by characters whose names clearly represent a significant attribute of their personalities. Oddly enough, reality often imitates art (as much as the other way around) and I’m always pleased when somebody’s name so clearly reflects a major trait, such as Jonathan Frank’s.

Although Frank is a true artist in the sense that he depicts the world as he sees it and makes a living doing so, there seems to be no artifice to the man himself. He is candid, open, honest... well, frankly put, he is frank.
Why make such a point of the aptness of Frank’s name in describing his personality (other than it makes for a catchy title) when this article is supposed to be about his art? Because his watercolor renderings of landscapes are so in keeping with his personality. He describes his art as “hyper-realism” and it takes only one glance to understand how accurately he pegs his own unique style.

Frank’s watercolors certainly beg more than a cursory glance. In fact, as a collection they have that arresting quality that makes the viewer want to gaze long enough to magically leap into the pictures, Mary-Poppins-like. The water looks clearer, the air crisper, the colors more saturated than any photo, postcard or real-life viewing provides.

Holed Up In Mill Creek Canyon

The geographical features of Frank’s watercolors are recognizable to those familiar with the scenes, but the overall depiction of the landscapes are ratcheted up a notch. In one of his most recent and prized paintings, “Holed Up in Mill Creek Canyon,” he captures a unique perspective on a place recognizable to hikers of the Canyon’s left-hand fork. The variations on plum, rose and gold that Frank used to depict the reflection of afternoon sunlight off the overhang’s edge, the cliff striations and the bubbling of the creek are not necessarily the colors one immediately associates with that area. But the overall effect of these intermingled hues creates vibrant color that captures the beauty and palpable magic that I have always experienced visiting that swimming hole.

He achieves this signature quality by layering color upon color. The painting, “They Play All Day,” depicts two ravens interacting mid-flight above pink sandstone canyon walls. A closer look reveals that Frank used primarily blues, oranges and purples to create the light, shadow and depth in the canyon. The entire painting has an under layer of yellow that emerges, sometimes boldly, sometimes faintly, through the subsequent layers of color and renders a glow to the scene.

Frank also outlines every shape within a painting with black ink, which is what imbues his work with that particular look that makes it easy to see one of his paintings and say with some certainty, “oh yes, that’s a Frank.”

The easiest way to explain this technique is to call it a paint-by-numbers in reverse; however, this is a much too simplified description of Frank’s watercolors.

Cliff's Edge

Frank paints bold and dramatic landscapes by replicating the tonal values and shapes he perceives. He describes his finished work as, “hundreds, if not thousands, of abstract shapes put together to make a representational image.” Outlining the watercolor does magnify the shape of each piece, but the finished image is far from abstract.

The effect of the deeply saturated colors and black ink is of recreating a familiar landscape while bathing it in a magical glow. He chooses the colors he layers intuitively and obviously has a gift for discerning what hues blend together to recreate and amplify what he sees in the landscapes he paints. Frank has also mastered the use of contrast between light and dark tones to create the illusion of depth to the point that certain features in his paintings appear to pop out.

The inspiration for this type of rendering came after Frank spent a summer traveling the United States in 1995. After spending 17 years as a shoe salesman while dabbling in painting and rock music on the side, he spent several months and over 50 rolls of film chasing the proverbial dream of becoming an artist.

His first medium was photography. As it turned out, this form of art was not a natural fit for Frank as he found he lacked the patience to wait for the right light. Rather than manipulate the photos, he decided that he could improve on them by painting the images. Frank could tinker with the pictures in numerous ways, including softening or darkening the colors and altering the composition or the elements therein. He explains that he “felt liberated by the ability to do that.”

Technicolor Sunrise

Watercolor is generally regarded as one of the more difficult mediums to work with, particularly in terms of producing bold colors. Frank discovered that he had a natural knack with these paints, however, when he had dabbled in painting in the early nineties. He understands his medium well, as evidenced by the dramatic tones and shades within his paintings.

In “Cliffs’Edge,” Frank uses shades of amber and purple to depict the sloped surface of white sandstone, home to sparse vegetation save one gnarled tree. The chiaroscuro effect of bright sandstone and tree leaves against the deep purple background sharply defines the central image and makes the sunlit features appear to pop out of the picture. The light source comes from the upper right hand side and looks like sunlight that you only see under the most unusual of circumstances. The lighting in the painting is reminiscent of the errant ray of deep summer sunset peeking through indigo thunderclouds, the kind of light that takes your breath away and disappears before you’ve regained it.

Playing with light seems to be one of Frank’s fortes in painting, evidenced by the inclusion of one of his works in an international collection of watercolors, entitled Splash 7, Celebration of Light. The painting, entitled “Morning in Del Muerto,” (not shown here) depicts sandstone canyon walls. The viewer is positioned at the bottom of the canyon on a gravel road veering to the right while looking up at a narrow opening off the side. Frank used layers of golds, magentas, and purples to represent the rock bathed in early morning light, while he used blues and light violet to capture the road still in cool shadow.

Night meets Light

The true testament to Frank’s success is his ability to make a living through his art, an idea that seemed almost impossible before he took the leap. His wife, North (whose unique name seems to symbolize her strong internal compass), assists in managing the business side of Frank’s art which revolves around a myriad of art festivals ranging from Texas to Tahoe.

The Franks, who were living in Denver, moved to Moab at the beginning of this year. Jonathan has always had a passion for rocks and had fallen in love with this area when he visited at the age of fifteen. He explains that he “would drive straight through the mountains without stopping to get to the rocks.”

Clearly, the sandstone and desert sun are a natural inspiration for a watercolorist who specializes in color and shape. The signature element in his watercolors is the inked outline of each shape, which, among other things, allows no detail to remain hidden or obscured. Frank’s art reflects his passion for natural beauty and rocky landscapes as well as his straightforward perception of the world.

Jonathan Frank’s work can be viewed at, where he can be contacted or at (435) 719-2042.

They Play All Day

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