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Artist of the Month - May 2007

North by Southwest
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Nature appears random and chaotic but the trained eye can perceive the beautiful, steady patterns that lie beneath. Theories exist to explain these intriguing structures, spawning films like A Beautiful Mind and Pi that boil down Nature’s tendencies into formulas. For the majority of us who are not science wizards, we have to trust our eyes to see these mystical patterns.

North Frank, a local visual artist, depicts Nature through abstract painting. By concentrating on these fascinating underlying patterns and shapes, she creates distinctive works. Like many artists in the southwest, North’s paintings interpret the natural beauty around her.

Deriving inspiration from the dramatic landscapes, she is in good company as a painter, which includes her husband, watercolorist Jonathan Frank. Since I have written an article about him in the past (and he has achieved unquestioned recognition in the artist’s community) I am going to break with my stylistic choice of referring to the artist I am writing about by the last name. I also prefer to use North’s first name because it suits her so well, reflecting her clear vision and strong sense of direction.

She expresses clear insights through her art and in her conversation. She is constantly exploring the world with purpose, and she interprets her findings through an abstract vision. But make no mistake, each painting represents distinct emotions and ideas and are clearly about something.

The extreme landscapes of this area influence the emotional connections she depicts in her abstract paintings, such as in the mixed media works entitled, “Ice Blossoms of Mill Creek Canyon” and “Above and Beyond Park Avenue.” The titles give easy clues as to where North drew her inspiration for these watercolor, ink and graphite paintings.

The contours outlined in ink of these works look familiar. The crystalline swirls in “Ice Blossoms” and in “Ice Fractures in Willow Flats Wash” resemble the patterns found in ice. North displays her propensity for poetry, both visual and literate, in the apt titles she gives these paintings, describing these fissures as “blossoms” and “fractures”, imparting both the softness and harshness found in nature.

The contours of “Above and Beyond Park Avenue” are also identifiable as those found on topographical maps, imitating the natural curvatures of the land. These flowing organic curves emerge in most of her work. In “Errant Breeze Along Sand Flats”, the crescents and waves that make up the composition swirl around, evocative of an oscillating breeze.

In these works, she captures a feeling of tranquility and appreciation for the inherent beauty of the surrounding world by stopping it and looking closely at it. North explains that she found herself drawn to painting because of its two-dimensional quality that, as she explains, “allows for almost static moments.”

In abstract paintings, shape and color take center stage since a representational form is not present to distract the viewer’s eye. In North’s creations, these elements also contribute to the overall and undeniable aesthetic aspect present in her paintings. In other words, her paintings are beautiful.

North also uses her abstract works to explore ideas. Much like a traditional research process in which a hypothesis is tested, she takes different sides of a subject, such as world events or societal mores, in order to understand it better. She explains, “For the most part, my work is about something, some idea or, perhaps, some perplexing state of affairs. However, it may be that I actually present more of a question, rather than a definitive expression or opinion through my art.”

In paintings like “Can You See It In Your Eyes...In Your Soul?” and “Can You Turn It On Internally”, the titles immediately reveal an interplay of ideas that the artist explored through these abstracts. The jagged lines flowing in various directions resemble loosely the fractures in the paintings inspired by nature, but the inherent pattern that emerges in those is not present in these conceptual paintings.

These chaotic lines remind me more of the way an active mind follows and loses a train of thought as it mulls over a complex idea. North has likely abstracted a representational image in both these paintings, but the outcome, though still pleasing to the eye, is far less fluid than those inspired by nature.

Considering North’s academic background, it is no surprise that she approaches ideas in such an exploratory way, much like writing a thesis. She holds two graduate degrees, an M.A. in Behavioral Sciences from California State University and a J.D. from George Washington University. During her academic pursuits, she took advantage of the opportunity to study art in Italy, where one of her instructors invited her to explore painting abstracts.

Having grown up around artists, several family members are, including her grandmother, North experimented with many media, such as ceramics, architectural design and modern dance. Through her in-depth knowledge of art materials, she landed a job working at Meininger’s Art Supply Store in Denver, Colorado, where she met Jonathan. Although the two share a studio and even collaborate on occasion, they create vastly different interpretations of the same natural world.

Avid hikers, the Franks take many photographs which they use as inspiration for their paintings. Jonathan represents the Southwest recognizably, although not faithfully. He is constantly improving on reality and creating landscapes with saturated colors, perfect composition and clear outlines that create a form of “hyperrealism.” Interestingly, North’s work may represent the landscapes she experiences more faithfully as she eschews representation for emotional and intuitive interpretation.

North Frank’s paintings can be contacted through the Jonathan Frank Studio (tel. 435-719-2042) or She also participates in the annual Moab Abstracts show (held in February), for which her painting “Big Sky: Mercy” graced the cover of this publication.

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