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A Thomas Frank Discussion

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Thomas Frank discussion at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond, IN. It was informative, entertaining, and enlightening. We sat in one of the rooms at the old hardware store gallery surrounded by his art. Temporary walls were put up to provide a clean frame for the work. Some of his past work and inspirational books, cards, and notes were displayed on a long table along the wall. 

At a glance, the Water Column Series: Phase II smoothly flowed from set to set. These pieces are wax on panels. He mixes beeswax with damar crystals to harden it. He separates it out into workable palm-sized pieces and mixes it with pigment for later use. 

The tools of his trade were laid out on a tray in front of Thomas as he spoke. They were spread out on the table behind him. Irons, hot guns, brushes, and bowls. He described it as process-driven painting in an unforgiving medium. It's a race against the clock as it sets and spreads. The next layer can completely alter the design. He imbues the meaning after the dust settles. It's an after-story. His being, his background, and his thoughts drive his quick hot gun and brush strokes. They drive the amount of wax he presses into the board. They compel him to layer or to stop. 

The art was graphical from a distance, but had delicate nuances in the strokes and layers when viewed at the tip of my nose. 

The discussion started with his background, which set the stage for the discussion on this latest series. Briefly, this artist really lives. He learns from all aspects of his education, background, and travels. He experiences life. He doesn't go through the motions of life; he seems to get the most out of it.

Thomas Frank is the son of a commercial artist. He studied art at a university, which gave him a different perspective on art from those who studied at art institutes. He traveled through Europe and studied different artists and different styles. He focused on ultra-realism, space, and form. It seemed that he was trying to translate the world around him. 

Coming back to the States, Thomas entered the instructional design field. He started in the beginnings of online learning. He had to do much of the coding and design work himself. He focused in the medical science fields. The graphical representations used for training intrigued him. He explored the way that these graphics could depict processes and reality. They included a range from scans of the human body to algal blooms. 

He moved to East Chicago, Indiana set to contribute. He became the director of the Water Management District, which included oversight of the most polluted canal in Indiana (Indiana Shipping Canal). 

At one point, he worked on city planning charrettes using GIS imagery and computer graphics programs. Then he got back to working with his hands.

In his art he goes into the scans of his past in the medical industry. He incorporates the spectral imagery used to represent the pollution in East Chicago and throughout the region. These scans showed pollution, the plumes, the 3-D rendering of the landscape. These are what came through in Water Column Series: Phase II. He saw these images as the way we displace the humans, through vitals and stats.

With this glimpse into the artist, I looked at the art again. I saw the double-helix chains. I saw the smoke plumes. I saw the skeletal images. I saw the layers. I saw the water. I saw the data represented. I saw the human condition.

Additional Information
The Water Column Series: Phase II installation runs through April 12.
Thomas Frank's | Blog in the Production of Space - How we Move Through the World:


  1. Thanks for posting such a complete and perceptual series of comments on the Thomas Frank exhibit and discussion. We are truly pleased with your insight and willingness to share your experience with those who read your blog. We hope that it will encourage others to visit the exhibit before it comes down on April 12th. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10AM til 5:30 PM; Noon til 5PM on Sunday. If you wish to view the installation outside of regular hours please call 219-678-5015 --Dave Mueller, Paul Henry's Art Gallery, 416 Sibley, Hammond, IN


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