From grand visions, tiny landscapesIllustrating images with words.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:31 PM
Donald Frothingham's paintings at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts remind one that scale and size are not synonymous.While the reproductions of his abstract landscapes in Images from an Unknown suggest vast landscapes, the actual works are 20 by 30 inches and smaller. The size really had to do with working in a confined space, Frothingham said. For years I was painting on the dining room table. I would hear the kids saying, 'Don't bump the table, Dad's working.' The watercolor washes, with their flat expanses of pigment, reproduce well for Frothingham's book, while his journal entries reveal a thoughtful artist considering his place in the scheme of things:Wonderment at finding himself a consciousness in the thin sliver of multicolored light at the surface of this planet, a sliver only a couple of hundred feet deep and maybe 15 to 18,000 feet high. Life ends at these levels, Beyond: darkness, billions upon billions of miles of cold, black, floating space with no trace of a dandelion. Wonderment at being able to reach out and touch a pebble, a tree, you in the loneliness of this vast perspective. The beautiful, lonely spaces Frothingham describes in words form his visual work.There is often a strong reference to a horizon line. There are mountains, expanses of water, distant vistas.Human presence is only represented by a tiny circle contained in a little part of the precise iconography.Frothingham began to develop symbols while visiting Switzerland in the 1950s.Churches he saw in the European countryside surfaced as small circles contained in an edifice-like shape in his painting. Then, they turned into what he calls entity blocks - something in the lancscape that didn't grow there. Later still, they became a symbol for human being.One's eye tends to travel up these works, climbing horizontal, parallel lines as one would a ladder. There are the references to evolution, perhaps of a spiritual nature, as one climbs from bottom to top, from land to sky.The title Northwest Zen painting was applied by a friend after the fact, and Frothingham says he has looked closely at the work of such painters as Rothko, Tobey and Graves. Although Frothingham's work may be rather austere, the contrast between flat washes of color, and the dappled washes that lend depth to some areas is viscerally pleasing. Frothingham's palette of muted browns and greens gives way to the red of implied sunrise or sunset at the horizon line, in several works. Frothingham's method is to quickly divvy up the space of a work with overlapped pencil lines to make shapes. Having laid out the the drawing spontaneously, he may take years to complete the painting. I pin maybe six or seven unfinished paintings above the bed, tacked to the ceiling, Frothingham said. I'll think, 'This painting is terrible.' I'll try to figure out why. In the early morning light, not being fully conscious makes me see them a new way.* * * * *Donald Frothingham's painting exhibit, You and Me Beyond, opened at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Sept. 8. For information about the artwork, call 842-3132.