The East Hampton Star


"Illuminations," the title of Ellen Frank's one-woman exhibit at Renee Fotouhi Fine Art East, is a many-aspected metaphor for her universe of meanings: poetic, philosophic, spiritual, and mystical. It refers as well to the literal nature of her most eye-catching and fastidiously manipulated materials, copper and gold leaf.

Hers is certainly a diligent and impressive craft, in the tradition of the early medieval artists who painted with gold to capture light and holiness on their canvases, as well as of the monks who did the illuminated manuscripts.

Her multitude of meanings, applied with great skill on linen canvas and handmade paper, are fueled by the flashes of insight, revelation, and epiphany vested in her abundant language, both written and spoken.

She displays the gifts of the poet, the intellect of the philosopher, the scholarship of the art historian and mythologist, and the mystical messages of the born medium in touch with the wind, the light, the accident, the dream, and all coincidence, together with the skills of the specialist in antique finish and the old fresco look.

Artist And Medium

The scale goes from monumental, with eternal biblical, classical, and mythic themes, to an intimate size. The massive "A Gate of Paradise" was inspired by Ghiberti's doors ("Gates of Paradise") in Florence, on which the great Renaissance sculptor set the Old Testament story of Isaac in a series of bronze panels.

In a similar approach to her narrative of the history of culture as well as that of her own life, Ms. Frank's "Illuminations" are done as a series of panels.

They take in a lot of territory between the material object of art and the rest -- the written and spoken language of words, the fortuitous visitation of spiritual forces by which the artist has been chosen as a kind of seer, prophet, and medium, possessed of magic powers which she passes on through her art.

Power To The Beautiful

She spans a considerable vista from the archaic to the contemporary, from ancient Celtic and Persian to Samuel Beckett and Merce Cunningham.

Men and women in classically draped robes are seen under a transparent layer of nude dancers in modern dance positions. Always under the glitter there is the gold of meaning and significance, perhaps a little more weight than a work of art should be expected to carry.

All the more power to the beautiful. The contrivances of the artist who seeks to fill the object with importance and an imagery that penetrates time, both in front and at the back, certainly gives her enough rope -- more than enough -- with which to hang herself, in any medium she likes. It's all in the risk of a game called the pursuit of art.

The exhibit concludes Jan. 15.