Unwritten Spaces: Natalie Frank at Fredericks & Freiser

Natalie Frank - Exorcism. 72 x 124" inches, Oil on canvas, 2012

Natalie Frank – Exorcism. 72 x 124″ inches, Oil on canvas, 2012

by Jonathan Beer

Natalie Frank’s paintings are decidedly literary works. Not only because of their figurative nature or the descriptive articulation she concentrates on the surface of each canvas, they become literary works at precisely the point where Frank fuses visceral paint handling, with a penchant for storytelling.

During a recent conversation in her Brooklyn studio, we discussed the assortment of literature that has inspired her: from Milan Kundera’s The Curtain, to Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, and more recently, Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Frank is attracted to stories of awakening and perception, she is inexorably drawn to situations that demand a transformation of the self, what she terms ‘loose morality tales.’ Loose is the operative word here, for captivating literary works encourage the greatest latitude of imagination. A story is a public work that changes from reader to reader. As they read, individuals create and move through a mental construction of the story that is unique to their mind. Passages of text lose their original structure upon entering the psyche; the story and all of its imagined, subjective permutations turn the text into a living work that is simultaneously written and unwritten, fixed yet unbound.

Natalie Frank – Inspection. 96 x 134 inches, Oil on canvas, 2010

Natalie Frank – Inspection. 96 x 134 inches, Oil on canvas, 2010


The vigorous, swirling tableaus found in Frank’s latest solo show, The Governed and the Governors, currently on view at Fredericks & Freiser, offer a visual correlative to that unwritten literary space. She wrangles flatness and figuration, managing the interplay of drawn, painted, scraped and scratched marks with the steadiness of a practiced hand. Her boldness is equal whether she is describing the beauty of the human eye or the grotesque intensity of a deformed visage. Following in the footsteps of Francis Bacon and James Ensor, Frank is a painter’s painter and a dramatic storyteller fascinated by the complex and often tortured nature of the human condition. Formalism and narrative are melded in each stroke of her jewel-like paintings. The emotional climate of her pictures is extremely tense; the silence of her figures makes their imagined cries all the more disturbing. The works shimmer as disembodied and disintegrating figures twist in joined pain and ecstasy, their expressions somewhere between terror and indifference, a distressing combination that only heightens the gravity of her scenes.

Natalie Frank - Praying in Bed. 62 x 42” inches, Oil on canvas, 2011

Natalie Frank – Praying in Bed. 62 x 42” inches, Oil on canvas, 2011


The predominantly female characters are engaged in a gamut of archetypal gestures: praying, watching, languishing and making love; yet in Frank’s work these are not simple allegories, they are power struggles coupled with uncertain desires and even more uncertain acts that linger in the darkest, unplumbed depths of the unconscious. The psychological instability of her figures emanates into the quiet, flickering spaces that contain them. Inspection rooms and bedrooms reflect the emotions that flash through her figures, transparent skin blinks in and out of existence as light turns to shadow, more like an octopus than a human.  Style and form are one; taut skin glistens as it slides across Frank’s darting under-drawing – more of a wireframe than anything else.

Frank’s work embraces notions of transformation, pictorial and conceptual alike. In her mind and with her brush she expounds a belief about the fluid and impressionable aspects of human behavior as defined through our actions. Leaving her exhibition, one is convinced not of the darkness within the artist, but reminded of the unknown and previously unbelievable thoughts that lurk between fantasy and reality in our own minds.

Natalie Frank - Studio Shot

Natalie Frank – Studio Shot

Natalie Frank - Studio Shot

Natalie Frank – Studio Shot


The Governed and the Governors is on view at Fredericks & Freiser from October 4 through November 3, 2012.

To find out more about Natalie Frank and her work, visit
Jonathan Beer is a New York-based artist and writer. He began to write critically in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for his MFA in Painting. His paintings have been exhibited at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, Flowers Gallery, Boltax Gallery and Sotheby’s in New York. Jon is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail, ArtWrit and for Art Observed.



  1. Katie Fogg
    October 19, 2012

    “She wrangles flatness and figuration.” This is a great description of her work. I have not yet been introduced to this artist. Her work is now an inspiration of mine, which also incorporates the figure and space. Great write up Jon.

  2. Dana Burns
    October 22, 2012

    Great article. Fantastic show and brilliant artist!

Leave a Reply for Dana Burns

%d bloggers like this: