Frank Bramblett: A Kind of Miracle

 

Frank Bramblett, 1947-2015, was an American artist. 

 

A retrospective of his work took place at the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia beginning in March  2015. The artist died in the autumn of that year. 

 

 

Born in Cummings, Georgia in 1947, the artist moved with his family to his mother’s home town, Wedowee, Alabama in 1949.

 

In 1972, Frank Bramblett joined the faculty of  the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.  There he taught for almost 40 years, a much appreciated mentor and guide.  

 

 

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Awning, 1973; acrylic, acrylic paints, acrylic medium, watercolour and pigments on canvas

 

 

 

His own work was – except when it was included in exhibitions or sold – entirely in the artist’s possession, kept away from his students whose trajectory he did not want to skewer.

 

Frank Bramblett is like an occluded star to me with a circuit which allows the eruption of his work periodically.  It leaves tracks when, once again, it has passed from our sight.

 

A great force in my memory: one man’s work created out of his generous instincts and practiced skills.  Calling us to optimism, to tolerance and generosity of spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Works at an exhibition at the Moore Gallery of Art in 2000/2001 from whose website this photo

 

 

Classified as process paintings, his work is built up on the canvas using many substances and many tools some of which he adapted to the ends of his painting. 

Some works are layered and some give the appearance also of jig-saw-puzzles.

 

 

 

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Knot Nothing, 1999; enamel paints, acrylic paints, diatomaceous earth and graphite powder on canvas

 

 

 

In a groundwork of rules which he adopted, the artist applied processes to allow the substances he used to interact, to colour and camouflage each other, to jostle with each other, to find their place. 

 

 

The artist anticipated with interest and pleasure his surprise at the results emerging on the canvas.

A kind of miracle, he told the staff of the Woodmere Museum.

 

(Like our world, you think, both natural and man-made).

 

 

 

 

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The Hypothetical Marriage of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp and Miss Helen Keller, 1982, and detail; floor tile, silicon rubber, mirror, glass, enamel, coloured chalk and felt on panel.

 

On the left and right sides are profiles of Helen Keller and Marcel Duchamp. 

Across it is a poem of Helen Keller:  ‘Analogies in Sense Perception’ written backwards in braille made from raised charcoal and surrounded by a shattered mirror:

a reference to a work by Duchamp (To Be Looked at from the Other Side of the Glass with One Eye Close to, for Almost an Hour, 1918, MOMA, NY). 

This work is backed with a mirror.  In the center top, there is an imprint of the artist’s face.

The painting represents not only the artist’s close marriage with his wife but also his grounding both in Alabama, Helen Keller’s home state, and Pennsylvania where the artist spent most of his creative life.

For Helen Keller he had the greatest admiration for the force of her life, despite disability, in connecting with people and with ideas.

For the daring and adventure of Marcel Duchamp, whose major work is in the guardianship of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the artist likewise had the greatest admiration.

 

 

Most of Frank Bramblett’s work is at one and the same time non-representational and naturalistic.

 

 

 

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Healing of the Chalk, and detail, 1991; encaustic, pigment and caulk on panel

 

 

 

The substances of the real world are in his paintings. Literally.

 

 

 

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Pietra Dura, and detail,  1988; acrylic paints, graphite, marble dust, charcoal powder on canvas

 

 

From given starting ideas, memories or emotions, they represent a world conjured through the application of a body of rules inscribed in a process of painting and composed in media both traditional and earthy.

 

 

 

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Razzle Dazzle, and detail, 1999; mixed media, marble dust, pigments,  diatomaceous earth and encaustic on panel

 

 

The artist offered no set meaning.  He was content to allow viewers to bring their own experiences to each canvas. 

 

 

 

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Mind Mine and detail, 1998;  acrylic paint, cement powders, pencil lead, tempera, watercolour, flashe and gouache on canvas 

 

 

The artist spoke at Woodmere Museum in 2015: a man of distinct values:

 

egalitarianism, endurance, attachment to beauty and to the idea that we should remain open to more and more difficult quests; that we should not linger on the road. That we should not rest on the laurels of our self satisfaction.

 

A man who considered himself an outsider but never made a fetish of the notion. 

 

A man who had had a long and close view of the relations between the races from his childhood and adolescence in the deep South; and was dedicated to the fight for civil rights.

 

 

 

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Tete-A-Tete, and detail, 1999, mixed media, pigments, marble dust and encaustic on panel

This painting is a remembrance of a conversation, when a child, of the artist with an African-American who explained that the disfigurations of his body were from an attack on him by a group of white Americans. 

Tracings of blood on every fingertip and whole body organs pulling away from each other.

 

 

A man also who thought that we are, almost all of us, artists.

 

What a compliment and a statement of optimism!

 

The description which came to mind for Frank Bramblett’s work is a hidden wholeness:  the mysterious unity and integrity of Thomas Merton’s celebration.

 

 

‘There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious unity and integrity is wisdom, the mother of us all, “natura naturans.’

Thomas Merton, 1915-1968, Trappist monk, American. 

 

 

 

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Normally Peculiar, 2001; acrylic paints, spray enamel and sign enamels, on canvas on panel. 

The title is a description by a fellow citizen of Wedowee of the behaviour of some of the townsfolk. The meandering text are anecdotes of the artist’s eleven great-aunts and -uncles who grew up on a farm outside Wedowee, Alabama.

 

 

A hidden wholeness like that known to be in all living organisms and in all ecosystems.

 

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Endurance, 1992, clay, blown glass, enamel  and charcoal on panel.

 

 

 

 

Like in a meadow in summer: in something visible, an invisible fecundity…a mysterious unity and integrity…

 

It is not possible to distinguish all the elements of a meadow.  Some of these elements – small mammals, rodents, snakes and insects, worms, spores, sod and plant roots  – are not visible. 

 

 

Others – predatory birds – are physically separate from the meadow, wheeling far above, their movements, however,  in sync in invisible circuits with their prey moving in the long grass of the meadow.

 

The visible grasses and flowers and insects of a meadow form a dense thicket of a canvas in front of you.

 

 

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Black-eyed susans in the meadow garden in summer.  Mt. Cuba, Hockessin, Delaware, legacy of the du Pont Copeland family

 

 

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Rock of Ages, 1988, and detail; encaustic on panel

 

 

And we, visitors, are circumambulating in a circuit, sometimes stopping, alert.

 

 

 

 

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On the left, Dive In, 2001; acrylic paints, marble dust, charcoal and photographs on canvas on panel.

  On the right, Endurance, 1992; enamel, clay, blown glass and charcoal on panel. 

Photo taken  in 2015 at the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia by Roberta Fallon of the Art Blog, Philadelphia

 

 

 

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Dive In, 2001; acrylic paints, marble dust, charcoal and photographs on canvas on panel.

 

 

The meadow is of a piece and whole, seen and not seen.  A hidden wholeness.

 

 

 

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Erasing Extinction, and detail, 1988; acrylic paints, marble dust, silica and charcoal on canvas

 

 

Frank Bramblett’s works are built up from the surface of the canvas from ideas and ground rules in the artist’s mind.

 

 

 

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San Antonio River, 1997-2000

 

 

And at canvas level, lying on the surface and erupting variably from its surface, the intriguing substances of the world, positioned by the artist’s tools.

The coherence of the whole intuited but not always fully visible.

 

“Everything I do,” the artist said “has to do with how things connect.”

 

 

 

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Oh No, Yoko, and details, 1982, 1982. Floor tile, silicon rubber, mirror, glass, and enamel on panel.

 

 

 

A Woodmere Museum catalogue of the artist’s work is online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Frank Bramblett: A Kind of Miracle

    1. And he was such a wonderful man: modest although he knew his own skill and his many students so appreciated him! Thanks for reading!

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