Interview - Phyllis Braff, art critic

Throughout his career Frank Wimberley has translated his responses to material, texture, light and color into strong visual experiences. His belief in the unlimited possibilities of abstraction serves as a strong driving force.

As he was preparing his current gallery exhibition, Wimberley paused to discuss the paintings with art critic Phyllis Braff.

Phyllis Braff: Frank, the larger scale and assertive tonality of your recent work suggests that you are exploring additional directions, and perhaps a new mood.
Frank Wimberley: Yes, there is a new mood. I was visualizing the gallery presentation, then started to add my forthcoming museum exhibition into the mix. I wanted my art to light up the museum space, and perhaps be a little bit over the edge. So I was encouraged to take risks, though it is important to note that I long ago realized my work moves on its own. Once I make the first attack, it drags me along, as if the painting had a mind of its own.

PB: Yes, I’ve sensed that intuitive factors have long been part of your art. Does this contribute also to the directions you take with color? And are you concerned with the emotional aspects of color?
FW: Yes, very much so.

PB: Does color symbolism have a role too?
FW: No, but I am conscious of certain references. It might be the brightness of a hanging destination, or even its severity. I like working with brilliant reds, but have found I can do too much to the color. However I’d like to try again. The collection of recent work has a variety of approaches to emphasize range and diversity.

PB: This recent work also carries your interest in textural surfaces toward new territory. The texture has always seemed to function as an expressive element, and now it appears to be integrated into the surface structure.
FW: I changed my approach to impasto after the supplier of my favorite pigments went out of business. At that point I started blending different ingredients, primarily mixing the acrylics with a pumice product, and now the material is becoming a major component in my work. Its thickness suggests risk, just by its concrete-like weight on the canvas.

PB: In the six-foot wide, recently completed Untitled (2011), the thick vertical columns of pigment become a subject in themselves, almost separate units leading the eye from left to right across the wide surface.
FW: I’m definitely concerned with this kind of movement. Here I pulled the yellow across the canvas, leaving the bulk of the paint at the end of the stroke.

PB: In another 2011 work, White Dialogue, the impasto actually casts thick shadows which energetically jump, in an all-over manner, to every corner of the nearly square surface.
FW: I wanted the eye to go in different directions, and the movement to extend across the entire work. But it was very important in this painting that I also seek energy under the surface too. I had explored the use of stain as the initial color to gain clarity edge-to-edge, and this influenced me to cover the entire canvas with yellow and blue stains. I then felt a new freedom to make the canvas move with the covering layer of white acrylic. It was important to allow the colors to seep through softly, emphasizing the richness that was under the bright, reflective white.

PB: Many of these paintings call attention to the action of the materials. This action is especially pronounced in the bold brush strokes dominating Silver Landscape (2011). It reminds us of why you are often considered to be an artist who reinforces the power of the paint gesture.
FW: It’s interesting to pick up on the brush stroke comment. I really enjoyed being able to freely brush the upper portion for complete contrast with the lower half, which I treated as a dark ground. I was happy to let go, to pull down with the brush stroke to find the center and get everything happening at the same time. Here I allowed myself to squiggle the color and to leave certain scrapes and drags. Then came a lower line executed in oil stick which allows great freedom for a simple swift gesture.

PB: Some might possibly see the painting’s horizontal divide as a landscape illusion. How do you feel about that?
FW: It’s O.K., but I like to break things up, such as landscape and horizon ideas, and let it all be free.

PB: In a very different way, illusion comes into play in The Briefing (2010), through paired appendages attached to the top edge. They have the appearance of something substantive from the real world.
FW: The intention was to try to tack on a kind of thing, an appendage, giving the sense of straps on a suitcase. I was looking for something that would appear almost purposeful. This allowed me to take an idea from an earlier black and white painting that also had an unusual disturbance coming off the canvas. It’s the concept of something else, something other than the painting. It started as folded cloth, and the desire to keep the painting from becoming predictable in any way.

PB: Especially when they seem independent, the character of the marks can be intriguing. This work has marks that seem to suggest hieroglyphic configurations.
FW: It always feels that the brush marks come from my subconscious and are completely intuitive and without meaning.

PB: In a number of paintings there are marks that look like they function as a path.
FW: A journey to another place! Sometimes, if the brushwork hasn’t created a path I will then use a spatula or other hand tool to scrape and produce that effect.

PB: There is some obvious scraping in String Ensemble (2011), with the optical sensations rather mesmerizing.
FW: There is more of a field of color in this than the other paintings. Pale lavender in this instance. I had stained the entire surface after the scraping process, but retained the interesting surface characteristics. The painting began with a basic layer, and then another layer, as is the case with most of the others. I had previously had some success using a steel brush, so I started going over the entire surface this way, knowing something would happen.

PB: I sense that you care very much about the transparency of your process.
FW: Without question, from inside to the surface. This certainly best describes the newest paintings.

PB: One final thought about the impact of your work, looking particularly at the way these articulated surfaces go towards the sculptural. In Bayou (2010), for example, a thick cross mark looks like it is purposely dimensional and on top of the surface.
FW: Here I wanted to give the work a scar, perhaps so it would reflect a real situation. I think all of my paintings need that. These effects are from layering and building up. It might have come from my pottery work years ago. I worried about the coarseness of the grout, not the smoothness, and very much respected the accomplishments of Peter Voulkos.

In Bayou I used yellow, a color I’m addicted to, but wanted to bring in underlying darkness. I think about giving life to my paintings, and over the years I have taken inspiration from the world with which I have contact, from everything around me. This includes all the visual and performing arts, sounds and literature.