19 June – 7 July 1984

Dale Frank The Inland Sea (New Moon to the Warren), 1984, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 270 cm

There was a smell of burnt straw. Standing unsteadily on an artificial floor which shifted beneath their tread, viewers watched as the artist sat and cleaned a rifle. On another occasion he wandered among his audience in a silent, darkened room, whipping a ninefoot willow branch through the air. Dale Frank's performances were abstract, enigmatic, not always fully predetermined. Above all, they were designed to provoke tension. Since audiences could seldom understand all of what was happening, Frank's event blended communication with misunderstanding, transmission with an inbuilt sense of loss. Gradually they became private almost to the point of secrecy, occasions when the artist told himself a story .about something in which he felt involved. But by that time he had also become a painter.

The fundamental gesture in his art is the movement in his large-scale pencil drawings. Consisting of long, close, curved striations which converge or separate dramatically, they resemble those airflow diagrams which justified thirties streamlining. The resemblance is only skin-deep, however. In the borax charts regularity was interrupted as matter nosed its way into resistant vacancy. Frank's space depends instead on that measured emptiness as a flat surface which sometimes proposes an illusion of solidity by its very ebb and flow. "Form" cannot exist since no boundaries occur. Lines are vectors, not contours, the dense pattern functioning as a force-field in which energies or auras are plotted. The emotional disturbances in his real-time work, each with individual features and occupying its proper temporal span, seem perfectly translated. Perfectly, and again abstractly. 

Yet since his completed drawing is both the emotion and the specific pretext by which that emotion was elicited, anthropomorphism is inescapable. It is not surprising that in Frank's practice too the artwork increasingly strove to become a person. As well as windows and stalactites, his latest wall-sized sketch has acquired teeth, a row of penises and a fringed, pupilled socket. Of its own accord, it seems, it is telling a kind of Romantic fairy-story, with caves of ice and towers and a livid moon which doubles as an eye-socket. These whorls were always the foci of previous, less complex drawings: both substance and insubstantiality, threatening the very fabric of the created world as well as providing centres which exuded force. The essential paradox is compounded — flesh seen from inside and outside simultaneously as the structure of the drawing becomes infinitely reversible. (In his paintings, composed of that materiality the drawings only court, Frank simply plays the game differently, initially tracing counterparts of drawn striations in the surface of thick paint, later floating piles of palette scrapings in seas of pigment.) Yet constantly turning structure inside out, outside in, only serves to heighten the impossibility of that initial, discarded dilemma, of line as either field or edge. 

Jasper Johns once admitted that only three art-historical statements interested him. One was Leonardo's opinion on line as representation of the limit of the body. Like Johns's, Frank's "field" solved the same problem in a different way. But is he violating that solution by involving himself so completely with matter. The answer lies in the continuum of that world which is taking shape: solipsistic, sublime, exotic, unfree. More and more the "strife" Frank has said he desires in art, his gesture of swerving or interference, the communicated tension of the performances, seem identical — tests of consciousness, that sudden fright or pinch by which we make certain we are still alive.

—Stuart Morgan, ARTFORUM, VOL XXII, No 10. 1984

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