Slide 1: “momentum's nursery...” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 10” X 6 3/4” Slide 2: “an eruptive dismay...” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 5" x 9" Slide 3: "the cordial coercion..." handcut vintage paper collage on two antique photo cabinet cards (2020) 8 1/2" x 6 1/2"
In the Studio
with Artist Frank Whipple
To absorb the full work of collagist Frank Whipple is to embrace the vision of multiple artists. His “Cabinet Card”collages recall ephemera with their sepia-toned prints, references to misplaced anatomy, and blacksmithing tools. The severe “Token Totem” series, by contrast, offers pared down columnar constructions. They are composed of elements reminiscent of metallurgy, the wingspan of cicadas, and architectural blueprints. His “Abstract Collage” pieces, additionally, display spaces receding and advancing and the fine-tuning of a deliberate palette. All throughout his iconography, however, a placid taste for glacial surfaces and a dynamic juxtaposition of textures prevail. How does an artist “suggest the essence of a thing without using that actual thing”? Intent on “smother[ing] the charm out of collage”, Frank forges a new language to elevate the medium and steer it clear from the hackneyed paradigm of scrapbooking conventionality.
Q & A
VV.: Frank, your work on instagram is stunning! I just had to meet you. Please tell me about yourself?
F.W..: I’ve been interested in the arts and craft making from a very early age, having been raised in a family of visual artists and musicians, with my mom working as a singer of show tunes and opera; her older sister and brother [were] both fine pianists, my uncle a very accomplished jazz pianist, Joe Albany, who worked with many of the bebop legends of the era.
During my early childhood, from the early to mid-1960s, my dad, also [named] Frank Whipple, worked at an insurance company in Los Angeles while raising our family, my younger sister Laura and myself, with our mom Emily, and using his free time to develop his painting skills in a makeshift studio at the back of the house. One fine day, he left the straight job and soon found himself a real studio in the old Bob Clampett building in Hollywood, devoting himself full-time to the nurturing of a career as a working painter, which he kept at successfully until he passed away at [the age of] ninety-three.
“...operatic or jazz music [played] in the background for hours of most days, and the smells of turpentine and oil paints [mingled] with the aroma of amazing Italian meals…”
Something that came to mind later on, with the added perspective of time and experience, was that my sister and I were so incredibly fortunate to be able to soak up that atmosphere and to have encountered many of the very colorful and eccentric people that made up our family’s “social circle” and professional contacts. This seemed entirely natural at the time, and little did I know that it was not necessarily the kind of thing that most kids came home to on a daily basis, even in Hollywood, with interesting and talented characters coming and going. Operatic or jazz music [played] in the background for hours of most days, and the smells of turpentine and oil paints [mingled] with the aroma of amazing Italian meals being prepared by our mom.
As I grew a little older, through my high school years and the intoxicating times running around town with classmates and many musically gifted acquaintances, I imagined myself fated to follow in the family tradition of becoming a musician, gradually coming to the recognition that I really wasn’t quite in love enough with the discipline required to improve upon whatever natural ability I might have possessed as a guitarist. Over time, [I[ abandoned this compelling fantasy [and gravitated] instead, to making abstract paintings for a few years.
“I’d long had a love of older and even obsolete objects, antiques, films, books, and especially paper and its uses in advertising, magazines, pop culture…”
VV.: How did you start? And were there any individuals who formed influences?
F.W..: As it happened, for some years, I’d been supporting myself as a dealer in used books and related ephemera. This provided me with a useful framework for the freedom of schedule that I much preferred, and provided access to the raw materials for the making of collage works which I’d grown increasingly attracted to. As a kid, I was entranced by the colorful graphics of comic books and science fiction, and over time to the works of Surrealist painter Max Ernst and the assemblage artist Joseph Cornell. A bit later, I was introduced to the world renowned mixed media sculptor and collagist, Tony Berlant, subsequently visiting him in his Santa Monica, California studio on numerous occasions. I [benefited] from his knowledge and enthusiasm for the creative process and his encouraging feedback regarding the examples of my early work that I was able to share.
VV.: Was collage always your main medium? And why?
F.W.: Contemporaneously, in the mid to late 1980s, I became interested in learning more about techniques in drawing and painting, and embarked on a series of courses and group lessons in both mediums. The drawing courses especially lent me enough confidence to keep on with exploration, and that combined with the encouragement of some extremely talented artist friends who were more familiar with the history of collage making. [They] steered me in the direction of attempting some experiments with scissors and paper. It must also be said that I’d long had a love of older and even obsolete objects, antiques, films, books, and especially paper and its uses in advertising, magazines, pop culture and the promotion of the musical creative artists that I most admired. [I} have always been attracted to the basic ephemeral nature of it as a substance that is resilient and so full of energy despite its natural fragility.
“Most of the antique papers that I favor date from the mid-1800s to the early 1960s…”
VV.: Can you describe your process?
F.W.: I usually begin a piece by sifting through stacks of old magazines, photographs, engravings, book covers and endpapers, and vintage textiles, especially inspired when I happen to locate an ancient and somewhat disintegrating image suffering from water stains or the bleeding of inks one occasionally finds in primitive printing technology. Most of the antique papers that I favor date from the mid-1800s to the early 1960s; once I set about digging through my morgue file, I’ll set aside anywhere from several dozen to a couple of hundred examples for consideration. If I feel that I have a nice assortment of appealing images to choose from, I set about cutting them into agreeable shapes and sizes for the background that I’m planning to work into, sometimes cutting and shaping an individual element a dozen or more times until I’ve attained something that fits into the scheme of the overall piece, much as a sculptor or woodcarver might remove material from their original source until they’re satisfied with a resulting form. Generally speaking, once the number of elements reaches a couple of dozen or so from which to begin creating the piece, I’m ready to commit to pasting one into position and proceed from there.
I suppose that you can say that the work is reliant on both the intuitive and the methodical, with an eye for composition and color sense involved and a dedication to crafting the works in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and technically satisfactory, the blending of shapes and textures applied so that the viewer is drawn into the imagery with a curiosity that’s rewarded through attention to detail. My hope is that more of my intent is revealed if someone is engaged enough to gaze at the finished piece for more than a few seconds. Most of the works entail many hours of concentration on my part until I’ve arrived at a place that feels right to me, and it is most exciting and satisfying from my point of view if people encountering my collages are either perplexed or amused enough by what they see that they find themselves really wanting to investigate what I’m up to in this imaginary world of cut and pasted paper.
This has now gone on for nearly three decades and remains very gratifying. As it happens I’ve been able to make good use of the antique papers and distressed vintage books that I’ve accumulated during my time as a dealer, and I remain a stubbornly analog, cut and paste type of craftsperson, devoted to the work of puzzling together my compositions from many small bits of carefully cut images.
“I cut and shape an individual element a dozen...times until I’ve attained something that fits into the scheme of the overall piece, much as a sculptor or woodcarver might remove material from their original source until they’re satisfied with a resulting form.”
VV.: Well, bravo for remaining stubbornly analog! Is it possible for you to zero in on a few pieces?
F.W.: As far as explanations for individual pieces, I tend to work pretty intuitively, although at times there are things about it that occur to me as I work. For the most part, the ideas behind the work and even the titles are what come to mind more as a function of helping to propel me toward completion than to try and substantiate any precise meanings or associations that I’d intend [for] an objective viewer to glean from them.
Overall, I’d say that my efforts regarding any themes or symbolism that reappear in the collages are tending more toward the humorous in combination with a sort of alternative mythology to the various forms of spiritually linked dogma that we are so accustomed to encountering in a more traditional or mainstream setting.
VV.: I see you’ve been involved in a number of group shows!
F.W.: I was first granted the opportunity to show one of my collage pieces at a wonderful 1995 group show, “Pasted Papers, Collage in the 20th Century”, curated by the noted art critic Peter Frank and gallerist Louis Stern at his West Hollywood space, Louis Stern Fine Arts, and in more recent years I’ve been included in a show curated by the famed collage artist Cecil Touchon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, had a solo show at Space Gallery in Claremont, California, and have been in group shows in Santa Barbara, California at the Sullivan Goss Gallery.
For the past few years I’ve been extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to participate in group shows with a band of fine craftspeople and assemblage artists as one of the “Alchemy Group” in their annual shows at the MorYork Gallery in Highland Park, California, and the incredibly generous and talented owner of the space, Clare Graham, has been good enough to provide me with the setting for two solo shows in his otherworldly environment as well. The solo shows were achieved with the fantastic production help and detailed navigating of the many practical considerations by my wife, Gisele Grable, who has also created a website (www.frankwhipple3collage.com) which allows me to showcase the collage works in an ever evolving fashion.
VV.: What a great joy it is to meet you. Congratulations on your recent show!
“the rationed propensity..” (2019) handcut vintage paper collage on antique photo cabinet card 4 ½” x 6 ½” is currently available at Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery’s 100 Grand Show in Santa Barbara through February 1st.