Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all? In the case of Steve DeFrank’s show, “Mirror, Mirror,” the question may not have ended in “prettiest”, maybe the words “most fabulous” would have seemed more appropriate. Referencing a Disney theme, DeFrank’s show is a glossy beauty with a underscore of much more serious theme. For instance if we were to follow through with the Disney comparison, DeFrank’s show would have depicted a gorgeous Cinderella dress that somehow asked the viewer “Where did all the Disney mothers go?” Instead, DeFrank’s show took on a much more personal voice.
DeFrank’s “velvety” paintings, as described by his artist statement, used a main trope of unnaturally colorful wood with wonderfully delicate grain lines. Wood is the major theme. Think Austin Powers for a moment with me as we come up with all the meanings the word “wood” could have. Now you’re on the right track. Many of DeFrank’s painting depicted wooden boards with words inscribed in them – not your average love notes but rather stereotypical slang stabs at homosexuals. Words like “back door” come to mind as I mentally review the pieces. It is an imagery of wood, painfully inscribed with insults. It is the artistic recreation of the personal experience.
The beauty of DeFranks show does not solely come from the complexity of his references or for the blunt nature of the works included. Although this certainly adds to the meaning of the show, what captured me immediately was the style of painting. It was soft and indescribable. Velvety is the closest word one can get to it, the next being a visual image. His canvases were not canvases, of course, but wooden board. I told you that wood was the major theme. And the paint lay upon them as if it was begging to be stroked. The images rested on their mat backgrounds like sun tanners on the beach, leaving a mouthwatering sensation equivalent to looking at bikini tan lines.
And while my fellow viewers may have been caught up in the bikini beach land, I found myself jaw-dropped at the wooden planks that DeFrank had created. I do mean created. These beams, which looked like trompe l’oeil two by fours with a more colorful wood grain scheme, I do love the subtle references, were actually not two by fours at all. Though painted on wood, one would not have expected these pieces to have been hand constructed, not beams in the least. This attention to detail and artistic mastery sent me over the edge. As I described to my friend Sean, it was like hitting your elbow except that it was a good pain.
I had not expected to care about the show. In fact, many of the things that I liked were the realizations that came to me only after I had left. This show works its way into the back of your mind and only when you’ve fully developed a consciousness of it, can you really appreciate it. You see the artist has painstakingly thought out the process, that there was intention behind each and every detail and that’s when you start to appreciate. I urge you to go and see it for yourself, to appreciate it for its conceptual and technical mastery. “Mirror, Mirror” will be on view until October 18th and you can find out more about the exhibit at the Margaret Thatcher Projects website.