Abstracting the figure
April 24, 2006 § Leave a comment
By PAUL J. KARLSTROM
Kim Frohsin draws with absolute authority, every line precisely what it should be. She elevates drawing to a level of expressive accomplishment that makes the individual sheets of paper that happily bear her marks fully realized works of art. In this she is among the relatively few legitimate heirs of the Bay Area Figurative School. Among her predecessors are Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Nathan Oliveira and Frank Lobdell, all admired for their draughtsmanship. Among the things she and her distinguished predecessors share in common is a complete control of line and form as means to construct an unmistakably individual personal world in their art.
Figure drawing is not merely an academic exercise that, according to a peculiar recent article in the The New York Times, has been picked up as a “quaint” practice by “more serious” contemporary artists in New York. In fact, the practice of drawing sessions with a live model has continued over the centuries, and it proceeds uninterrupted by stylistic changes and even major shifts in the fundamental idea of what art is, or has become. The Bay Area tradition, and Kim Frohsin’s practice, amounts to an affirmation of the insuperable centrality of drawing to the continuity and historic underpinnings of visual art.
Frohsin’s drawing-based practice is traditional only in that it participates in what for centuries was understood to be the basis for depiction, and therefore comprehension, of reality. With that in mind, Kim Frohsin takes her position within a humanist tradition that seeks understanding of her place — of our place — in the world. Implicit in her work is an acknowledgment of the close relationship between representation and abstraction. This is a hallmark of modernism, an underlying concept in all figurative, or “realist,” art of significance.
Her previous series, “Provocative Poses,” was the result of what Frohsin describes as an “epiphany.” While working from the model Eden in a group session, a “little voice” told her: “Respond to the feminine in your work, as you are in your life.” The resulting drawings, in which female sexuality (model and artist) played a central role, were followed by a second and closely related group of works. With the focus remaining on the female nude figure, the artist’s chosen subject at the time, abstraction (never carried to full non-objectivity) became the thematic goal. In August 2004 another model, Reyna, pointed the direction for the subsequent step in what amounts to an evolving pictorial and psychological investigation. Abstraction, a formal and philosophical concept, was adopted as the means to deeper self-discovery. The general was, once again, deployed in the service of the personal.
The idea of abstracting the figure is hardly new. But, the goal of abstracting an individual model — beyond the physical information provided by line, form, volume — is less common. And this is what Kim Frohsin has undertaken as her project in her new series. Abstraction itself has an impersonal quality, typically understood as more universal than the particularities of an individual, which are the personal and human qualities that Frohsin seeks in her quest for self-understanding. Furthermore, she seems intuitively to combine an interest in formal (stylistic) issues with a willingness to confront something far more difficult to capture: the essence of a unique, singular, human being. This is what distinguishes Frohsin’s ongoing project and, most emphatically, the abstract figure series. The particular never surrenders to the general.
To hear Frohsin talk about her models is to gain insight into their essential importance as individuals to her art — and, as I gather from our conversations, to her life as well. Reyna, Tami, Signe, Prudence, Helene, Dayla, Barbara, Lea are all individual sources of abstraction. But they are also individual women, eager to collaborate in Frohsin’s latest artistic obsession. This confidence in the artist surely comes from recognition that, for her, life drawing is not simply a classroom exercise removed from the serious business of contemporary art based on ideas. It is the fundamental basis and means for her to develop her own thinking about the intersection of art and life, providing a vocabulary for her to communicate a personal worldview that insists upon the primacy of human interaction and relationship.