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Franks paintings play off
by Julie Clay
WHEN YOU CAN'T get outside for some nature, experiencing a Corso could be just the invigorating jolt you need to get on with your day. No, its not a new brand of coffee; its the work that acclaimed artist Frank Corso delivers each time he takes paint to canvas. Sweeping, delirious sunset beach vistas and charming countryside panoramas exist alongside portrayals of our cherished Florida Everglades. His ever-growing audience of over 30 years is always eager to see what the next Corso is going to be.
Its not so surprising then, to discover that his technique is a deft combination of sheer talent, years of practice and study, as well as total immersion. Yes, Mr. Corso is known to have planted his easel in the middle of his intended scene, be it a flooded Everglades prairie or the late afternoon mist of a mountain lake, in order to truly live the moment that hes bringing to life. Not that hes taking so many chances anymore, especially in the Everglades.
Frank explains, When I first came down to Florida I was doing that. It kind of spooked me, but it was always kind of exciting. Ive never been able to take a photograph that represents what I saw out there. It does introduce an entirely different element of danger into the mix when youre out there by yourself! Id walk three, four miles out in those prairies and Id be coming back at eight or nine at night, in the dark. Its amazing that I never stepped on a snake! From safer surroundings, Corso continues to bring to life a myriad of vivid landscapes depicting natures true beauty at varying times of day. At first glance you might even think youre looking at a photograph. Its a technique he calls the illusion of realism.
When you look at my paintings up close, its not much detail, he says, Its all brush strokes and paint. You get a good two feet away and it looks all blurry. When you stand 10 feet back it looks clear. Ive worked on that for many years. I do a couple strokes, then back up and look at it. When I paint outside youll see a 10-15 foot strip back from the easel because Im walking back and forth to look at it. Frank adds, I like to paint the feeling. Thats something that Ive worked on as long as Ive been painting. I have a big painting at the Ritz Carlton Tiburon and people comment all the time.
During a recent visit to his studio, we could see from both up close and a few feet back the canvas he was currently working on and understand his logic. Also, sitting on the floor next to his easel were a banjo and guitar, since as it turns out, Frank is also quite the musician. He paused for a moment during our conversation, picked up the banjo and strummed a few chords.
Music and art for me have always gone hand in hand, he ruminates, I dont really know which one I like more. I cant imagine my life without either one of them. I always have three or four guitars set up on one side. Ill paint for a couple hours, then Ill sit down and play. Then Ill paint. Even when Im painting, Ill write lyrics. Ill write them on my iPhone, then Ill go back later and finish fabricating the song. It just happens that I make a living from painting, but both go hand in hand.
Corso remembers what first inspired him to paint when he was a young boy growing up in Syracuse, New York, When I was a kid my parents had a painting on the wall of a fall scene and a creek. I just really loved it. I would sit there on the couch and just stare at that painting. I started drawing, and I found out pretty quickly that I was good at drawing. My mother sent me to the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. Then I got to be pretty good at drawing from that point on.
He took art classes in school, even switching high schools to focus more on his craft. This is where his teacher, oil painter George Benedict, became a mentor, influencing Frank to switch from pastels to oils, hosting classes at his home at night. With high school ending, Frank was shocked to learn his parents, who had been supportive of his art all along, insisted he major in something more realistic in college. He decided on architecture as a close substitute, but his true calling was too strong. Around this time, he also met Austrian painter Robert Hoffmann.
A lifetime of work behind him, including painting celebrities, Hoffmann became a mentor to Corso as well, I met him at an art show where I was playing my guitar. He was around 80 when we met. I went to his house and I saw a life size portrait of Winston Churchill. He said, I can teach you how to paint. If you want to be an artist you have to learn how to cry. He became my closest friend and I was with him, studying and painting, until he died at 98. I studied everything he could give me. Robert and George were hugely inspirational to me. When everyone else was telling me I couldnt do this, they were telling me I could.
Back in southwest Florida, Corso has garnered quite the following. Collector and friend of 13 years, Selma Nettle owns close to two dozen Corsos. She says, Franks paintings play off the tension between the beauty, danger and fundamental loneliness of places like the Everglades or a northern river. My favorites are the late in the day Florida paintings where you can almost feel the heat and see the light shimmer in the hazy surroundings. Gardner Colby Gallery in Naples is the areas foremost gallery to view Corsos works.
Gallery owner Nancy Winch says, Gardner Colbys relationship with Frank Corso goes back more than 20 years, to 1994, when we first opened our gallery on Marthas Vineyard. In the years weve represented him, Frank has firmly established himself as the preeminent interpreter of the Florida landscape. We are proud to have a been a part of this true Renaissance Mans growing legacy.
I love portrait painting, but the problem is there was too much direction from other people. I finally just said Im done with this because I dont want someone else telling me what to do. Thats how Ive lived my whole life, by following my own set of rules and not listening to other people. I believe in what Im doing, he reflects, adding, It was that painting above the couch when I was young. It was like a magic trick that I really loved. Thats the magic of oil painting that I love so much.
The opening reception for Corso!, an exhibition of new works by Frank Corso, is February 21, 5:30-7:30pm. The reception is free and open to the public. Gardner Colby Galleries is located at 386 & 365 Broad Avenue South in downtown Naples. For information, call 403-7787.