Marilyn Frasca: Poet, Painter, Mystic

by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS

Marilyn Frasca is one of the South Sound’s most beloved artists, as evidenced by the crowds that flocked to her solo show at Childhood’s End Gallery in 2013. It was a rare honor for the artist, in that the gallery almost never does one-person shows. That show featured 71 drawings with pastels and other media drawn into monoprints. Frasca returns to Childhood’s End Gallery this year with a show featuring more than 57 drawings.

A typical method for Frasca is to make monoprints showing various textures and then let her imagination run wild finding images among the textures, the way people find pictures in smoke and clouds. Each picture tells a story. It might be the story of Squaxin Indians recreating a historic canoe trip or depictions of Native American legends; it might be a tender rendition of people with their animals, or art about the horror of war.

Frasca describes her method this way: “I begin with a single print made from an inked plate. I use a variety of techniques to create textures which I later study to see what is there. Working with the image that comes to me, I am able to sharpen and develop a visual and emotional response to the textures and shapes of the print, which seem to clarify and assemble themselves into astonishing pictures of people, places and events that have no recognizable connection to my life. I do this with drawing materials that include charcoal and pastel. As I work, it is as if I remember this person and her or his expression. It is an emotional quality that is slowly revealed as I draw out the image. I can feel and see the eyes, the curve of a forehead, a hand holding something.”

She adds, “The presence of these figures exists in an ether of memory beyond my own existence, extending to a past and to a future, giving clear directions through textures of just how and what I should draw. Usually I feel an immediate compassion for the figure that shows itself. (It’s) often genderless, out of time and looking intently at me or somewhere else or at someone else. The look is occasionally pleading, knowledgeable and communicates an awareness of my presence and scrutiny of its physical being and its relation to myself and the world in which I live. In this way the drawings assert emotions in their own terms and offer assorted facts that visually describe answers to questions I am slowly seeing and learning to ask.”

Frasca was born in Manhattan in 1939 to Carmelo and Mildred Frasca. She grew up in the Bronx. She says that when she was a junior in high school her teacher secretly saved her drawings, and after a year informed her parents she had a portfolio she was sending to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan as an application. She wanted Frasca out of the Bronx and away from gangs. Frasca studied at Cooper Union for three years, then went to The San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied magical thinking with Gregory Bateson and printmaking with Nathan Olivera. Then it was on to Bennington College, where she taught art, earned a graduate degree and met legendary art critic Clement Greenberg and artists Kenneth Noland and David Smith. She was the only woman on the faculty.

Greenberg, who was known to be able to make or break the careers of many an artist, visited Frasca in her studio. “He wanted me to know a few things,” said Frasca. “He told me that figure painting was no longer what artists were doing in New York … at least those he felt were important. At the time I was working on, and had a show up of, figure paintings. He said he liked my work and it would be shown in any case — except for the fact that I was a woman. As a woman, he said, you need to be in New York and socialize, get close to these male artists and gallery owners. He mentioned people I knew of and of others I met at some wild evenings at the college. I decided to ignore his advice.”

Artist Susan Christian first met Frasca in New Hampshire, and when Frasca took a year off from teaching at New England College, Christian filled in for her. “It was impossible to fill Marilyn’s shoes, but we became friends,” Christian says.

In 1973, Frasca came to Evergreen, where she taught until 2000. “Marilyn was the master teacher,” Christian says. “She taught lots of younger Evergreen faculty how it’s done. She encouraged students to allow their thoughts to lead them, instead of trying to force traditional skills. She changed lives. In time, I became an art therapist; Marilyn, however, was the best art therapist alive, because she understands how people must operate according to their own peculiar rules and she forgives them for it. She gives us credit for making important decisions even if those decisions puzzle the people around us. Like David Byrne, she tells us it’s okay to stop making sense.”

Writer, anthropologist and longtime friend LLyn De Danaan says, “She is a poet, a painter, a mystic, a student of Jung and a practitioner and teacher of the Progoff Journal Workshop. Her attention to the inner life is profound. Looking at her work is an opportunity to listen in on the making of a grand, mythic world that is inaccessible to many of us, but Marilyn is a great guide to that nether region if we will just pay attention. Whatever her intentions, the results of her efforts are gifts to us, sumptuous gifts of image and color, and gifts to ponder. Each is intriguing in its own way. That offering is from her deepest self and cannot be denied.”

What: drawings by Marilyn Frasca

Where: Childhood’s End Gallery,
222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia

When: Oct. 6 – Nov. 12;
artist’s talk 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15

How much: free

Learn more: 360-943-3724 | Childhood’s End Gallery

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