Below, the IAF interviews John Frame, an interstitial artist whose work is complex and profoundly moving, evoking for this writer Tim Burton, the Wizard of Oz, and Charlie Chaplin–I am sure you will have your own responses! But do check it out here: The Tale of the Crippled Boy .
IAF: Please Introduce Yourself.
John Frame: “If John Frame were in the movie business, he would be a costume designer, stylist, set decorator, prop master, lighting specialist, writer, director, editor, producer, agent and publicist all rolled into one…” This quote taken from David Pagel’s 2005 Los Angeles Times review of my midcareer retrospective, has proven to be prescient. Unexpectedly, to that list would eventually be added photographer, animator and composer.
IAF: Please talk about your latest project.
Between the years 1980 and 2005 I was recognized primarily as a figurative sculptor in Southern California. I had a solid career, though it was always a bit at periphery of the contemporary art world. My concerns as an artist centered around fundamental human questions, “Where do I come from? What am I to do while I’m here? And what, if anything, happens when I die?” My approach to making art was founded on a desire to strike a balance between the intellectual, emotional, and technical aspects of the process. I believed then, as I do now, that the only way to achieve this balance was through the use of one’s intuition. From the beginning, there was consistent support for the work both publicly and privately. I received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and had a major solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 and a midcareer retrospective at the Long Beach Museum in 2005. My studio in downtown Los Angeles was the focal point for many of the figurative artists working around Southern California.
From 2000 to 2005 I experienced a very serious creative block and felt that my career had probably come to an end. In May of 2005 I let go completely of the idea of continuing my work.
Within a matter of days of having given up on being an artist, I received the biggest creative download of my life. I awakened at about two o’clock in the morning to find myself suspended in what I now know to be the hypnopompic state. In that state between waking and dreaming I was able to see a world unlike anything I’ve seen before. There were highly individualized characters, art forms and architecture, as well as a very clear overarching narrative. Even though I was seeing the story in the middle, I was somehow able to understand both the past and the future of this world I was looking at. Most importantly, all of the characters were moving in space. I knew that this was leading me into becoming a filmmaker, and more specifically, a filmmaker who would use stop motion animation. Having spent several hours memorizing the world I was seeing and translating what I saw into copious notes, I resolved to attempt to bring the world I saw into this world and began that work the following day.
For the next almost six years, I worked constantly toward realizing what I had seen. This involved creating highly detailed characters that were able to move convincingly in space. In many cases, the character’s eyes, mouths, fingers and, of course, limbs moved. In addition to creating the characters, I also set about building the sets and creating a working theatrical stage where I could film them in motion. At the same time I was learning to use a complex digital camera so that I could create the photography that would eventually become the book that accompanies this body of work. I very quickly realized that in order to animate this world on my own I would have to become a lighting technician, photographer, animator, editor and eventually composer. To date there are approximately 35 characters, multiple sets, the stage, thousands of photographs and about 12 ½ minutes of finished film. The entire project was exhibited at the Huntington Library, Art collections, and botanical Gardens in San Marino, California in 2011 and at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon in 2012. In both venues attendance ran well above expectations and the audience response the sculptural work, photography and films could not have been warmer. That exhibition, “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale” was Part I of a much larger project entitled, “The Tale of the Crippled Boy,” and we are currently at work on Part II.
IAF: Where do you find your inspiration?
I’m not entirely sure what the source of the inspiration for the work is. I am driven by something inside me that I don’t clearly understand. From the external world, I find multiple sources of inspiration including literature, poetry, dance, music, and spending time in direct contact with the natural world. (Specific influences would include Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Shostakovich, Mahler, Ingmar Bergman, Pina Bausch and too many others to mention.)
IAF: How has being interstitial (i.e. creating work that falls outside recognized easy genre or marketing categories) created difficulties for you?
Working in the interstitial zone has presented numerous problems, most of them having to do with technologies that were new to me. In a very short time, I went from being a person who had never photographed his own work, or had much exposure to computers beyond simple word processing and Web surfing, to using multiple cameras and computers. Along with this I needed to learn to use highly sophisticated software packages including Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, and Dragon Stop Motion. The difficulty lies primarily in utilizing these technologies to serve the project while never losing sight of the aesthetics involved. It is important to me that each component of the project be a stand-alone work of art with the capability of moving the audience.
As I pursue my goal of creating a feature-length stop motion animated film one of my biggest ongoing problems has been financial. In the past, when working as a sculptor, I had a body of pieces available for sale every few years. Now working as an animator with a coherent cast of characters that also happen to be works of art, I find myself in a rather awkward position of having no visible means of support. In order to animate we must keep all of the figures together, probably for many years to come, and at the same time we have significant expenses.
IAF: “One Wish:” If you could change one thing about the situation, what would it be?
My one wish would be to find either a patron interested in supporting this project to its conclusion, or an institution willing to acquire the entire project upon completion for the purpose of making it permanently accessible to the public.