AboutArtist Conrad Frankel's debut UK solo exhibition âThe First People' opens on November 19th at ART WORK SPACE - a new independent gallery, recently launched in The Hempel Hotel, London. The exhibition of oil paintings takes its inspiration and subject matter from 19-century photographic portraits and the particular intensities and abstractions that occurred while the technology was still in its infancy.
Frankel has always been interested in portraiture and in 2006, having spent several years painting from life with vivid colours, he started working from black-and-white photography. An avid collector of market-found artefacts and objects, he found himself drawn to antique photographs, the characters within them and the secrets and stories they hold. Frankel was also fascinated by the process of early photography, which required the sitter to remain still, looking into the camera lens, for up to five seconds. The resulting images have an intensity that is almost haunting, with the force of the sitter's gaze becoming, at once, hypnotically vulnerable and disconcertingly intimidating - an irony not wasted on Frankel who notes that the subjects may well have never experienced photography before and would probably have found the whole process intimidating themselves. Of the photographs the artist says, âThe fact that exposure time could last for five seconds or more means that they look back at us with greater intensity and vulnerability than in present-day photographs. Seeing these images is like reading a diary we are looking into a ready-made, private world, and they look back at us like no modern subject does'.
This is not the only duality in the photographs to interest Frankel, who is attracted by the heavily directed placement of the subjects, usually smartly dressed and surrounded by elaborate sets; inspired by, and commissioned as an affordable alternative to, traditional portrait painting. âThey were made as intimate family records without the self-consciousness of art photography, but yet they are amazing displays, with people dressed in their Sunday best, their heads fixed still by neck braces, their eyes transfixed by the slow exposure lens.' says the artist, who is struck by the unnaturally choreographed nature of something that is intensely personal.
Frankel painstakingly recreates these images, combining several painting techniques and building layers of oils in order to capture the intense qualities contained in the original photographs. By enlarging them, often to life-size or greater, from the original miniatures, the artist also increases their force mesmerising the viewer who is compelled to engage with these enduring spirits.