Arts Magazine: Frank Gaard: Portraits

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Avant Gaard: Paintings from Real life by a Living Legend

The long-awaited exhibition of nearly 100 portraits by infamous painter and local cultural phenomenon, Frank Gaard, opens February 26, a culmination of the artist's ten years of portrait painting.

The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), the artist-managed curatorial department of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, presents the Frank Gaard exhibition in the Minnesota Gallery from February 26 through April 11. The exhibition will open with a free reception from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 25.

Since 1985, Frank Gaard has painted dozens and dozens of people who have passed through his life. These portraits began as a means of socializing Gaard's studio, of moving artistically from a solitary to a social position. After many years of painting repetitive cartoon-style images from his imagination, Gaard turned to the faces of the real people around him-friends, acquaintances, and strangers who deigned to pose. At first the portraits were a sideline, but over the years they have become a central focus of Gaard's work. Although to some extent they are still about the forbidden (the sense of life mixed with a dread of the future), they reveal a lighter, more veiled aspect of his palette.

This one-time-only exhibition will bring together portraits painted by Gaard-of friends, family, and many notable members of the Twin Cities art scene. The gallery will be installed salon-style (that is, some works will be hung high, some low, and some in between).

Although the exhibition spans a decade of Gaard's work, he is careful to emphasize the serendipity of the work. The exhibition is not a conceptually structured piece, but part of an ongoing, open-ended project. Anyone interested may arrange to sit for a portrait.

In pointing out the domestic value of the paintings, Gaard says, "People never wonder where they might hang the portraits. They're just about the size of a chest of drawers." In this vein. Gaard notes the makeshift living room at one end of the exhibition-a comfortable space for visitors to reset and reflect.

Domestic accessibility may seem an unlikely concern for Gaard, considering his reputation for difficult iconography. But the portraits reflect an optimistic side of Gaard. He considers these images "monuments both to life as identity and to the humility of representation."

Through his signature schema-caricature or cartoon-style depictions-Gaard captures the essence of his subjects in luminous color and form.

For two decades, Gaard's reputation as a local cultural phenomenon was linked to his creation of and guidance over the underground grafix collective magazine Artpolice (1974-1994). He became notorious for creating a body of work that depicted nightmarish, sexually explicit images. Gaard is also known for his provocative writing and arts criticism, and for his honest discussion of manic-depressive illness, which has informed both the content and construction of his work.

Chicago born and raised, Gaard is still influenced by the brusque, assertive sensibility of his working-class roots. He gives his birthplace partial credit for the audaciousness of his work.

Born in 1948, Frank Gaard received a B.F.A. from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967, and M.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1968. He served as a professor of Fine Arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from 1969 to 1987.

Gaard has exhibited his work regionally, nationally, and internationally, and has received numerous awards, including grants from the McKnight Foundation, Minneapolis; the Bush Foundation, St. Paul; and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc., New York; and an artist fellowship from the MacDowell Artist's Colony in Peterborough, N.H.

Gaard currently lives in Minneapolis where he continues to paint and to freelance as a writer and curatorial consultant. He has three sons-Peter, Sam, and Max.

Artist-led public tours will be held Thursday, March 18 and Thursday, April 8, 1999 both at 7:00 p.m. in the Minnesota Artists Gallery.

All events are free and open to the public.

"Frank Gaard Portraits" is presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), which is made possible by generous support from the Jerome Foundation. Frank Gaard's work is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc.

Cynde Randall is MAEP program associate.

Citation: Cynde Randall, "Avant Gaard: Paintings from Real life by a Living Legend," Arts 22, no. 2 (March 1999): 6-7.