East City Art Reviews—Mary Annella Frank Creature Comforts

By Jan Aucker on April 14, 2022

A creature comfort is defined as ‘something (such as food, warmth, or special accommodations) that gives bodily comfort’.[1] Mary Annella “Mimi” Frank has embodied this meaning with a group of her steel sculptures at Fred Schnider Gallery of Art in Arlington, VA.  The artist previews some recent and past works that mainly focus on animals, objects of nature and her continued investigation of chairs inspired by the Greek myth of Cassiopeia.  For this exhibition, she has turned to mostly smaller sizes using varied welding methods and designing their accompanying pedestals. In this, the artist provides the viewer with a unique opportunity to closely examine the intricacies of her welding techniques.

The smaller scale characterizing the majority of the works in this show promotes a sense of intimacy, particularly as they are viewed at eye level on Frank’s custom made pedestals.  The installation encourages the viewer to examine them more closely and appreciate their detail. This is Frank’s intent; to get the viewer to move completely around each work to reveal the myriad welded metal bits that make up each of the compositions.  As with her previous installations, most are consistently made using steel, although some are infused with copper and wood. In addition to the sculpture, Frank has included eight small, framed murals alluding to her fascination with recurring themes in ancient Greek mythology.

Varying the scale, in the main room, attention is immediately drawn to a tall narrow sculpture that seems to defy gravity.  Salve Salvage towers four times as high as it is wide with no apparent structural supports to keep it from toppling over.  As with the other works in the show, Frank has welded layer upon layer of intricate steel resulting in a consistent bronze hue.  Here, however, the artist gave the work a rust patina by leaving it outside to naturally weather. A tiny figure perched at the top of this abstract work, supported by twisted strands, shards and curved pipes looks over the gallery.  According to the artist, “Salve” is Latin for “Hail” and she used the word after working at Catholic University’s “Salve Regina” hall. As the piece literally grew from the scraps she had saved and discarded from floor of her studio, the title is a memento vitae.  It’s a self-portrait that includes reflection upon the life of a sculptor emerging from a pile of scraps.

Salve Salvage. 2018, welded oxidized steel, 85” x 24” x 24”, Photo by Greg Staley.

In the same room, Frank has positioned nine sculptures alongside all three walls.  Here she has displayed a mix of her welding techniques ranging from abstract to natural forms.  The juxtaposition of smooth and textured objects displays the artist’s masterful technique to sculpt and form metal shards into very different surfaces. This is evident between Bunny and Kitty Kitty. On the former, the artist allowed a smoother surface in which the metal pieces that make up the work meld together.  In contrast, the cat is covered with prongs, rings and nails that make it look as though angry with its fur standing up on end.   The spiraling textured wooden pedestal that perfectly supports it was actually made previously and repurposed for this sculpture.

Bunny, detail. 2019, welded steel, 60” x 9” x 14”, Photo by Mary Annella Frank

 

Kitty Kitty, detail. 2022, welded steel, wood, 53” x 12” x 12”, Photo by Mary Annella Frank

As you continue to examine the other works in this room, the artist’s incorporation of other materials into her compositions is apparent.  A Little Flash drew my attention with its bright copper plated steel overcoat.  This common object stands out in comparison to the other sculptures with its defined form, smooth surface and intricate features like lapel, collar and sleeves.

A Little Flash, 2018, copper plated steel, 57″ x 10″ x 10″, Photo by Greg Staley.

A recent work from 2022 fits comfortably into theme of the show.  Good Girl appears to be a memorial to a pet dog.  Here Frank is working in primarily a naturalistic mode.  Inside the halo of a leafy vine, the artist has masterfully created the form of a Labrador, stick in mouth, on a small patch of grass. The welded metal with its intricacies simulates the dog’s coat. Among the works represented here, this one, remembering moments of a dog’s life, feels the most personal.

Good Girl, 2022, welded steel, 57″ x 14″ x 14″, Photo by Mary Annella Frank

Walking into the other section of the gallery, the artist has re-explored the theme of chairs.  Frank relates how, in Greek mythology, the
beautiful Cassiopeia was punished for her vanity and tied to a chair that rotates in the night sky. “The chair represents so many things to us,” Frank says. “These chairs tell us a little about Cassiopeia and her regrets, but they are really about our relationships with each other.” [2]

Remembering Andromeda, which was slightly reconfigured for this show, flanks the other side of the dividing wall encroaching into this small area of the gallery.  As with Salve Salvage, Frank has masterfully displayed her welding expertise concerning composition and weight distribution.  The miniature chair forms are arranged in multiple directions to build upon each other to create this imposing tower. According to the artist, in making this sculpture she was exploring what inanimate objects make the viewer think about.  Of course, the title, alluding to the catasterism of the constellation of Cassiopeia, would lead the viewer toward a particular understanding of the work’s intended content.

Remembering Andromeda, 2017, welded oxidized steel, 96″ x 48″ x 48″, Photo by Jan Aucker for East City Art

Flanking the corner walls is a series of eight framed works keeping with the theme of chairs. The work entitled Cassiopeia Dreams of Better Days is a mixture of metal leaf and paper, mounted in glass frames.  Upon closer inspection, you can see the layers of images, patterns and shapes behind a single chair. The medium for the chairs ranges from silver leaf to a variety of paints.  The artist has positioned the forms in various directions mimicking the large sculpture in the same room.

Fran, 2019, welded steel, 62″ x 18″ x 12″, Photo by Jan Aucker for East City Art

Frank has added two more steel sculptures in the second room with the Cassiopeia and Andromeda works. One in particular, standing a bit isolated from the others, is a sculpture of her daughter Fran. Frank relates that her daughter had resisted posing for her which inspired the gesture of the female figure.  The viewer can feel the rebelliousness Frank has captured in her body, stance and facial expression in the welded fragments.

Despite the medium, art that is inspired by nature and stories can connect emotionally with the viewer.  Mimi Frank has attempted to capture this essence in her sculptures. Applying her welding techniques and use of recycled scrap metal, the viewer is encouraged to investigate each work closely and eventually may be inspired to recall a distinctive memory or perhaps develop a new appreciation of the artist’s process of combining intricate fragments to fabricate animals, humans and other things in her works.  She has said that her practice is a chronicle of ideas and concerns that have deeply impacted her and which she has translated into her art.  Frank’s sculpture conveys a connection between the man-made and the environment. She hopes that while evaluating her works the viewer will sense and relate to the creature comforts that she finds as inspiration.

Creature Comforts is on view through April 24 at Fred Schnider Gallery of Art in Arlington, VA.  For more information, visit the gallery’s website www.fredschnidergalleryofart.com.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creature comfort

[2] Fall 2012 issue of the Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Quarterly.