last weekend i visited the studio of the british abstract painter frank beanland…
frank beanland lives with his wife emily (who is also an artist) in a characteristically old suffolk farmhouse (some parts of the building date back to the late fifteenth century), situated a few miles from the small village of fressingfield, surrounded by working farms and open fields, a good many trees and some nice hedgerows. it’s a rural location which one could easily overlook or pass by, hidden away as it is, first down a farm access road and then a single track road where the grass still grows in the middle.
[frank beanland, black, violet and green, 2008]
the house and its nearby outbuildings appear out of the middle of what seems to be a small enclosure of untamed nature in the agricultural landscape, as you turn into the short grassy driveway, as if being transported into a rural scene reminiscent of a 19th century painting. the secluded location has a down-to-earth, rustic charm that many artists would desire as a place to live and work, if they want to be free of the demands of twenty first century living.
on my arrival, showing some awe of the secluded, shady ‘in the jungle’ feel of the place, frank first showed me around the rear of the farmhouse where a more recent addition of a red brick facade belied the house’s true age, as evidenced by the tiny odd-placed windows (glass windows were the luxury of the wealthy land owner and they were also taxable). there was also a pond or two around the back where they once excavated the mud to build the wattle and daub walls of the house (or was it the remains of a small moat?).
as i strolled through the outbuildings to where frank’s studio is situated i was momentarily distracted by the myriad surface textures surrounding me, in the weathered black wood of a barn door or the slowly disintegrating facade of a rendered wall, appearing as graphic, block-like motifs within the dappled shades of summery green.
[frank beanland, grey buildings, 2008]
frank beanland’s main painting studio is in the largest of the farm outbuildings, and on entering this very tall, timber-framed structure one is immediately plunged waist deep into frank’s prolific output of recent abstract paintings, an overflowing, exuberant world of bold and playful expressions of colour. what’s not to like..? well, perhaps just the small fact that there is no electricity and there might be a bit of a leak in the roof, so he can only paint in natural daylight, he covers his work if it rains and in winter, he said, to keep warm he just wraps up and moves around a lot more.
for the last few years, frank has devoted his artistic practice almost entirely to painting on newspapers instead of the usual canvas or board, turning a once ubiquitous material (and freely abundant after initial reading) into very vibrant, often resplendent and sometimes ritzy patterned surfaces. in the way that art students are often instructed to draw, paint on, collage or construct with old newspapers to avoid unnecessary preciousness in their work & open up fresh perspectives, frank also relishes the creative freedom that painting on newspaper has brought him – turning yesterday’s (or yesteryear’s) news into new expressions of form and colour.
it is a process now imbued with some unintended relevancy or irony, with the sales of printed newspapers supposedly on the demise and the news media fast moving towards pay-to-view online (and on the same day, the last ever publication of a popular sunday newspaper).
i asked frank if he had ever considered this unplanned outcome of his work, in that he was perhaps also preserving or honouring a part of news media’s long history. no, he said, he does not pay much attention the contextual relevance of the newspapers that he uses, but flipping to the underside of some of his paintings it was clear he was a regular guardian reader.
in the painting shown below (in deep yellow, grey and blue colour blocks) the various newspaper headlines and captions on the reverse included: work, movers and shakers, special intelligence, the magic of numbers, a better prescription, the complete works, archivist – all of which could, in theory, generate some intriguing titles for the finished paintings, or just create an interesting pause for a thought for the day…
seeing so many newspaper paintings stacked perhaps ten or more deep on a large makeshift work table, constructed of boards propped up by smaller tables and chairs (i estimated there must be hundreds of paintings here), the saturation of colours seemed to pulsate, interweave and undulate like the strata of the surrounding landscape, and with most of the paintings easily visible, it had the browsing experience of a moroccan bazaar. perhaps it is no surprise to learn that frank has in the past worked in printing and textiles and his sensibility with colour and pattern would translate well into contemporary fabrics or rug designs.
the nature of frank’s very immediate way of painting on newspaper is that he often works on many paintings in quick succession, all of which seem purposefully considered in their overall design, composition and colour – repeatedly reviewed and edited until he believes they are finished. with each brushstroke of colour, whether blocked-in, thinly overlaid or juxtaposed for visual contrast, a broken edge of a previous colour might be allowed to peek through. in the newspaper industry’s inevitable downsizing from large broadsheets to more compact tabloid formats, frank often joins three or more newspaper sheets together to make increasingly large paintings, often extending to banners or wall-hangings (as seen below).
frank’s newspaper paintings have a wonderfully tactile and surprisingly robust quality too, which contradicts the nature of the support on which they are painted. he uses acrylic paints, which, mixed up in recycled tin cans in a multitude of colours and dilutions, variously create a matt smooth finish, a silky sheen or a subtle crinkled effect to the paper’s surface – all of which added some fresh visual dynamics, elevating the paintings’ appearance beyond the purely decorative.
as frank sorted and pulled out more of the newspaper paintings for me to view, the papery shuffling sounds recalled the materiality of old scrolls, charts, maps or textile samples. frank cites the rhythms and patterns of nature as some of his visual influences in his paintings but i could also see the barn’s structural elements echoed in many of the abstract compositions.
here is a psychedelic blast from frank beanland’s past – knocking the spots off a damien hirst…
[frank beanland, red discs on blue, oil on canvas, 1969]
i was impressed by frank’s enthusiasm & energy, the new works on newspaper are unrestrained by the usual conventions of painting, and he wants the newspaper paintings to be enjoyed for what they are, as celebrations of colour – there are no hidden messages or intended subtexts(!) but there is a delight in trying to decipher them all the same.
on walking back to the car, frank pointed out the reflection of trees and sky in the bonnet, a composition with all the delicacy of chinoiserie, and i was reminded of the one deceptively simple aspect of being an artist – to always keep one’s eyes open and to appreciate every colourful moment that life has to offer…
frank beanland was born in 1936 in bridlington, yorkshire. he studied at hull college of art and the slade school of fine art in london, where his tutors included frank auerbach. from 1962 to 1964 he lived in cornwall, exhibiting with the porthleven group, and during this time he focused on abstract painting, most notably a series of spot paintings. he moved to east anglia in 1966. he has received many awards and has exhibited widely, including a succession of solo exhibitions in london and elsewhere, in addition to numerous commissions for painted screens and printed textiles for hospitals, churches and private residences.
frank beanland is showing recent paintings throughout july 2011 at the hatfield hines gallery in norfolk and he will also have some of his larger paintings featured in the holt festival.