Francis Hogan (“Frankie”) Brown is a master of splatter-dash painting and a lot more besides…
by David Phillips – 11/18/2006
In 1999, in celebration of his 20th year of painting in the splatter-dash genre, which he began with inspiration from Jackson Pollock, Frankie Brown made a little booklet with a splatter-dash cover and presented it to Pat Collentine and Susan Larsen, two artists living in Chico, CA, who are friends, supporters and close associates of Frankie’s. Inside the booklet is a short version of his own story. It also provides some insight into why Frankie is in the news today.
The booklet begins with a holiday greeting and continues thus:
Original splatter-dash artworks by Frankie Brown since 1979. First one person exhibit of splatter-dash at the world famous Clam Broth House, Hoboken, NJ October 1979. Later shows were mounted in New York, Illinois, California, and worldwide mail art shows.
Frankie Brown was born in Manhattan, raised in Newark, NJ, and spent his adult life in California. He hopes to some day live in outer space.
Although art is his primary interest, he spends equal time with quality books and food.
1999 will mark the 20th year of producing splatter-dash artwork by Frankie. He has never been accused of ripping off Jackson Pollock even though most observers of the work see the similarity and this usually brings a smile to their face. Yes, according to Frankie, anyone can do it. No, they don’t look the same.
“What I learned the most from Jackson Pollock,” says Frankie, “Is discipline and thrift. It’s all one piece. There is no up or down. No composing or designing. No drips. The viewer sees whatever. And like with most artists, money does not come easy, so being a skillful penny pincher helps afford the luxury of art making.”
Splatter-dash kind of artwork was done long before Pollock. It was common when color paint was scarce. Jackson Pollock was probably not finished with exploring the process when he died in 1956 either. Surely when Frankie Brown is dead and buried, someone else will carry on.
The splatter-dash artwork attached was probably torn from a larger piece done some time ago. Frankie prefers smaller pieces because they bring the viewer closer. The larger pieces are available but they are not better, only bigger.
Hope you enjoy.
James (Buddy) Antwel [Frankie’s pen name], writer.
Fine Artware, Books, Organic Foods
Francis Hogan Brown, Home Museum
PO Box 8251, Palm Springs, CA, 92263
Frankie graduated from Cal State in 1970. He holds a lifetime teaching credential in art and industrial arts. He began with photography and also studied ceramics, metal and concept art. This was a change of career for him. He had already had a life as an accountant. And in the ‘60s he thought he was going to be a politician and studied political science for a year.
When Cal State built a new union on its East LA campus, Frankie became the first director of the gallery and coordinator of the crafts department. This was in 76, the Bicentennial Year. LA was an interesting place in the 70s.
“I was doing lots of shows,” Frankie recalls. “It was a very hot gallery. In that year I showed over 125 artists. I didn’t want to see any down time. Things had to turn over very quickly. We ran poetry shows and film shows, conceptual art things. I did a regional American series and in California alone there were 13 artists altogether at different times and one performance artist, Kim Jones. He’s at a gallery in New York now. He would dress in almost nothing, wear tights over his head and on his back he would construct bamboo sticks that were roped together and would stick out. Scary character. He did things with rats–he’d paint them or something. He had pet rats and roaches. He burned three of the rats in the gallery and it was big news. Cal State and I severed our relationships at that point. That’s the short version of the story.”
Although he never belonged to the Fluxus movement as an active member, Frankie shares some of their philosophy. For example, like Fluxus, he felt art should be out of the gallery and into the world. In later years it was not unusual for him to buy back one of his own paintings at a thrift store. He did belong to a Dada movement and was part of the annual Dada parades in San Francisco.
He has many stories, some of them very funny. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, they will have to wait for another time.
Carrying On From Pollock
In 1978 Frankie started painting, at first closely following the style of Jackson Pollock. “I first saw a Jackson Pollock painting when I was very, very young, maybe 3 or 4 years old,” says Frankie. “I remember saying, ‘This must be art because it’s not a picture of something,’ and I felt that must be what art is, just dealing with space and color. I remember this painting was a yellow one.”
“I started doing that kind of work in 1978 because I was somewhat of a conceptual artist and that whole thing went bust in the mid ‘70s. Everybody turned their nose up at it. It was finished. I have a brother who’s an artist too. My mother was an artist. We talked about starting a movement which we were going to call the Popcorn Movement. We had ideas for doing art within this movement. But it didn’t go too far.”
Frankie struck out on his own and has been splatter-dashing paint across hundreds of canvases from 1979 to the present.
“I decided Jackson Pollock was much too young to have finished everything he started. He was doing this kind of splatter-dash stuff like I do. I tried to investigate where he would have gone with it had he lived. The Correspondence Art movement was happening. I’m in many, many of those shows all over the world, especially in Eastern Europe. They did a lot of them there: Poland, Russia, Hungary.” Frankie produced many, many small splatter-dash cards and sent them out to the world.
“I think Jackson Pollock would have taken it smaller too because you bring your audience in closer and you still have that kind of busy vision thing happening which is what’s nice–different. And I’ve taken them bigger.”
Frankie had a studio in Palm Springs for 13 years and still goes down there every winter and continues to produce his art. He only does the splatter-dash work, like Pollock. “It’s difficult to stick to just one thing, but that’s all there is for me,” he says.
Although there are many similarities between Frankie’s work and Jackson Pollock’s, there are also many differences to be discerned.
“I use gold leaf in a lot of my paintings,” he says. “Jackson Pollock wouldn’t have had access to really shiny gold paint I don’t think.”
“What’s unique about Frankie’s work is the density. A lot of people would imitate Pollock and would probably bring 10 or 12 paint cans and think they’re really going for it. The reality is Frankie would often use 30 different cans or more.”
Pat Collentine, who has studied Pollock’s and Frankie’s work extensively, points out: “What’s unique about Frankie’s work is the density. A lot of people would imitate Pollock and would probably bring 10 or 12 paint cans and think they’re really going for it. The reality is Frankie would often use 30 different cans or more.”
“These aren’t showing a lot of the gestures like Pollock did,” Frankie points to some of the paintings hanging on the wall. “When I first started I was doing the lines like Pollock did.”
“Pollock had wider, broader lines than mine,” he continues. “One way I differed from Pollock was spending a lot of time putting in the background colors. The prepping takes a while. Usually I gesso the back and put a background color on.”
“I try to use brushes as little as possible but I do use a brush occasionally. Sometimes I’ll use a brush to fling the paint. I’ll use rags. I’ll use sticks. I often used my hand. I don’t use my hand too much because it hurts. One time I had to let my hand rest for two weeks.”
“I just throw paint on things and I keep throwing it on,” Frankie explains. “I don’t make decisions… Well, I make decisions like to move it around, to fill the space. But not to have a composition. I’m not looking for a composition I don’t think.”
“There is a clear coat over all this,” he says, pointing to another painting which has gold leaf splodges on it. “I’d put the clear coat on and then drop the gold leaf and where that fell I would go in and knock it down so it would stick.”
“I prefer what happens with oils than acrylics. I’m preparing to do more oils. I’ve been collecting lots of oil paints for a year. I don’t mix acrylics and oils. It’s one or the other. In one of these paintings I’m using pastels. That’s different than Pollock. “
“I’ve seen many Pollocks–as many as I could. That’s pretty far from Pollock,” Frankie says, pointing to another of his paintings.
Although some of Frankie’s paintings are signed, particularly if they were hanging somewhere where someone wanted him to sign them, like Pollock, Frankie doesn’t usually sign his work.
“I did a bunch of stuffed ones. Stuffed canvas. Splattered the frame too. I don’t usually do that. I have gotten into glitter. I’ve gotten into gold leaf. I think I am getting more color, more brilliance from my stuff than Jackson Pollock was.”
Pat Collentine and Susan Larsen agree, “We’re students of Frankie Brown and Susan [Larsen] and I have both been to the Museum of Modern Art in the Pollock room and we’re familiar as artists with his work,” says Pat. “One of the things we would distinguish between Pollock and Frankie is Frankie has a brighter palette. Frankie would represent more the kinds of colors you’d find in the 80s. Obviously he purchases his paints and house paints and things at yard sales and thrift stores, but his palette is a little brighter. Even the ones that have a stronger resemblance to Pollock, the palette’s a little brighter.”
Frankie continues his comparison. “Jackson Pollock would throw more on this. He’d have more lines like drips from a stick. He wouldn’t leave the background open so much. The difference is I’ve got a lot of spots. I’ve got these texture-like things here, purposely. My pictures tend to be more spacey, more global, more universal looking out there, like the sky…than his were. I think I get more depth with how I do it than he did. I think you feel you can fall in there.”
“To me it’s like looking through a telescope,” says Frankie. “The surface is like a window and everything is happening on the other side of this window.”
Like Pollock, Frankie works with the canvas flat on the floor. Of course Pollock also did paintings in a more traditional position but the later work was done flat on the ground.
In sum, Frankie’s work is similar to but different from Pollock’s in many small ways.
Recently a controversy has surfaced which has brought to the surface the similarities and differences between the work of the two painters.
The Teri Horton Story
The story of Teri Horton, the 73 year-old truck driver who bought a painting in 1991 in a San Bernadino, CA, thrift store for $5 which she was later told might be a Pollock and is now the subject of a just-released movie Who the $#&% is Jackson Pollock? is very much in the news right now.
Not quite so well known is Frankie’s side of the story.
Just a glance at Frankie’s work is enough to satisfy anyone that he knows what he is talking about when it comes to Jackson Pollock’s paintings. After all, he learned how to paint in the same style by studying Pollock and he has produced hundreds of paintings of his own which take off from that style. It’s one thing to be an art critic or historian and look at someone’s work. It’s quite another to be a practicing painter capable of producing masterpieces in the same style.
Frankie has two things to say about the Teri Horton’s painting.
“It’s certainly not a Pollock. It could be mine.”
What makes it not a Pollock in Frankie’s opinion?
“It’s not a Pollock based on the strokes. The thickness of his lines is one thing. Pollock uses mostly bold line. He would use drips out of the bucket but mostly the paintbrush he’d hold like that. Well I know the kind of marks that makes. I don’t do it that way. Those more noticeable throws of paint are more like what I would do.”
In order to be certain whether or not it is one of his own works, Frankie would need to see the painting up close.
“I have to see what’s in back of that. They’re kind of laying on top too much, those bolder strokes so you can’t really make out what’s underneath. We’ve seen the picture in the paper. We’ve seen the thing on television. And it’s still too far away. I can’t tell if it’s one of mine. I’d want to go up close and see more…I’d look for the color. I get taken back by the color. I could tell whether I used the color or not.”
The circumstances in which the painting was acquired seem to make it more likely to have been one of Frankie’s than one of Pollock’s.
“The thing about that painting she bought,” says Frankie,”is it’s not a very good one, whoever did it. I believe I did it because it looks like one of mine. It could have been a random (?) piece of canvas. I suspect that somebody else framed it. Doesn’t look like I’d stretch it that way. I never used those corner things. So I’d like to see it just to see if it is mine. I don’t want it back. I’d rather she didn’t even have it. To me it’s a B movie. To be circulating my B movies on television… I wouldn’t even lick it,” he adds, with reference to Teri’s recommendation recently, in a forum post, that he apply saliva to his paintings as a way of establishing authorship and provenance.
“About a year ago Pat Collentine spotted an article from a 2002 People magazine. It had a painting with Teri Horton sitting in front of it. He said, ‘It looks like yours,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it looks like mine.’ I tore it out and put it in a frame.”
“I had a studio in Palm Springs for a long time and I turned out over 100 of these splatter-dash pieces–released them–they’re gone. There were at least a dozen large ones.”
“I’m a picker. I would get the canvases where I get them now: yard sales. I got a roll of canvas recently. I’ve still got about 50 ft left.”
“I’ve bought my own paintings at thrift stores where they had been donated by someone else. At one point I gave my paintings to a thrift store in Palm Springs as a donation so they could benefit from that. The thrift store in the Desert is called Angel Field and they run a crippled children’s charity and it’s very successful. They’re doing a good job. I think they have something like 13 stores and a couple of them are in San Bernardino which is just around the bend. The paintings could have gone to any of their stores.
“This painting of Teri Horton’s looks like an unfinished painting. I don’t believe I stretched that. Somebody else stretched that painting. I wouldn’t have stretched it that way. I can’t see it close up but it looks like a not finished painting that I did. It could have been just canvas. I would release pieces of canvas. I do a lot of yard sales and flea markets. I’d sell unstretched paintings, whatever. People would come into the studio. They’d buy things right off the wall. I would sell someone unstretched canvases or someone would take it. I’d give things away. I’d trade things. It could have been a piece of canvas that somebody wanted to wrap something with or something like that. I’ve actually bought my own paintings in thrift stores that someone else had donated. I’ve donated them to places to be raffled, like The Senior Center.”
There is a photo of Frankie in his earlier years holding one of his paintings which is very much like Teri Horton’s but it isn’t the same one.
“I lost an entire show at San Francisco once,” Frankie recalls. “Somebody stole everything. They were all large.”
Frankie would like to satisfy his curiosity as to whether this painting is one of his or not.
“I would like to see it so I could feel totally sure that it is mine or isn’t. I don’t want the thing back if it is mine.”
“I am sure I could tell if it was mine if I saw it up close. I would look for the colors–the background colors. What’s going on beneath the lines and all. The lines are kind of gestures. What’s underneath there? I could remember back to the paints I used–certain colors, I know where I got them. I could relate to the paints I had and how the paint was applied. These globs are mine,” Frankie says, pointing to one of his paintings. “Pollock didn’t do that. That’s what I do.”
Very recently Frankie spoke to Teri Horton on the phone. Teri is certain that the forensic evidence she has accumulated proves without question that her painting is indeed a Jackson Pollock. She is relying on science to prove the fact.
But she was not averse to Frankie having a look at the painting which is under lock and key in New York. She told him that if he was in New York she would try to arrange for him to see the painting. It would be an interesting encounter. At the time of this writing the meeting between Frankie and the painting he feels might well be one of his own, has not yet been arranged. We will certainly follow up on this and keep you posted with the outcome.
artregistration.com is very interested in the story and its resolution because it is precisely to avoid situations like this that artregistration.com was founded. If Jackson Pollock and Frankie Brown had been tagging and registering their work when they produced it, the painting which is now in Teri Horton’s possession and the subject of so much controversy, would be safely tagged and registered. There would be no question at all as to the authorship or provenance of the piece. Of course the artregistration.com tagging and registration system wasn’t in existence when the painting was painted, but it is now and artists painting today need to learn from this story. An inexpensive, secure and positive means of establishing and permanently recording provenance now exists.
artregistration.com is very grateful to Cork Marcheschi, well known San Francisco sculptor, with whom Pat Collentine and Susan Larsen have worked for years, for bringing Frankie and his work to our attention. Cork is a lifelong crusader against what he calls “manufactured reality” and, like artregistration.com, wants to see the truth of this matter established.
Frankie does not live in the past. He spends much of his time in the future.
“I think I want to get into some bigger splatter-dash paintings for a while and maybe do some demonstrations,” he says. “I want to do big stuff. I’ve got a lot of oil paint. I want to have some kind of platform to work from. I’m thinking now of building up a platform and maybe running a 2” x 6” across and using that to walk along and apply paint. Then I can get into the painting and paint. I can imagine a 2-level platform so that I can walk around the whole thing.”
The biggest known painting he has heard of was by Sam Francis. “I’d like to do something bigger than that. One piece of canvas, maybe 16’ x 40’.”
And while he is not sitting on the edge of his seat awaiting the outcome of the Teri Horton saga, he would definitely like to have a close look at the painting and settle for himself, once and for all, whether or not it is one of his.