Thanks.Frank, an outpouring of love for retired Tyler School of Art painting prof Frank Bramblett, honors a beloved educator and raconteur known for his wit, compassion and deep thinking about art, culture and society. (Full disclosure: In 2006, I co-taught one semester of senior painting studio with Bramblett and Libby Rosof.) Tyler alums put out the call, and works poured in from all over the country, from 35 artists in all, including paintings, sculpture and works on paper from local artists like Anthony Campuzano, Thomas Vance, Austin Lee and Rebecca Saylor Sack and out-of-towners Kelly McRaven (New York) and Trenton Doyle Hancock (Texas), to name a few. The works are whimsical, witty, heartfelt and colorful, and many riff on Bramblett’s penchant for baseball hats, dark clothing, horn-rimmed glasses and pithy Zen-like commentary on art, social issues and his childhood in tiny Wedowee, Ala.
Over the last 38 years, Bramblett taught a lot of painting students to think. Delivered deadpan, in an Alabama country drawl softened by years of living in the north, Bramblett’s critiques were deep, almost like having a sit-down with your shrink. And while the focus was on the art, his commentary was invariably elliptical—about art, life and the interweaving of the two. Occasionally, students wouldn’t quite get the gist of what Frank had told them until years later. Post-epiphany, they would write to tell Frank they finally understood.
Situated in the glorious Elkins Estate, a Versailles-like mansion in Elkins Park that was once the summer retreat of railway magnate William L. Elkins, this homage to a beloved teacher offers works that range from abstract to cartoony to word pieces riffing on Frank’s volubility. Lauren Whearty’s untitled painting of Frank in a room with a large landscape painting and a dog that’s bigger than Frank, is a comic take on the artist in the studio. Christopher Ulivo’s “Fatty, Frank and Fannie” is a caper painting of what looks to be a highly improbable burglary stakeout. Trenton Doyle Hancock’s cut-paper “TO BE FRANK” teases language—a reminder of how frank Frank could be.
Katrina Mortorff’s “Phranks,” a sequin-encrusted baseball hat with the letter F emblazoned on the front, is—like many of the works in the show—both homage and quip. Not only does the work refer to the artist’s penchant for hats, it frankly nails the man himself as an icon. And, it refers to the larger world we all live in, where Phillies fever and NASCAR fever can reside in the same person who can talk a blue streak about Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull.
The show is installed in the balcony overlooking the grand entryway to the Elkins Mansion. Viewing the contemporary works between gawking at the caryatids, crystal chandeliers and celestial ceiling painting is a head-spinning experience, asking you to remember the past of unbelievable grandeur and the today of lives lived and touched by a respected teacher.
Bramblett, a painter of juicy cosmic abstracts (for which he won a Pew Fellowship in 2000), says he’s happy to be back in the studio, working on his own things. Few teachers have poured more of themselves into their students than Frank. He already misses the students. But it’s great that after all this time, he gets to practice what he preaches. Happy retirement, Frank.