Stumbling Over a Suitcase Israeli Artist Basil C. Frank

(Newspaper Section:) Art Market

Stumbling Over a Suitcase Israeli Artist Basil C. Frank and His Work Between Terror and Beauty

By Lili Eylon

He’s figured out how to win prizes: Since 1977, Basil C. Frank has won seven different international art prizes. In 1996,he  photographed shark’s jaws on the beach. Then a white bulldog came by and got interested in these “Jaws.”

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Click! “Jaws and White Dog” won him the Grand Prize in the Osaka (Japan)Triennale. His latest prize to date was for his work “Peacedance” in Cracow in 2003.

Born in South Africa, the photography and multimedia artist now lives in Jerusalem. About his work, he says, “I believe that elements of my work are connected to parallel processes, which remain invisible but which crystallize and reveal macro and micro spaces. I work with large sculptures, painting and assemblage and continuously cross borders between genres in order to make radical, ‘violent’ and provocative gestures.”

As an example, he presents an incident that occurred while he was in the midst of creating a work of art on the Holocaust. He stumbled over a suitcase at the Auschwitz Museum. The name on the suitcase: M. Frank. He photographed the suitcase, added real sea coral from the Philippines – a contrasting combination of dead geometry and something organic branching out from it. He named his work “Still Life of the 20th and 21st Centuries,” about which he says, “This is where beauty and terror connect, and I always move from the particular to the general.” And to the exalted as a function of beauty plus terror (Edmund Burke).

Frank admits that he’s fascinated by the morbid. This is evident in his large studio in southern Jerusalem. It is teeming with tribal art from Africa and South America, with his predominantly dark canvasses covering the walls, and there are bovine bones by the bucketful. All ready and waiting to be assembled, photographed and digitalized, meaning that they’re waiting to be transformed into art. Often, he also creates large, almost monumental pieces from them – something that would be rather difficult to do with the bones of mice.

But in spite of his fascination with decay, Frank is a staunch supporter of life’s force, and believes in resurrection as expressed in his work from 2005 “Phoenix: The Judaic Lore” (mixed media on canvas, 131 x157 cm), which is colored an optimistic pink. At the Triennale for Printing and Graphics in Cracow in 2006, Frank exhibited another life that has symbolically been regained: “Phoenix Throne” (Phoenix in Jewish Tradition). If there is a recurrent leitmotif in Frank’s work, it is an almost obsessive association of death and life. From the concave pieces of palm tree bark that lie at the entrance to his studio he intends to build small boats, which he will have sailing on the Dead Sea. Live sailing on the Dead Sea, life conquers death. Frank is an admirer of Joseph Beuys, whom he had known personally and photographed. And just like the famous German artist, neither does Frank believe in art for its own sake. He is convinced that Beuys transformed modern art into a mass medium, making it accessible to a large public.

Frank always finds his public. During the Biennale in Beijing in 2005, visitors lined up three rows deep around the photographs of his installations on the seashore. He exhibits all over the world, with one-man shows in Kapstadt, London, Los Angeles, New York – and of course, Jerusalem.

[German text translated from the English by Gerhard Charles Rump]

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