Inspired by his trip back to Grenada, the rising art world star unpacks his suitcase in Portland

An excerpt from the film “2nd Eulogy: Mind The Gap”, by artist Billy Gerard Frank, who grew up in Grenada and now lives in New York. Her work will be exhibited this summer at the Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Portland. Courtesy of Elizabeth Moss Galleries

It all started with a suitcase.

Multimedia artist and filmmaker Billy Gerard Frank had not returned to his home country, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, in decades.

He left as a teenager after moving away from an area of ​​the world where living as a gay man meant ostracism, or worse. Grenada still has so-called sodomy laws, which prohibit sexual contact between two men.

Frank first revisited five years ago, after his father’s death, and the long-awaited return was both cathartic and creatively inspiring.

“I found this suitcase he had that was full of letters, keepsakes and maps,” he said. “It kind of became the impetus to undermine his life and also undermine my life alongside his.”

The result has been a series of works that will be on display, starting this month and running through mid-August, at Elizabeth Moss Galleries on Fore Street in Portland. His solo exhibition, “Eulogies”, includes a film installation, set mainly in Granada, accompanied by multimedia collages, photographs and sculptures. The series explores themes of exile, colonialism and sexuality, all personal to the artist.

Self-portrait of Billy Gerard Frank with his work in the background. Photo by Billy Gerard Frank

Frank, who is in his late 40s, has attracted a lot of attention in the art world – he has represented Grenada twice at the Venice Biennale, a major art and cultural exhibition in Italy, and at exhibitions in New York, where he now lives. – but this is his first exhibition in Maine.

He is, however, no stranger to the state. In the 90s and 2000s, Frank dated a Maine resident and he also worked for five years as a studio assistant to New York abstract expressionist painter John Hultberg, who had deep ties to the state.

Hultberg — along with his then-wife, artist Lynne Drexler — had been coming to the artist colony on Monhegan Island for years, and Frank would sometimes accompany Hultberg there.

“I grew up on a small island known for boat building and fishing, and my own dad was a boat builder, so I felt a lot of connection to Maine,” Frank said.

“Except the weather is different,” he added with a laugh.

Moss, whose original gallery in Falmouth has been in business since 2004, opened the town center location last year.

“I was interested in showing more national artists in the Portland gallery, as well as a more diverse perspective,” she said. “I looked at his work and immediately fell in love with his eye.”

FIND HIS PLACE

Grenada is a chain of islands in the southern Caribbean, northeast of Venezuela, home to just over 100,000 people. Most live on the larger main island, but Frank grew up on a small island – Petite Martinique – with a population of less than 1,000.

Like many island nations in the region, Grenada was under British control for centuries and only gained independence in 1974. Yet life there has changed little. It was still predominantly Christian, and its collective attitude towards homosexuality remained hostile.

Frank said he realized early on “there was no place for me in the Caribbean as a gay person”.

At 16, he left his home and family for the UK, where he began to paint and explore experimental video and art installation. He then moved to New York as a young man and continued to study studio art. This is how he met and came to work for Hultberg.

Although he was still interested in painting, Frank began to branch out even more. He studied production design and filmmaking and even founded a film festival in Brooklyn, the Nova Frontier Film Festival & Lab, which showcases work by filmmakers and artists from and about the African Diaspora, the Middle -East and Latin America.

“I think I’m primarily a multidisciplinary artist now,” he said. “Painting, sculpture, cinema. Whatever the particular needs of the series, this is how I develop the work.

Frank has always drawn inspiration from his own life, but never more so than in his current series, “Eulogies.”

One of the things he realized upon learning about his father and his own upbringing was how much he was exposed to art, albeit in a non-traditional way.

“My father, who was primarily a boat builder, was an incredible carpenter. He had a deep appreciation for aesthetics,” Frank said. “He was an artist himself, but not by name. Every time he built something, he knew it had to be beautiful.

Frank’s mother had similar sensitivities. She worked as a seamstress, sometimes even for local theater companies in Grenada.

“She never thought of herself as an artist either, and I think about that a lot now,” he said. “All these people who have a particular trade, it’s art forms that don’t get as much attention.”

A mixed media canvas by artist Billy Gerard Frank that is part of his exhibition, ‘Eulogies’, on display this summer at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Portland. Courtesy of Elizabeth Moss Galleries

BREAKING BARRIERS

Frank’s exhibition in Portland is not a traditional display of paintings on the wall.

The centerpiece is a 40-minute film, “2nd Eulogy: Mind The Gap”, which will be shown on a single screen inside the Moss Galleries, complemented by other exhibits including stills from the film, a collage of hand-sewn canvases and a sculpture. .

The film, Frank said, centers on Nelson, a fisherman, whose gay son, James, comes of age in a changing island landscape. The story is fictional, but James’ story mirrors Frank’s.

Moss said it wasn’t a challenge to exhibit Frank’s work even though he was crossing mediums.

“He’s such a strong artist that each of these different mediums ties into the themes of what he’s trying to explore,” she said.

Moss said the film’s stills are particularly evocative – “complex but visually sensuous”.

The suitcase will also be part of the exhibition.

Frank said the object symbolized a larger conversation about geographic displacement and generations of exile from his own family, which has roots in Africa and Scotland.

“I’ve always embraced the philosophy that artists are there to disturb the peace,” he said. “People like me come from specific parts of the world, we can’t help being political. It’s a natural part of who I am.

“I think it’s important to bring this work to places like Maine that probably need it more than New York, for example, because in New York we kind of speak to the choir,” he said. -he adds. “Maine may not be as prone to black and gay issues in the arts.”

Frank plans to spend more time in Maine beyond his exhibit, perhaps even as part of a residency program where he creates new work. He also wants to foster conversations about art that breaks down barriers between traditional gallery patrons and the wider community.

“I think it’s an intimidation that the general public can have,” Frank said. “For many years institutions as well as galleries have had a sort of white glove approach and responded to an elite society in a sense. And this society has been the patroness of the art world.

Moss said that was one of the reasons she wanted to open a second gallery.

“In Portland, I hope to provide more of a platform for national voices who may not always reach Maine, as well as young artists coming out of art school, to help support each other” , she said. “Because there is a void.”


Use the form below to reset your password. After you submit your account email, we’ll send you an email with a reset code.

” Previous

Next ”

Christopher S. Washington