Frank StoutFrank Stout is one of the foremost—yet most elusive—realist artists working in America today. His distinguished career spans six decades, with works featured in galleries and museums in both the United States and abroad. Permanent collections/commissions include The City Hall Fountain Plaza, Burlington, VT; The National Academy, New York, NY; The Vermont State House, Montpelier, VT; Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS; The Sheldon Swope Art Gallery, Terre Haute, IN; The Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA; The U.S. Information Agency, Federal Building, Washington, DC & United States Embassies in Peru & Brazil; his private collectors include many celebrated international artists and connoisseurs. He is a recipient of awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and The National Academy's renowned Henry F. Ranger Award.

Born in 1926 on the North Shore of Boston, Frank Stout trained briefly on the GI Bill at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, his only formal education. Stout moved to New York City in the late '50's, joining the avant-garde art scene around the Cedar Tavern and 10th Street galleries, while drafting for architects IM Pei. He first showed at the Tanager Gallery, before joining Dorsky Gallery on Madison Avenue, enjoying regular solo exhibits there until the death of dealer Sam Dorsky. He lived and worked in a downtown loft with his wife Chaewoon and young daughter Mira, (the author), where friends and neighbours included artists Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason, Alex Katz, Bill King and Lois Dodd, Robert Rauschenberg, Marisol, and Willem de Kooning.

With a move to Vermont in 1965, Stout's style evolved from a raw expressionism reminiscent of Kokoschka and Jack Levine to a more muscular and polished realism. He showed again in New York at Landmark Gallery from the mid-'70s to early '80s. His work achieved new fluency and resonance with his seminal series, 'The Convention Pictures', alongside a range of vibrant Americana subjects inspired by old  photographs and mass media; everyday images sketched from parking-lots, highways, and television screens.

Out of the mainstream, Stout's exile years in Vermont and Tuscany—from the mid-80's, when he bought a ruined property near Siena—were fertile ones for sculpting as well as painting and drawing; creating sensuous, playful figures rendered in a variety of media—alabaster, wood, bronze, terracotta, poured plaster, wire-mesh, and also 'found' materials: ice-cream sticks; plastic water-bottles; Styrofoam and plumbing insulation. Unusually, Stout's sculpture, at its best, is considered equal to his painting; displaying a similar sensitivity of detail, mastery of line & volume, and trademark wit, manifest in the solo sculpture shows that followed in US museums & galleries from the '80's onwards.

While ambitious, Stout's highly reclusive temperament and purist leanings have set him apart from the media-driven self-consciousness of the late 20th / early 21st century American art scene. Instead, he has explored an interior world of intense creativity and experimentation—continuing to this day. Stout's versatility, his single-mindedness in pursuing offbeat obsessions, and his disregard for commercial & critical trends have resulted an oeuvre of almost confounding richness. Yet his long refusal to "explain" his art and great reluctance to promote himself have undoubtedly cost him far wider recognition.

Frank Stout finds pathos, humor, and unexpected beauty in the humble and fleeting: from a tin of sardines to a transient America of trailers, fast-food joints, and derelict farms and mill-towns; his still-lives & landscapes capture the poignancy of the ignored and unsung. His often sardonic portraits—subjects as diverse as Louis Armstrong, the Pope, a trio of winos, Weight-Watchers, and Wall Street executives—are all evoked with equal freshness and bravura.

Yet Stout’s artistic reach extends beyond Americana to Classical and European subjects as well, as seen in both his sculpture and Italian paintings, and especially in his original ‘Artists & Models’ series; a flamboyant paean to the practice of art, celebrating Stout’s lifelong fascination with the human form. His often astonishing group portraits demonstrate an authorial interest in a broader canvas—that of the Individual & Society. In framed vignettes & rites of passage—whether a Bostonian suffragettes’ meeting, or a Native American pow-wow; a shiny-faced suburban family-portrait, an anonymous graduation ceremony, or a corny vacation snap--Stout makes us feel part of a greater human family through the immediacy and universality of these images. We are drawn into an awareness of passing time that intimates both mortality and a sense of historical continuity.

Formally, the group portraits evoke shades of Sargent and Whistler, and reference Old Masters such as Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Velasquez and Titian in palette and composition, but Stout’s sophisticated synthesis of bold, quasi-abstract paint-handling, humanist compassion, and postmodern inventiveness express a New World energy and a heightened vision all his own.

Over the decades, Frank Stout has produced a unique and timeless body of work. With tender detail and monumental scope, his restless narrative images create a sweeping, eloquent album of life in the 20th century, and beyond.

Mara Williams, 2011
Independent Curator New York City / New England
Chief Curator Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Vermont  

Photograph by Bob George