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Artist Spotlight | Natalie Frank

And the art of coming home again

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Austin-born Natalie Frank has always known she was an artist. “My grandmother said, ‘All you wanted to do as a child was pick up rocks and inspect things.’ I think [my career] was probably foreshadowed in my childhood,” she laughs. In middle school, Frank’s parents separated and she moved with her mother to Dallas. Frank says she didn’t really fit in at school and so, with the support of her parents, she began to explore her interest in art. “I started really seriously figure drawing when I was 12 or 13,” says Frank. “I would go with my mother to draw nude models in this woman’s garage cause it wasn’t allowed in school. It was considered inappropriate.” Though she found support at home, Frank’s school leaders were less than thrilled with their student’s interest in drawing the human form.

When she was 15, Frank’s parents sent her to the Slade School of Fine Art at University College of London to spend a summer studying with the masters. “They have an amazing tradition and history of figurative artists,” explains Frank. “I just fell in love with that place.” Though she may not have realized it at the time, London proved a pivotal place for the young artist. During her undergraduate studies at Yale University, Frank returned to London to continue studying at the Slade.

After graduation, Frank moved to New York to pursue her MFA. Around that time, she befriended London-based artist Paula Rego, who was the first to encourage her to explore the Brothers Grimm. “I had never worked from stories or literature before and [Rego thought] I would love that,” says Frank “She thought the narrative surrounding women and the body and sexuality and violence and humor would be right up my alley — and it was.”

And so, four years ago, Frank retreated to her Brooklyn studio to begin work on illustrating Tales of the Brothers Grimm. “This was the first time I was like, ‘I’m going to trust my imagination to see what this world can become,’” explains Frank. The result is an epic tome filled with gorgeous drawings illustrating some of the most iconic stories in modern literature. But make no mistake; This doesn’t look like your childhood copy of Grimm’s fairy tales. In her version, Frank explores themes of gender, sexuality, and domestic abuse in a fantastical and stunning world.

It was precisely this world that led the Blanton Museum of Art to curate Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm, an exhibition running July 11 through November 15 and featuring more than 30 pieces of Frank’s work. The event, a partnership between the Blanton and The Drawing Center, also marks the New York-based Frank’s first big show in her hometown, the place where her father and much of her family still lives. Says Frank, “I associate being a child with living [in Austin]. It felt appropriate… I think a lot of what is in these stories about play and beginning to see life through stories, that’s how you understand life. That’s what the Grimms are.” Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm, runs July 11 through November 15 at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Credits

Photography by Daniel Brock

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