If Charles Dickens were alive today and casting around for a name and persona to suit the character of a young aspiring artist with a poetic heart, he wouldn’t have to look far from home to find Jack Frame, who was born to Scottish parents in Dickens’ home town of Chatham.
At the age of just 25, Frame, is hotly tipped to become one of Scotland’s most collectable contemporary artists, despite the fact that he resorts to the wholly unfashionable medium of what he calls ‘pictures in rectangles’ to unleash his creative vision on the world.
A sell-out star of Glasgow School of Art’s degree show two-years ago, his inclusion on the shortlist for the this year’s Jolomo Awards for Landscape Painting has brought him to the attention of a wider audience, yet it would be wrong to pigeon-hole him as a landscape painter.
Certainly, looking at his recent paintings of trees, often delicately rendered on large sheets of Perspex or glass, there seems to be so much more to them, than mere depiction of a landscape. Like Turner, he is always chasing the ether of atmosphere and the trees themselves appear to take on human qualities. It’s as though, through the vehicle of the natural world, he is searching to place humans in context; to understand our place in an increasingly sterile global landscape.
His truly beautiful depiction of a cherry tree in full blossom, sitting in the studio before heading off to the Jolomo Awards Exhibition, invokes a mixture of emotions, sending this viewer off on a march around her memory bank in search of half-remembered lines of poetry about the fleeting nature of youth and beauty.
Describing himself as a ‘magpie’ in his approach to his art, Frame is also a romantic in the way he engages his artistic sensibility - always striving to strip away the heaviness of a scene, be it in a landscape or in figurative painting.
“I guess in the way Rembrandt kept returning to self-portrait as a means of charting the passage of time, I keep going back to trees as a way of understanding the world,” he explains.
“At the moment, the landscape is coming through the tree and I have to immerse myself in images of trees before I can move on. The tree works as the figure in the landscape for me at the moment.”
Although born and raised around Dickens’ old stomping grounds of Chatham and Rochester, it took a move north to Glasgow to study at the city’s world-famous school of art six years ago before Frame read any novels by the celebrated Victorian author, but in many ways he could have stepped straight off the pages of one his books.
When we meet in the contemporary surroundings of a new Costa coffee shop in Helensburgh, where Frame has been living for the last two years, he’s doing a remarkably good impression of a Victorian country gent in the country, with his collarless shirt with waistcoat and well-thumbed book in hand.
The west coast town is currently his base and Frame is divides his time between painting and teaching at nearby independent school, Lomond School, where he has been artist-in-residence for the last two years.
A quick drive along the water to the outskirts of the town in his blue MG and we step into the darkness of his studio, a long red-carpeted room above a friend’s garage which is aptly shrouded by heavy early summer foliage.
Frame’s studio is like an old-style artist’s garret. Alongside the usual trappings of a painter’s trade - linseed oil, paints, brushes, palettes, varnishes - there are canvases stacked up against an entire wall and an easel at either window. Papers filled with his neat, sloping, anachronistic handwriting are scattered everywhere and study material revealing a mind which revels in joyously unfettered experimentation with different media and a love of learning, spills out from large hand-made, hand-stitched volumes. Aide memoirs, in the shape of cuttings from newspapers, deftly-executed sketches of faces and figures and original handmade etchings jostle on every available surface for space. Beside a tree-framed window which looks out onto the Firth of Clyde, he has hung up undeveloped negatives taken by his grandfather which he found in his attic following his death in 2004.
It all conspires to form a picture of a young artist, who is immersing himself in imagery, thoughts and the written word, in an attempt to keep himself firmly on the artistic path which so impressed anyone who saw his degree show at Glasgow School of Art in 2007. The work also impressed assessors, who awarded him a first class honours degree.
Looking back to that period, which he describes as ‘very strange’, he recalls being totally unprepared for the stir created by his work. “I had been in this bubble of art school for so long, just working away doing what I do, when suddenly I was standing there with all these people asking me questions about my paintings and rifling through my books. At the end, we were tearing things out of the books and they were empty. All gone. All bought. I remember Muriel Gray coming up to me and telling me how much she loved trees and asking about buying some work. It was really eye-opening.
“It was also the first time my parents got the chance to see what I’d been doing and to appreciate the influence they had had on me. My dad and I used to go for long walks in the country and I had used some of these walks as source material for the paintings in my degree show.”
Although he is just 25, there is a maturity to Frame’s work, not to mention his approach to his art, which was obvious from the outset. The middle boy of three brothers, both his parents are teachers and were instrumental, he says, in all three following a career path which is right for them.
“There is not really any real art in the family background,” he states. “Mum is the head teacher of a primary school in Rainham, Kent, while dad is a science teacher in a secondary school in Gravesend. My older brother is studying for a PhD in Space Communication and my younger brother is a drummer, who is currently on tour with a band. There seems to be a creative gene somewhere between my brothers and me. I think our parents gave us so many opportunities to do what we really wanted to do. Maybe this is what makes them good teachers.
“I remember going to the school where mum taught and my memory is of her drawing pictures for other kids to go above their coat pegs based on the first letter of their names. Apple for Adam and snail for Simon, for example. She seemed to love this hands-on, childlike approach to drawing.”
Clearly, Frame has inherited this hands-on passion for passing on his own skills and it’s obvious he gets a great deal of satisfaction from working with the children at Lomond School, who range in age from 5-18.
“The kids are just so natural, particularly the younger ones. They’ll say to me, ‘Are we doing trees again, Jack?’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh well, why not. Trees again it is…’
“They have an energy that resonates and are quite inspirational. I wish I had the energy they have, but also to see the world through a child’s eyes. When we look at drawings, we can see creativity becomes stunted at a certain ages. For me as a practising artist, it is important to be aware of this sense of inhibition, and not to limit the way in which drawing on all its levels is approached.”
Although he is becoming known for his striking depiction of trees and other botanic phenomenon, Jack Frame is no one-trick pony as a quick canter through his studio reveals. His pure drawing skills are evident all around the walls and in his hand-stitched books.
Artist and curator Kim Canale, who runs Wall Projects Ltd from her home in Montrose, was one of the first people outside art college to spot his talent when she first saw his work at his degree show. In the intervening two years, she has shown his work and along the way, been hugely impressed.
She is in no doubt that this young man is a name to watch. “Jack’s work was monumental and really stood out in what was a strong year,” she says. “For him, it is all about the process as much as the outcome. He has quite old-fashioned values in that respect and has such a lot of integrity. He doesn’t just rush out work and that has really impressed me.
“His work gets a really strong reaction and I think he has all the right values to make him into a top-flight artist. I know that we will see a big development in his work. There is such a lot going on with him.”
Make sure you take note of the name in the Frame. This Kentish Lad is going places.
- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)