With her unique artistic vision, artist Jean Alexander Frater has broken through boundaries in the painting sphere. Now, through her artist-run project space, she is carving out a place for emerging artists.
At 5 p.m. Sunday, July 10, in the Hall of Christ, Frater will be giving the second Chautauqua Visual Arts Lecture of the season. She will discuss her work, career and practice. Her paintings and work are currently on display in the solo exhibit “The Shape of Things to Come” in the Bellowe Family Art Gallery in the Strohl Art Center, open through July 21.
Frater is known for her colorful paintings with accentuated textures and unconventionally shaped canvases. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BA in philosophy from the University of Dayton. Her work has been featured both in national and international exhibitions.
Her paintings prioritize the canvas, the support of the work, over the paint itself.
“In painting, things have always been sort of tied to the artist and the paintbrush,” Frater said. “(Paint) is usually the first thing instead of the second. With my work, I wanted to shift away from that to start working with other materials.”
The parameters of Frater’s work deal with combining traditional painting materials with other practices. She uses the three traditional materials of the average painter: a brush, paint and a canvas. But she uses the materials in unconventional ways.
Traditionally, the canvas has always been a flat surface. Unlike most painters, Frater tears her canvases into shreds and strips, giving the canvases a 3D appearance and a vivacious texture. Then, she pieces her canvases back together, using techniques such as weaving and sculpting.
In her work, shapes and patterns often expand outside of the traditional square and rectangular constraints of the canvas, creating new shapes, forms and images. By juxtaposing sculpting techniques with painting materials, the line between painting and sculpting becomes blurred — showing that it doesn’t have to always be one or the other.
Even though Frater understands her work is a form of painting, she said she likes the idea of opening up the traditional definition of the medium.
Frater is the founder, owner and director of Material, a non-for-profit artist-run project space that’s based in Chicago. The space doubles as her studio and a studio space for other artists and creatives. The space provides emerging artists with an opportunity to publicly showcase their work, and gives them the creative reins to experiment with materials.
“The space is called Material because I want there to be thoughtfulness around materials,” Frater said. “I really ask the artists and curators in the space to do whatever they want to in terms of related programming. It’s their space, too; they can take risks.”
The space also gives artists the opportunity to showcase their work in a solo exhibition — an opportunity that is hard to come by for many emerging art professionals.
“Without gallery representation, it’s often difficult for artists to get a one-person show. There are a lot of spaces that are switching to doing only two-person shows and group exhibitions,” Frater said. “But one of the things that I found to be extremely valuable, specifically in my practice, is doing a one-person exhibition. It’s a really important moment in your career as an artist.”
Frater said that she enjoys surrounding herself with other artists and having conversations about art.
“One of the things that I really enjoy as an artist is having a community, seeing other people’s work and having that dialogue around me,” Frater said. “It’s nice to see how other artists approach their work and the way they think about it. I think it’s important to keep conversations going.”