CHICAGO — There’s still time, if you missed it, to catch The Frimkess Collection at The Nevica Project in Chicago (December 6, 2016 – January 17, 2017). The work represents the collaboration of Magdalena and Michael Frimkess, two colorful artists in their eighties whose rough-hewn sculptures and vessels ooze warmth and personality.
A theme that we frequently come across at Cfile is that of deep retro pop culture. Kristen Morgin usually comes up first whenever we think about this aesthetic, but her work is often weighted with a sense of entropy, of an inching corrosion that eats away at memory and meaning. The Frimkess’ sculptures (and I’m thinking specifically of the askew Disney and comic strip characters) don’t leave me with the haunting feeling I usually experience when dealing with other deep retro pop culture references in art. Mickey Mouse and the duck characters are recognizable as first or second generation models of how those characters used to look before the last several decades of updates. The connection I make with them isn’t based on entropy, rather they look worn by love.
There are deep, deep cuts in some of the illustrations. I recognized what I think are the Katzenjammer Kids on one of the works, a comic strip property that has been out of papers since World War II. It makes me wonder whether I’m missing as many references as I’m getting. Am I looking at Heaven for old pop culture characters? The soft, blurry colors in many of the illustrations suggest an eschatological theme.
Though I zeroed in on recognizable things like Mickey Mouse and old comics, the illustrations go beyond these. On the vases especially I see scenes that I assume are pulled from memory, snatches and glimpses of long ago moments. There are portraits that remind me of the old photographs lining my grandmother’s stairway, but there are also candid shots— two people playing guitar together. Taken with everything else these candid shots seem intensely personal and full of life, present even though they’re dated by the pop culture references.
The clay, along with the illustrations, sells the theme of affection. It appears lumpy and worn, but the kind of worn you’d get from an old sweater. The cups especially suggest a frequency of use. The cup and the owner grew old together. The cup continued to serve the needs of its owner and the owner, unwilling to part with a cherished object, learned how to adapt to the cup’s shortcomings.
Age is a difficult concept to handle without falling either into sentimentality or despair. The objects in the Frimkess collection succeed because they suggest a reciprocity between the object and its imagined owner. Whereas the characters (to great effect!) in Morgin’s works appear to have their souls bleached out of them, the objects in the Frimkess collection create a sense of a safe, warm place that persists in gentle dignity even as the color fades.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.