It's not often you meet someone as talented as Frank Oriti who is as down to earth, self effacing, and without the ego and pretentious posturing that artists with a lot less talent have. Beyond being a magnificent painter, he is intelligent, articulate, and engaging. I met Frank in 2014 when he and photographer Peter Larson photographed my children ahead of a commission that Frank was undertaking for us. We have remained in correspondence and have developed a friendship since. There’s an approachability and openness to him that took me by surprise given what he paints - often tough looking individuals who challenge you with their gazes - somewhat standoffish personas no doubt developed to deal with some of life's harsh realities. But the genius of Frank’s work is that he renders these people with a great deal of sensitivity and attention to detail - giving us some clue as to what lies beneath the surface. There’s a lot more to them than their tough exteriors, and there’s a story there.
The featured image here is entitled Clarity (2014) which won a place in this years coveted BP National Portrait Awards exhibition in London. You can see more of Frank's work on his website frankoriti.com or follow him on his Instagram (an Instagram well worth following). And his work is for sale through the RJD gallery.
For my first featured artist blog post, I asked Frank 18 questions about himself and how he works, which he very gamely and generously took the time to answer.
Q:How do you work creatively on days when you lack inspiration? You know you get up, you don't feel like doing anything - but you owe someone work or there's a show to get together. I'm interested in how you get yourself going, how you work through blocks.
This is an interesting topic and one that I think many will benefit from. I've learned that everyone is different. I've tried being one of those 'wake up early and get right to work' sort of people. And after many attempts I've realized that may not be for me. I realize that I like to take my time in the mornings. I like waking up an going to the gym. (If I don't go early I usually won't make it at all). I also have learned that I hit my most productive stride in the afternoon and in to the evening. I think when I get to the studio early it becomes too "work like" or more of a chore. I'm more interested in making artwork because I enjoy doing it. I've also learned that I need to make the time to enjoy other things outside of the studio to actually enjoy being in the studio - even if that means taking a break to go see a movie or read a book or take a walk. I've learned that all of these things can effect productivity as well as inspiration. Up until recently, I was always hard on myself about doing things outside of the studio and how those activities brought me away from productivity. However, the time I spend in the studio now is much more productive and quality art-making time BECAUSE I take a moment here and there to separate myself and take a deep breathe. Sometimes you have to walk away and come back with fresh eyes and a fresh state of mind.
Q: How do you start a piece? What is the first thing you do. I appreciate this may vary from subject to subject.
I usually start by covering my drawn out pencil lines with a raw umber and more recently burnt umber. I then try and block in the dark shadows and try and see where the light is effecting the thing that I'm painting.
Q: How do you know when a piece is finished? At what point do you stand back, put down the brush, and say: OK this is it. Related to this - the risk of overworking something.
I often think of painting as problem solving. When you start a piece you have created all sorts of challenges for yourself. How do you get to a final piece? Through a series of planned out layers/colors/detailed applications of paint. Once all of these "checkpoints" are met, then I know a painting is done. As well as when I start creating more problems for myself towards the end - that's when I know I'm overworking something.
Q: Has there ever been a piece/s that you completed and then it felt difficult for you to sell, and why?
Not really. I think for someone who makes something, you spend so much time in the studio working through all the challenges of one piece. By the time it's complete I'm ready to stop looking at it and move on to something new and give my eyes something fresh to look dissect. I think letting go of something is a part of the process and if and when you get a chance to see it again in a gallery or someone's home - it's like visiting an old friend.
Q: Do you ever struggle with the dichotomy between being commercially successful and your personal aesthetic as an artist?
Absolutely. You hope that the two can exist together. You're making something that IS commercially successful and you’re meeting your interests for personal aesthetics. Sometimes these are not aligned. Sometime you have to do commissions and sometimes your work takes a different path.
Q: What's the strangest question/request/commission you have ever been asked?
I think every commission is a bit unique in it's own way when I get to work with someone I've never met/painted before.
Q: How do you manage people's expectations with commissions?
I think when painting a commission it's difficult because I'm painting from a photograph of someone I've sometimes only met for 30min. Capturing someone in paint can be a tricky thing. Working with folks who sometimes don't have an eye for portrait painting can also be difficult. I think people misunderstand sometimes that because I work from photos that their painting is going to be JUST like the photo. When, in reality, you're getting a painting of something seen through my eyes and my hands = my vision. Which is why I was commissioned. Yes the photo is the guide or the map. If you wanted a commissioned photographed portrait - then have your photo taken. Hopefully when all is finished, the client is left with a painting that will be enjoyed and passed down for many years.
Q: What are your thoughts in terms of price tags and how your art and indeed art per se is valued?
It’s certainly a different world that I'm not used to. It's always flattering when someone sees something in your work to want to spend money and own it or hang it. Putting a price/value on something I spend countless hours on and pour tons of emotion/love/care etc. in to is really difficult to do.
Q: What makes you want to paint/create? What drives you?
I think referring back to setting up challenges for myself. Learning and becoming a better painter drives me.
Q: Do you listen to music when you paint? And if yes, what's on your current playlist?
YES. I always have music or some kind of tv/movie in the background. Currently I'm listening to an album that came out recently by Dan Andriano and The Emergency Room called "Party Adjacent". My new favourite.
Q: Which artists, living and deceased do you most admire and why?
Deceased : Rembrandt for his lighting and application if paint (doing so little with a brushstroke but having it define/detail so much in his portraits/props Alive : Too many to name but certainly Bo Bartlett. After seeing many works in person, seeing his studio and hearing him talk about his work, - his ability to tell stories from his own personal histories and also integrate inspiring stories from things like the Bible and historical events all come together in a visual harmony that inspires me endlessly.
Q: At the end of the day, when you put your brush down, what is your favourite way to relax?
I usually paint in the late morning and in to the night so I usually unwind by watching some late night tv or reading.
Q: Do you have any other talents hobbies that might surprise people? An instrument, a sport etc?
Not really. Lol. I'm probably on Instagram too much if that counts? ( @frankoriti by the way). I try and stay active and get to the gym a handful of times a week. I also try and get to the movies and go see shows every once in awhile.
Q: What book is on your bedside table right now?
Currently reading "The Devil In The White City."
Q: If (money permitting) you could buy any piece of art, what would it be?
As in, if money weren't an option? Probably a Chuck Close painting.
Q: Do you have any superstitions / magical thinking regarding your work or how you work?
I think the longer I make work the more I realize how "uniform" things are made in terms of composition or design. I usually stick with pretty centrally located compositions, where the focal point is in the middle of the canvas and there is an equal amount of negative space around the portrait or object I'm painting. Also, I wouldn't call it a superstition, but I love painting "things" and teaching myself how to painting more and more new materials. Leather, denim, flesh. Some of my favorites.
Q: What have you learnt about yourself through painting?
I've learned how to be honest with myself in terms of what I enjoy looking at in real life and how that translates in to a painting.
Q: If you weren't working as an artist you would ...?
...be screwed! I have no idea. I'm a pop culture junky so I love talking movies and music - possibly something in that realm? I also like the idea of going to barber college or learning tattooing.
With thanks to Frank Oriti.
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