New York

Stuart Frost

Driscoll Babcock Galleries

Stuart Frost continues to produce one of the more distinctive bodies of work in contemporary American realism. Judging from this retrospective, which spans the years from 1957 to the present, Frost appears to be the kind of artist who is content to follow a course directed by his own expressive needs. Drawing has served as his primary medium since the ’40s. The precise style of rendering that is his trademark owes little to either photorealism or traditional academic realism. For Frost, the world of objective appearance is a starting point, in that he uses its forms as a vehicle to carry us to the threshold of subjective fantasy. Frost probes the inclination each of us has to see things how we imagine them to be. The keen interest he shows in how buildings and interiors, as well as articles of daily use, become invested with feelings and associations partly accounts for the works’ psychological edge.

The Tree House, 1957, is a pen-and-ink drawing that depicts an extraordinary structure, replete with elaborate architectural accoutrements (stairs, panels, platforms), flaring bannerlike curtains, lots of books, and a globe tied with a long rope to the branch of a tree. As it fills the page, the image pulls us in. In Interior, 1971, another pen-and-ink drawing, Frost builds a composition from fragments of rooms, combining staircases, floorboards, wall paneling, and pieces of furniture into a scaffoldlike construction. The alternating light and dark passages make for a dynamic image.

In Carpentersville August 1935, 1976, a monumentally scaled acrylic-on-canvas painting, Frost captures the sensation of the passage of time. This panoramic view of a small town, in which the figures of people and cars are executed as tiny, whitish apparitions, strikes a perfectly nostalgic note. With Card Houses, 1988, Frost creates an impossibly elaborate and delicate image—great walls of cards measuring seven and eight tiers high. By varying the definition of the image, he makes the cards appear to be coming into focus, in the process of fading in or fading out. This quality, in turn, introduces the notion of magic to the mixed bag of associations raised here. Frost seems to be executing his own trick, building a complex house of cards that simultaneously showcases his rendering abilities and projects an air of fragility and mystery.

Ronny Cohen