Artist Snapshot: Frank Webster

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions

Frank Webster Artist Interview
Frank Webster in his studio, 2020

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

I was one of those kids who was always drawing. I followed that inclination when I decided what to study in school.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

My parents were supportive. My father had shown an early interest in art but had chosen a more practical career so I was able to explore that road for him.

Who are your favorite artists?

That changes from week to week, but currently I am interested in Frederic Edwin Church and his mentor Thomas Cole and how they shaped the way we look at our natural environment. I admire American Luminists such as Sanford Robinson Gifford and Martin Johnson Heade and other painters of that period such as the Danish Golden Age painter Christian Købke and the German romantic Casper David Freidrich. I’m fascinated by how this tradition of the sublime has translated over time into the color field paintings of an abstract expressionist like Mark Rothko or the light and space installations of James Turrell.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

I would have to say the land artist Robert Smithson.

Art book you cannot live without? Frank Webster Artist Interview

There are many books I like, but Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings is one I always circle back to in my ramblings.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?

The ability to remake the way I see the world.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Yes, I have consistently kept sketchbooks for over twenty-five years.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?

I am always partial to the home team, so I’ll say the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I did find the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna to be a real revelation—especially the magnificent Bruegel room.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?

I would say the exhibition China: 5000 Years, Innovation and Transformation in the Arts at the Guggenheim in 1998 is tough to beat. Epic and all-encompassing, it opened up a whole other tradition of landscape painting to me.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

I think I would have ended up in the natural sciences.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

Not really—I tend to be very independent-minded. Perhaps a cohort of one?

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

How to light and shoot really stellar images of my work. I have since learned a great deal, but as a practical matter, I think it would have been nice to have had that skill from the beginning.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?

Nicolas Poussin’s Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun is one of my favorite paintings in the Met. I love the way the poetic and mythic is seamlessly intertwined within the naturalistic depiction.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

Not really a secret pleasure, but I am a bit of a cinephile and love great movies on a big screen—especially the classic films of John Ford whom I consider a master landscape painter.

Do you listen to music in your studio?

Yes, my tastes are eclectic, but I’m in a bit of a classical phase so I’m listening to Bach a lot, particularly the large-scale works—the John Eliot Gardiner St. Matthew Passion is often playing in the background of my studio these days.

What is the last gallery you visited?

Barbara Gladstone Gallery to see Alex Katz’s new landscapes. Before that Betty Cuningham to see Philip Pearlstein’s watercolors.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?

I am infatuated with the watercolors of the Icelandic painter Asgrímur Jonsson.

What art materials can you not live without? Frank Webster Artist Interview

Currently, the No. 12 Filbert.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?

Yes, I try to work on something every day.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?

Hard to say, I’m usually up to something in the studio.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?

Exercise. I usually go on a bike ride or head to the gym.

What are the questions that drive your work?

The major theme I’m exploring is our relationship as human beings to the planet we inhabit and often take for granted. Monumentality, duration and metamorphosis are big ideas that often play a role in what I decide to paint.

What is the most important quality in an artist?

Tenacity, open-mindedness, and the ability to be “in the moment” when painting and not get distracted by the minutiae of everyday life.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?

I have yet to realize a large-scale commission in New York City.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?

The best thing about art in the era of social media is that art will outlast the era of social media.

FRANK WEBSTER (@frankwebsterstudio) paints small, ethereal watercolors to ten-foot wide panoramic paintings that depict the nuanced allure of the natural world. He teaches watercolor at the Art Students League of New York. Frank Webster Artist Interview

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