Frank Kirk Biography

Hedge Cutters

47 x 60 inches | oil on canvas

Frank Kirk, was born in 1933 and spent nearly all of his formative years within the five New York boroughs and Long Island. As a child in Valley Stream, LI, Kirk remembers a pack of “buddies” that did everything in a group: swimming in Valley Stream's lake, trips to nearby ocean beaches and frequent playground activities. There were a number of artists from his early years that influenced his development as an artist. First among those was his teacher at New York’s Visual Art School, the legendary Burne Hogarth (of Tarzan fame) with whom he studied drafting and anatomical composition. He also reports that another early mentor was Silas Rhodes (1915-2007), founder of the SVA. The final cornerstone of Kirk's early influences was the fabled American precisionist, Francis Criss (1901-1973) who also taught at SVA.

After driving a truck for Coca Cola for several years, he took his first job in advertising on Madison Avenue in the “bullpen” of Doyal Dane Bernbach (DDB), which was then and to this day, one of America’s most powerful advertising agencies. At DDB he worked his way up to Art Director including a major effort on the introduction of Volkswagen to America. Kirk then spent some time at the fashion house, Jane Trahey & Partners, where he focused on accounts like Elizabeth Arden. It was at Trahey that he was part of the team that pioneered the introduction of Carte Blanche, one of the earliest credit cards. From there he moved to Jack Tinker & Partners as a Co-Creative Director. His final stop on New York’s famous Madison Avenue, in the day of the real Mad Men, was as Head Art Director at Wells Rich & Green working on accounts like Benson & Hedges and Alka Seltzer.

In 1974 he moved across the country to Needam Harper & Steers in Los Angeles, where he led the introduction of Honda & Isuzu to the American audience. After working for others for 20 years he opened his own agency, Della Famino & Partners in 1975. Among his major accounts were Max Factor and Gallo Winery. His success in the “ad man world” allowed him to retire in 1983 at the age of 50. From then on, he reports that he worked “day and night” on his paintings, with an occasional golf game when the smell of “turps” became too much for him.

 

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AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Fastidious? Well, keen. Weird? More eccentric, really. Naughty? Perhaps a tad voyeuristic. Perhaps.

Frank Kirk’s paintings are cinematic in scale and yet intimate in their detail. Trees are not simply covered in leaves, they have a definite number of leaves. You can count them. Moreover, each one is modeled to show dimension. Each one reflects light a little differently. And yet, the trees and the topiaries in Kirk’s paintings can be enormous. In some of his works, ten to fifteen square feet of canvas are covered by dense areas of carefully painted leaves. Often the cinematic effects can be seen in the rhythm and gyre of the trees, shrubs and grasses. Trees sometimes weave, shrubs writhe, grasses roil.

For his paintings of interiors and his nocturnes, the lighting is often dramatic, another nod to his preference for the cinematic. Edward Hopper, an artistic father of sorts, reportedly loved the cinema, and incorporated the camera’s strange sense of remove, its preference for formal composition, and its dramatic lighting into many of his most famous urban scenes. While Kirk has never cited Hopper as an influence, the comparison is telling.

Kirk does cite the artist Francis Criss as influential, a painter prized for his Precisionist paintings of New York. As with the work of Criss, Kirk’s paintings are populated by figures whose placement seems more defined by compositional necessity than by their relationship as people. His figures often seem as separated from one another as the trees do from the buildings and just as marvelous in their formal complexity. Their remove excites a kind of frisson - a dramatic tension that can go from haunting to titillating from one painting to the next. It is as if the viewer has arrived in the middle of a story, the beginning unfathomable and the ending uncertain. The effect is to intrigue and involve.

And what icon more intriguing than the beautiful and remote woman? Beautiful and mysterious women are a pronounced and recurring theme. Young, middle-aged, and old – Kirk shows no prejudice except for beauty. Is he trying to arouse prurient interest? Who can say? Perhaps his years on Madison avenue taught him that remote and beautiful women make for powerful images. Perhaps.

 

COLLECTIONS

Private Collections

Elizabeth Arden
Bill Blass
Alain & Cathy Clenet
Mary Wells/ Harding Lawrence
Charles Moss
Howard & Leslie Russo
Carmine & Caroline Santandria
Jane Trahey
Pauline Trigere

Public Collections

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

 

CHRONOLOGY

1933 - Born in Port Jefferson, Long Island, NY
1950 - Graduates from Central High, Long Island, NY
1951 - 1952 Drafted into U.S. Navy
1953 - 1956  Graduates from New York School of Visual Arts (SVA)
1956 - 1963  various odd jobs and under Silas Rhodes worked the desk at the SVA at night
1964 - 1966 Hired by Doyal Dane Bernbach where Kirk worked on Volkswagen campaign
1966 - Directs insertion of 5,500,000 pop-up San Francisco skylines in Sept. 8 issue of “Time”
1967 - 1968 Art Director at Jane Trahey & Partners for Elizabeth Arden, Carte Blanche
1968 -  Creative Director for Jack Tinker & Partners, NY
1969 -  Marries Lynn Gottlieb
1970 - 1971 Head Art Director at Wells Rich & Green, NY for Bensen & Hedges, Alka Seltzer
1971 - 1974 Recruited by Needham Harper & Steers for Honda & Isuzu, moves to Los Angeles
1975 - 1983 Starts his own agency Della Famina & Partners for Max Factor, Gallo Wine
1975 - Travels to England and remarks at the “hedge culture” of the Commonwealth
1984 - After 16 years as an Agency Partner, retires from Advertising to Paint Full-time
1985 - Moves to Ojai, California to paint
1995 - Travels to Far East
1996 - Moves to Santa Barbara, California

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Nashua Telegraph “Financial Company Pops Up with New Ad.” August 30, 1966
2. NH&S People. "A Day in the Life of Frank Kirk." July 1973. p. 1-4

EXHIBITIONS 

 

Group Exhibitions

1987 - American Marketing Association, Gold Award

1987 - Art Directors Club of New York, 66th Annual Exhibition, Merit Award

1987 - American Advertising Federation (AAF), Merit Award

1984 - Communication Arts Society of Los Angeles, 30th Annual Exhibition, Award of Excellence

1981 - Belding Award, Creative Achievement, 1st Award

1980 - Art Directors Club of Los Angeles, 30th Annual Exhibition, Award of Merit

1980 - Art Directors Club of New York, 59th Annual Exhibition, Merit Award

1980 - American Advertising Federation (AAF), Second Award

1980 - Andy, Advertising Club of New York, Award of Merit

1980 - American Advertising Federation (AAF), Merit Award

1979 - Communication Arts Society of Los Angeles, 30th Annual Exhibition, Award of Excellence

1979 - Belding Award, Creative Achievement, 1st Award

1979 - Andy, Advertising Club of New York, Award of Merit

1979 - American Advertising Federation (AAF), First Award

1979 - Art Directors Club of New York, 58th Annual Exhibition, Merit Award

1979 - American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

1978 - Communication Arts Society of Los Angeles, 29th Annual Exhibition, Award of Excellence

1978 - Belding Award, Creative Achievement, 2nd Award

1977 - CLEO Award, Certificate of Merit

1975 - Andy, Advertising Club of New York, Award of Merit

1975 - CLEO Award, Certificate of Merit

1974 - Art Directors Club of Los Angeles (ADLA), 29th Annual Exhibition, Certificate of Merit

1969 - Art Directors Club of New York, 49th Annual Exhibition, Certificate of Merit

1968 - Art Directors Club of New York, 48th Annual Exhibition, Certificate of Merit

1967 - Advertising Writers Association of New York, Merit Award

1967 - Art Directors Club of New York, 47th Annual Exhibition, Certificate of Merit

1967 - 8th Annual Exhibition, Communication Arts, Award of Merit

1966 - Art Directors Club of New York, 46th Annual Exhibition, Certificate of Merit

1964 - American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), three awards

1961 - Art Directors Club of New York, 40th Annual Exhibition, Award of Distinctive Merit

 

Solo Exhibitions

2014 - Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

???? - Small exhibition in Los Angeles, CA

1975 - Louis Stern Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA
 

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