Vibrantly Colored Design Portrays Real-Life and Fictional Figures
“Art is a map of a person’s being—like a map of the past, of desire, of psychologies… .I like bright colors, and feelings. I like my work to be evocative… . It’s fascinating that thehuman mind is inclined to want to know why.” —Frank Gaard
Frank Gaard, an active and indispensable member of the Twin Cities arts community for the past 35 years, is the second artist to be featured in the Walker Art Center’s Billboard Project located on Hennepin Avenue at 12th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Gaard’s Billboard Spectacle (In Memory of Guy Debord), on display May 15–July 14, depicts four figures in vibrant palettes and infused with emotional directness: Minneapolis painter Douglas Padilla; “Ms. Rosamund,” based on a character in Dick Tracy; novelist-essayist Emily Carter as Dick Tracy in drag; and Twin Cities-based abstract painter Jennifer Nevitt. The title pays homage to French philosopher Guy Debord (1931–1994), whose 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle incisively analyzed the social implications of a life dominated by images.
Gaard’s polychrome billboard, in spite of its title, is not a mere addition to the spectacle but rather a talk-back to the impenetrable walls of images that turn our urban space into a prison of
homogenization. And looking down on the traffic streaming into the heart of the city, the four figures on the billboard join the ever-growing pantheon of characters in the mythology of Gaard’s personal, social, and psychic life.
Frank Gaard was born and raised in Chicago. He moved to Minneapolis in 1969 and was a professor of fine arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from 1969 until 1987. He was the creator and publisher of the legendary underground ’zine Artpolice (1974–1994), in which he blended cutting social criticism with a brutish drawing style often compared to that of comic artist R. Crumb. An information addict with a diagnostician’s exactitude for the pulses of politics and culture, Gaard draws from sources as varied as the entertainment industry, art history, and popular media, collapsing them into a fascinating jumble that exposes the dysfunctional ills of the world in which we live. Since the mid-1980s, he mainly has been creating portraits of family members, artist friends, and fictional characters. The Walker presented the Viewpoints exhibition Frank Gaard: Painting in 1980, and has several works by the artist in its permanent collection.
The Billboard Project is part of Walker without Walls, a year of programming spanning the Twin Cities made possible by generous support from Target. The project continues in July with a work by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and this fall features commissioned pieces by Laylah Ali and Matthew Barney. By utilizing public and urban spaces, Walker without Walls programs provide direct access to art and culture.