In his impressive paintings and sculptures, American artist Louis Fratino exults frank and direct gay sexuality. His work celebrates bodily landscapes, eroticism and life. His subjects are mostly staged in domestic interiors or natural environments.
While graphic depiction could sometimes instill darkness and repulsion in viewers (in the case of other artists), Fratino’s paintings inspire beauty, physicality, desire, and a formidable sense of poetry. Perhaps because of the almost-naive depiction of the men featured in the work and the simple interlacing of bodies. The works juxtapose clear geometric compositions with round shapes.
A vibrant palette, precise brushstrokes and a certain Modernist, Fauve inspiration helped propel this extremely talented artist to the skies of success in a short amount of time.
Here, he talks to Art is Alive about working with ceramics for the first time during his most recent residency in Italy, as well as his dreams, and future projects.
How do you start your paintings: do you start with the subject matter, the content, or rather explore the technique first? Do you draw first?
I often draw to begin discovering subject matter and vocabulary. It’s a confluence of material and memory, sometimes a color will remind me of a time of day or the part of the body and that will lead me into the work. Other times, I begin with a particular memory and work from describing that as faithfully as I can.
How did it feel to ‘transition’ to ceramics during your recent residency in Italy? These works are so impressive.
Thank you! It was an exciting project in a really special environment. Albisola is a really rich ceramic community, with history and evidence of activity by Lucio Fontana, Asger Jorn, and Wifredo Lam. So I felt that I was in the right place to begin exploring. Also a huge inspiration for me was the work of Arturo Martini who lived and worked nearby in Vado. My figuration has a certain volume, I was attracted by the illusion of weight, roundness, and solidity in painting so it felt natural to begin exploring these forms of the body in sculpture. I was struck by the difference between drawing the body and sculpting the body. For me, drawing is an act of translation not mimicry. When sculpting, I felt a stronger pull towards mimesis because of the objects physical presence, like it had an independent life.
How do you see your paintings evolve? Will you continue to push the ‘characters’ and landscapes of your paintings?
I want my work to continue to pass over the rest of the world and reach farther less familiar places. I am so comfortable representing the bedroom, the sleeping man. But I want my work to represent all aspects of life, the natural world, the mystical world, the city, birds, food, and noise.
How much of your personal life do you draw into these works?
Most of it.
Your favourite artists, dead or alive?
I hate that I can’t appropriately answer this question, but it would really be skewed to the artists that at the moment I am consuming. I am an omnivorous, indiscriminate and ecstatic devourer of history from the ancient to the modern and can find something useful to digest from most of what I have seen. Of course the Modernist figurative painters from the past century are my biggest influences, Picasso, Hartley, Beckmann- but they are the grammar of figurative painting. I also look to and learn a lot from abstraction, Howard Hodgkin being a favorite. Not sure where to begin considering absolute favorites, I have the same issue with food.
Favourite cultural figures? Recent book you read and loved?
Catastrophe by Dino Buzzati. Surreal but placed in the real world, horror and charm mixed together.
What’s your dream project, museum exhibitions, trying to achieve?
How is format important? Are you interesting in exploring large-scale paintings?
I make both tiny and monumentally scaled work. Format is as important as any other of the few elements that make a painting. A massive head is not a tiny head. I think format is mostly an emotional tool, to feel tenderness for an object, to feel overwhelmed by an object.
Are you going to explore sculptures again / other media?
Yes! I saw the Kiki Smith show in Paris and it made me excited to try and diversify the material I work with as a way of also diversifying content. I love that she uses everything and anything.