Fellow: Awarded 1977
Field of Study: Fine Arts
Competition: US & Canada
Frances Barth was born in the Bronx, in New York City, and studied painting at Hunter College. While an art student she also studied modern dance, and saw The Mind is a Muscle at the Anderson Theater in the East Village, which led her to take a workshop with Yvonne Rainer, and subsequently to perform in some of Yvonne’s work at Lincoln Center and the Billy Rose Theater in 1968-69, and with Joan Jonas in dance and video in 1970. She lived in a loft on Grand Street and painted in a studio on John Street in lower Manhattan.
Around 1970, while in the John Street studio, Frances began working on large horizontal abstract paintings that were involved with ideas of gravity, slow painting time, indeterminate color, and trying to create a complex painting space that appeared geometric, but alternately shifted into a deeper space. The color acted simultaneously as atmosphere and object.
In 1972 Marcia Tucker visited the studio and put Barth’s painting Henning in the Whitney Museum Painting Annual, where Tony Smith and Doug Ohlson saw the painting, and suggested that Susan Caldwell see the work. Susan began representing Frances’ painting in her gallery, first on Bedford Street and then for many years on West Broadway.
Receiving a 1977 Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts, Frances was able to live in Holland and develop a body of work based on the Russian abecedary. The work connected her abstraction to symbolic meaning.
By 1980 her painting had shifted to include referential markers and moved to a more evident landscape/mapped space that has a geological narrative. Frances had studied geology and while on a trip to Hawaii heard a Maori “reading” of abstract patterning that chanted a retelling of their voyage. She began thinking of how abstraction could hold meanings and act metaphorically.
Since then she has focused her work to include a linear narrative, almost like a creation story, over a period of geological time. She has pushed her painting into a realm between landscape, mapping, and abstraction. The light in the paintings acts as phenomenon, and at the same time the abstract color creates an experience of light and place.
Frances is married to the actor/director Ron Nakahara.
She is the Director of the Mt. Royal School of Art, Maryland Institute College of Art.