Sharing emotions in brush strokes

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Painter Wanda Frank draws inspiration from family, realist works

Story by Nina Todea
Photos by Liv Paggiarino

When the coronavirus hit Missouri last year and shuttered in grandparents, Wanda Frank started missing her parents something fierce. So, she set up an easel and canvas, took out her brushes and began to work in brick reds and greens.

“They weren’t able to come over for a whole year,” she said, “and I said, ‘Well if they cant come, I’m going to bring them to my back porch!’”

The painting, done in acrylics, has been one of her most rewarding and challenging pieces so far, as she worked simply from photos. The canvas depicts her mother and father, sitting outside on the porch — her father (who used to be a commercial fisherman) with his hands busy on a fishing net and her mother keeping him company with a slight smile on her face. Her father’s glasses slip halfway down his nose, and the hanging plants sway in still motion.

A brief look, and it seems as if it could be anyone’s grandparents.

“The hardest part is making it look like your parents,” Frank laughed. “Someday, I’m going to have to start doing things that are random people so I don’t have to worry so much.”

Frank is a Mid-Missouri painter exploring her artistry primarily through acrylics and watercolor, as well as color pencil and other mediums.

Wanda Frank’s watercolor and acrylic work is on display until June 5 as part of the Adult Fine Art Exhibition at Capital Arts Gallery.

Though she’s surrounded by an artistic family, she said, it was only recently that she started sitting down again with a brush in her hand.

She may have gotten her start within an artistic family, having always been interested in the craft, but her art draws from a mix of innate talent as well as formal education. In 1984, she attended University of Central Missouri and received a commercial art degree. She credits some of her ability to successfully conquer technical aspects like perspective, composition and color to her formal education. And the classroom setting, she said, provides a space for feedback.

“One thing that I did appreciate, besides the classes and the direction, is the feedback that you receive from your teachers and fellow students, and the competition among the students actually helps you become better,” Frank said. “If you’re in a community of artists where you can constantly get that, that’s good, but if you’re not, like me now, it’s hard to get that feedback.”

After all, those professors are artists themselves and can share their expertise.

It can also be hard to know if you’re going in the right direction without feedback, she said. But where an art community may or may not come in now, Frank still has her family — “and they’re my biggest critics,” she joked.

Her family is also a big source of inspiration and encouragement. One of her pieces, hanging in the Capital Arts Adult Fine Art Exhibition until June 5, is an image of her son holding his two children, a newborn and an older sister. Painting that moment encapsulates her philosophy on art and what she wants her art to portray — beautiful, often emotional moments that can bring a smile to someone’s face or make them feel as if they’re part of that story.

“It’s not just a copycat of what you see. You can take a photo of what you see. I want to make people have some kind of feeling or give them some kind of emotion whenever they look at my paintings,” Frank said. “The one I did of my son holding his kids, I can just feel in there, in that picture, the love that you have when you hold your newborn for the first time. … I just want to get some kind of emotion out of the viewer.”

It’s part of why she’s so inspired by realist painter Andrew Wyeth’s works. From blues, browns and dry greens, many of Wyeth’s paintings focus on nature and people, but “it has strong emotion in it, that it brings out of people,” Frank said. And though Wyeth’s paintings aren’t set in the Midwest, “gosh that looks like it could be in Missouri,” she added.

Her second piece up in the Capital Arts Gallery seems to draw out elements of Wyeth’s works. It’s a mile-long, snowy driveway in Osage County — her own, to be exact — painted in browns, light blues and cold-white acrylics, a piece that actually ended up taking a couple years, Frank said. It turns out, by the time summer rolled around, she wasn’t too ecstatic to paint cold scenery. This year, it was finally completed and entered into the Adult Fine Art Exhibition.

Though it was her first time entering into the exhibit, it seemed to pay off, winning “Best of Show” in the professional acrylic category.

“I want (people) to realize that I’m serious and committed to my art. … I really would love to be able to do this full time,” Frank said. “If I go a whole week without doing art, it feels like it’s calling me, like I’m doing it a disfavor.”

She’ll soon be retiring, and Frank said she hopes that means having more time to paint, to fully involve herself in her art. During the early years of raising children, which she has her handful of, art was put on the back burner and simply couldn’t be a priority at the time.

Now, she’s coming back to it through personal pieces and the occasional commission.

“I just don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted my whole life and not use the gifts that God gave me,” she said.

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Molly Morris

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