The Lion Approaches by the American artist Phil Frost (b. Jamestown, New York, 1973) is a project that spans his work of the last two decades, with a special focus on his latest works. The exhibition shows these recent works, produced over the course of the six years from 2016 to 2021, alongside some of his most emblematic pieces, so that viewers can appreciate more deeply some of the characteristics of his unique creative process. Frost’s style combines the sharpness and fluidity of urban art, incorporating found materials, with the elegance of a pictorial aesthetic in which geometric schemes dominate and lend dynamism to his complex compositions.
The exhibition includes such significant works as the diptych Accumulated Field of Perceptive Experience (2002 – 2014) and the monumental Divergence of Opinion (2014 – 2018), two magnificent examples that formed part of his Magnetic Shift, the first major solo exhibit to be mounted at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. That show places him among the small group of artists chosen to exhibit their works in conversation with those of the Rockefeller Collection, which contains pieces by Clyfford Still, Naum Gabo, Ellsworth Kelly, and David Smith, among others. Frost acknowledges these masterpieces as inspirations for him at the beginning of his career as a self-taught artist in the 1990s.
Frost’s career started in the alternative New York scene with the graffiti movement, creating images of great expressive power, recognizable by the juxtaposition of white patterns, symbols, and letters, all layered in depth. He defines his personal visual language as “comprised of a depth of layered sinuous sheaths of glyphic information that I refer to as intuitive mathematics; they are overlaid and dance atop figurative busts and repetitions or grids of heads that I call perceptive portraiture”, which he uses to express sensory experience through visual gesture. These figures, reminiscent of primitive art and evoking tribal masks or totemic sculptures, are complemented by geometric patterns and graphic signs that are repeated rhythmically in the various planes, generating a structure that is articulated both by chromatic intensity and by the contrast between positive and negative space.
It was archaeological walks in rural areas of western Massachusetts during his childhood that sparked his interest in incorporating into his works all kinds of recovered objects—including pages from comics and newspapers, boxes, bottles, jars, buttons, leaves, feathers, plates, cloth, baseball bats, boxing gloves, locks, keys, paintbrushes, numbers, and metal letters. He recontextualizes these found elements within the framework that modulates the pictorial surface, canvases built up with layers of acrylic, spray enamel, correction fluid, ink, and paper. The three-dimensionality of the reused elements gives real volume to the pieces, as can be appreciated in those where the supports are used doors that he has salvaged and which have a prominent place in this exhibition. The long period of time spent in making these works becomes a metaphor for the lees left by time in our existence, which collide with the sediments of other eras’ objects and, at the same time, engage in dialogue with the viewer’s present.