Jean Alexander Frater: Fold; Don't Spindle and Mutilate

What it looks like is, ok, like the hurried ancillary sculpture of an active hand, like a Monument to a Moment, the slip—in the course of creation—of fabric, the errant falling and perfect, frozen fantastic memory of a bolt in some divine designer-artist's atelier, a static haint of a kinetic flourish, the same ephemeral, cigarette-smoke beauty we find curling from a hot cherry or in the letting down, the glorious, luxurious exhale, of an up-do or cascading over the side of some steep embankment, Niagara, Victoria, Angel; it looks like the terrible, painful Monument to a Moment One Would Rather Forget, like a broken arm—the radius and ulna snapped through, the spasming, spider-sprayed-with-bleach digits dangling, the grotesque thing held together by extensor and flexor carpi radialus, flexor and extensor pollicis longus and brevis, radialii, digitorums, palmaris longus, pronator teres, the lonely exertions of the biceps brachi—but only when viewed with the negative and corporeal in mind; it looks like mis-caught pizza dough, with its pallid spine draped over the hand like an examined necklace, or a sea cucumber being garroted, and only all of these things—minus the textile—if one ignores the colors, the combination of GO Transit green and raw, creamy canvas, which gives it a Gilded Age flair even as gravity leaves it dangling in its belly, but what Green Stripes Event (so perfectly named!) does not look like, at first blush, is a painting; it's obviously painted, of course—those stripes aren't woven, didn't come from nowhere—and has those various things a painting would have, where it to be broken down anatomically—and it is the protrusion, like a compound fracture, of the painting's support, broken at the top, dangling at the bottom, which gives it both its injurious and closet-ready qualities, although the former is far more important, and keeping with the spirit of the show, than the latter—but it does not sit like a painting, compose itself as a painting should, back straight, belly tight, against the wall, a tidy lie, telling us that it exists in two dimensions… - B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor

Jean Alexander Frater | Green Stripes Event, 2017. Acrylic on canvas and support, 78 x 40 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of THE MISSION

Jean Alexander Frater has no interest in the lie; Softer, her new solo show at Chicago gallery THE MISSION, features paintings which exist, fully and whole-heartedly, albeit ever-so-stylishly, in three dimensions. Her folded canvas hover away from the walls with a materiality and occupancy of space which is downright sculptural. The skeletal system of the average art work, the stretcher bars and supports, is up-ended; her canvases undulate and fold, living and breathing rather than stretched taunt and yearning.

With the sails unfurled, observers are invited to not only ignore the limitations placed on paintings, but to paradoxically notice them more; the playing with the supports and strictures brings them front and center, and the resulting paintings are so enjoyable as to make one wonder where the cruel ideal of stretching a poor canvas for all of its life ever came from in the first place, much less became comme il faut.

Alexander Frater's works are brachycephalic, bulldogs and pugs—replete with compelling and expressive brows, folds, and curves—in a world of greyhounds and pinschers. They accomplish, in as little as one of her hand-made folds, the ever-lasting job of pushing painting up hard against, and through, its definitions. Softer accomplishes this on a conceptual level, as well; meticulously thought out and painted with the eventual folds in mind, the works on display are, in effect, sculptures, Alexander Frater manipulating all aspects of the form like the exceedingly rich do the law.

Jean Alexander Frater | Blue to Pink to Blue, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 x 4 inches. Image courtesy of THE MISSION.

As Freeark Gallery Director Claudine Isé notes in her companion essay, Alexander Frater's folds add the necessary dynamism and picture-plane breaking that Spatialist artists used to achieve with, for example, brutal slashing, in a far gentler manner. Moving with gravity and physics rather than fighting hard against them, accepting a canvas and paint more as what they are than what we wish them to be, her works utilize the softness of the medium, so often buried, to create paintings which not only require, but actively inspire, a more thorough and pleasant level of engagement.

The fold is a gentle action with lasting and devastating consequences, as anyone with a sartorial bent but an active life (or neglected clothes storing procedure) can attest to; it is a quiet scarring, and something transformational, almost magical, each gravid swell giving birth to a new angle, shadow, interplay, idea cresting its hills. A fold can turn, as Isé aptly notes, a stripe into a ripple, and a ripple has a long, reverberating effect that a cut or a pull can only ever dream of, vibrating angrily away.

Softer features a, well, soft palette, all corals and cornflowers, rich peroxide bottle browns and structures-by-the sea, purples and oranges which mitigate over the course of their travels across her folds into subtle, healthy glows. The color choice is inviting, bright, relaxing, insidious.

See, everything about Softer is in fact an assault, a strike against the arteriosclerotic, the breaking of the bones of the skeleton and the strictures and the structures, paintings which are defiantly sculptures, a fluid riposte like the sea against the shore; the colors, the folds, the technical expertise, all have merely served to cushion the blow.

Jean Alexander Frater | Brown Curved Fold, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 38 x 4 inches. Image courtesy of THE MISSION.


B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at


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