Reframing History: In the Studio with Frohawk Two-Feathers

Known for his master narratives, vivid re-imaginings of imperial history, and playful revival of colonial portraiture, Los Angeles-based artist Frohawk Two-Feathers directly references a legacy of historical art while troubling it with the modern. His upcoming solo show at Taylor De Cordoba, opening this Friday, is no different.

As Frohawk was putting the final touches on work for his exhibition, The Company Crocodile, Part I: La Guerre Des Machettes Danse (The War of The Dancing Machetes), I visited his studio to discuss portraits, politics, and artistic processes.  —Ellen C. Caldwell, L.A. contributor

Images courtesy Taylor De Cordoba, Los Angeles.

EC: You’ve been telling the history of the Frenglish Empire, a fictitious blending of 18th century imperial England and France, for some time now and this show focuses on your reinterpretation of the Haitian War of Knives... How has your work changed since your last L.A. show?
FTF: Instead of the whole Haitian Revolution, I’m focusing on parts, like a wide-angle and zoom lens at the same time. I’m peeling back the layers so my audience can see more of the characters. I have more of a handle on how I want to present the image and I’m getting more comfortable with compositions. It’s a perpetual learning process trying to narrow things down to get to the more intimate history that I’m recreating.

I know a lot of people focus on the narratives behind each character and portrait, but I continue to be intrigued by the framing devices you use. I noticed that you shifted from the smaller, elliptical frame to a much larger frame with a rounded top and angular bottom.  What made you switch to this new shape?
The new shape has multiple meanings. I like the shape first and foremost. The frame I use to make the outline came from a mirror, so it's like people are looking at themselves when they look at my portraits. The shape also references a gravestone because everyone in the series eventually dies. Additionally, it references an Egyptian cartouche pattern, which is fitting since Egypt factors into the symbology and secret orders I reference, including the Company Crocodile.

In your last show, In the Court of the Crimson King at Taylor De Cordoba three years ago, your portraits had a similar, thick, black-painted oval-shaped outline with a color portrait within... It felt as if these images were linked in a row across the gallery space. And with tales of expanding empires and conquest in mind, I found it hard not to read the paintings as a handcuff or chain.
Well you know, I have heard a lot of things about those portraits. The shape for me was purely 100% based on aesthetics. I had this shape that I really felt worked, but there was also something about it that I liked, that meant something more. And when someone first mentioned it to me, I thought it could be an eye. You brought up the chain link, and one day I actually sat them all together and really saw it.

Really, I use the frames for two reasons: I want to construct the image and focus on the most important part, but sometimes the characters and larger stories need more room and I want to give them that greater depth to tell their story.

Images courtesy Taylor De Cordoba, Los Angeles.

Upon reflection, I am drawn to Frohawk's framing devices because of the complexity they add to his images. Since part of Frohawk's artistic process includes his friends posing for his portraits, the ideas he mentioned about the mirror frame become more personal and weigh even heavier. The tomb-shape frame encapsulating the image simultaneously mixes the present with the distant past as a sort of memento mori, a reminder that everyone in this series — and this life — eventually dies.

Frohawk Two-Feathers was featured in edition #73 of New American Paintings. His forthcoming solo exhibition, The Company Crocodile, Part I: La Guerre Des Machettes Danse (The War of The Dancing Machetes), opens this Friday at Taylor De Cordoba and remains on view through March 26.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55