Frank’s first truly accomplished visual art teacher was Thomas Leighton. Thomas taught basic figure drawing and portraiture painting at his enchanting 471 Buena Vista East Studio in San Francisco, shared with his favorite model, artist and wife, Margery Lester.
Thomas was very thorough in his teaching, and had a long waiting list of potential students. He emphasized charcoal drawing from live models and still-lifes to teach composition, contrast and other basic drawing skills. That would take however long was necessary before Thomas let a student pick up a brush and begin an umber monochrome painting. Then the third stage was painting in a full palate of oil colors.
This slide presentation shows some of the style Thomas Leighton brought to his work, earning him international acclaim:
Thomas did a portrait of Frank in a life-sized charcoal study.
This portrait was signed and given to Frank by Thomas before he died on December 31, 1976. This work remains in Frank’s private collection as an inspiration and reminder of the disciplined training and insight delivered by Thomas.
During his lessons from Thomas, Frank began oil painting. A jury of established artists for the San Francisco Art commission selected one of Frank’s oil paintings for display at Civic Center, bringing gallery owner attention. “Three Women” is on a “28” x 22″ smooth wood panel:
Frank was somewhat disappointed by the SF Art Commission choice and preference for photo realistic pieces. Frank thought another of his works, a drawing, “The Crib” was a more interesting piece. As a 30” x 28” painted drawing on wood, “The Crib” marked the beginning of Frank’s surrealism:
Another surrealist piece by Frank is the 48″ x 32″ acrylic on wood “Cosmic Soup” shown below:
To begin “Cosmic Soup” Frank had his mother, Sarah, do some initial swirls of paint on a board. Then Frank turned her abstract suggestion into “Cosmic Soup” so there was a work they had done together.
In a departure of style, for his mother’s 80th birthday gift, Frank painted a rendition of one of the most photographed locations in the U.S. (Mabry Mill). This setting was his mother’s favorite scene, adapted in his painting “Mill Fishing.”
Frank included a rare self-portrait of what he might have looked like as a child in this 36” x 24” oil on canvas board painting. His mother was pleased.
Charles H. White
While starting out with a great classical art foundation from Thomas Leighton, Frank realized early in his art career that he lacked basic landscape fundamentals, so he once again looked for the best teacher. One of Frank’s most important learning experiences came from working with Charles H. White, internationally collected landscape artist.
Here are a few sample images of paintings produced by Charles:
Though Charles offered great classroom opportunities, the best part of Frank’s instruction from Charles was walking together with Mary Fleisch through the foothills of Mt. Diablo, taking pictures. The best time was the summer when the California hills turned a golden brown. Charles knew this as a business mind, from the demand for those types of paintings greatly exceeded the green springtime paintings he also produced.
The results of their vigorous outdoor hiking and Charles influence can be seen in the painting below by Frank of the Mt. Diablo foothills above Walnut Creek. Frank’s return favor was sharing with Charles a digital camera experience, as an option to the traditional 35 mm film photography Charles was using at the time. Art and Zen highly recommends Charles as a teacher and producer of collectible art originals and affordable prints.
Here is Frank’s Mt. Diablo painting, oil and acrylic on a 27.75″ x 21.75″ stretched canvas with the painting continuing around the edges:
The compelling nature of seeing a path as an entry point to a painting was also suggested by Charles. To Frank, this also brings significance to our path through life as we select the trails and trials that might be experienced… keeping an eye out for the joyful opportunities.
Some of the most significant learning experiences come to us through observation. Very early in Frank’s art career he immersed himself in the best Art he could find, almost taking up residency in museums and galleries.
Over the next few weeks, we will present more images of Frank’s work in the production of paintings, photography, videos, murals, outdoor art, “best of web” sites, and more… Mixed with just the right amount of Zen.
Frank spent several years in study, meditation and retreat, learning the practical application of Zen meditation principles and practice.
The most profound and practical Zen teaching Frank has received, along with the writing of Shunryu Suzuki, came from Master Jian Hu as the abbot of a Zen monastery in the San Francisco bay area. Master Jian Hu is still teaching today as he translates Eastern thinking into Western understanding. His method of teaching Zen wisdom is highly recommended by Art and Zen.
It was Frank’s great honor to be hired later on as a consultant to assist in the purchase, development and construction of a new Zen monastery in Seattle, where Master Jian Hu served as the first abbot. This was the fulfillment of a dream for Frank.
This new monastery replaced a dilapidated facility, once a church that degenerated into the living space of illegal drug users and prostitutes. The local community received a great blessing with a new Zen spirit in their neighborhood… a true sanctuary for those seeking truth.
Through Frank’s experience in managing the work of government, contractors, architects, and engineers, he was able to save the Zen monastery well over one million dollars in the property acquisition and build-out process.
After completion, It was then Frank’s greater honor to envision, build and gift an outdoor public art installation for the enjoyment of all at the monastery.
The images in the mosaic presentation below show Frank’s combination Dharma Wheel and Peace Pole outdoor art design under construction, completed and in use by Master Jian Hu and others:
Blending the two disciplines or Art and Zen together, we’ll call on some wisdom from a great teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, on sincere Zen practice, to know when art is good:
Sincere practice and good Art.
“What is sincere practice? When you are not so sincere it is difficult to know, but when you are sincere you cannot accept what is superficial. Only when you become very sincere will you know what it is. It is like appreciating good art. If you want to appreciate good art the most important thing is to see good work. If you have seen a lot of good work, then when you see something that is not so good you will immediately know that it is not so good. Your eyes have become sharp enough to see.”
Now some may say, “But I thought there was no bad art.”
Well, the title of Suzuki’s book from which his above teaching is quoted is: “not always so.” So we will just leave it at that, with the further notion that good sincere teaching is also very important. Good teaching can bring a lot of joy to all involved.
You might want to pick up a copy of “not always so” for just a few dollars on Amazon or some other source. This is some of the most accessible Zen wisdom available today:
No list of Frank’s teachers would be complete without Mildred Petrie. Mildred taught Frank many of his basic artistic communication skills. Mildred had Frank compete successfully in numerous events, including original oratory, humorous interpretation, debate, and directing his performance on the stage in leading roles, while showing enthusiasm for his drawings. Mildred instilled a story telling desire for Frank’s creative juice. Below is a newspaper article chronicling Mildred’s illustrious teaching career:
Frank has very fond memories of her guidance.
At Warsaw High, Susie Gerard and Frank would sit across from each other at a lunchroom table and discuss life, the universe and what it meant to them…what made sense, and what didn’t. Susie’s views contrasted with Frank’s, so the discussions were quite lively. She made Frank think about major issues, and not just accept what was taught, but in a caring way. She was one of Frank’s best early teachers.
A few years after graduation Frank and Susie continued those deep conversations, reuniting on the West Coast. There she encouraged Frank’s artistic development and taught him more about living with a focus on true compassion.
Frank is blessed with a number of wonderful teachers, and even chosen to be a teacher himself, learning a great deal from his students. Frank’s Art and Zen has come from a number of talented and wise people, and for this he is very grateful.
More on other teachers and lessons learned in future posts. This expanded view will include a very Zen Jerry Brown, now Governor of California (again). It was Frank’s honor to receive Mr. Brown’s staff recommendation to a teaching position at the University of San Francisco, where Frank instructed “Emerging Technology” in their Master’s of Public Administration Program.