Frank Lobdell

Frank Lobdell

1921 – 2013

Findlay Galleries is proud to introduce the exclusive representation of the estate of the Bay Area’s renowned abstract expressionist, Frank Lobdell. Frank Lobdell: Beyond Words is a comprehensive exhibition and overview of Frank Lobdell’s paintings, drawings, prints and sketchbooks from his long career as an artist and teacher from the San Francisco Bay area. A seminal figure in the development of the West Coast abstract expressionist painting movement, Lobdell was a pioneer of the American Abstract movement of the 1950s.

For over half a century, Frank Lobdell’s work has immeasurably enriched the local and national cultural landscape. His stature is reflected in the acclaim of art critics, in the respect of fellow-artists, and in the admiration of his students, regardless of their personal artistic philosophies. To state that Lobdell is “an artist’s artist” is to acknowledge that he has pursued his calling with passion, discipline, and integrity, and that he has elevated the creation of art above its reception in the art world.

Born on August 23, 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in Minnesota, Frank Lobdell attended the St. Paul School of Fine Arts in Saint Paul Minnesota from 1939 – 1940. He painted independently in Minneapolis and from 1940 to 1942 and on the brink of war he enlisted in the US Army and served in Europe during World War II from 1942 – 1946. In April of 1945, years after enlisting in the Army, Lieutenant Frank Lobdell confronted the harsh realities of war. The horrific scenes he endured were indelibly seared into Lobdell’s visual memory. Speaking of his World War II experiences he later recalled:

“My identity was shaken by that experience, as I think everyone’s was… Somewhere in All quiet on the Western Front, [Erica Maria Remarque] remarks that there are no survivors. I think he’s absolutely right. No one who was involved in one of these wars truly survives. It’ll haunt you for the rest of your life… I painted my way out of a lot of this. Fortunately, I had the talent to do this. I couldn’t say that I came to grips with myself except that I was no longer as anxious about a lot of experiences. Somehow the anxiety had maybe gone into my paintings. A bit therapeutic, an unloading on the canvas.”

Following the war, he moved to Sausalito, California and experienced a rebirth of his passion for painting.  When Frank Lobdell arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1946, recently married and less than a year out of the Army, he soon found himself in the company of a small group of artists fervent in their pursuit of the New American Abstraction. Their center of gravity was the California School of Fine Art – now the San Francisco Art Institute – a rambling, old Mission-style building collected around a fortress-like tower on the slopes of Russian Hill. Most of the other artists Lobdell met there were much like himself, young veterans funding their studies with the G.I. Bill. He attended the California School of Fine Arts (1946 – 1949) and in 1950 he left the U.S. for Paris, where he painted and studied at L’Academie de la Grande Chaumière until 1951. After returning to the Bay Area, he taught at CSFA from 1957 to 1964. He was a Visiting Artist at Stanford University and taught as a Professor of Art from 1966 until his retirement in 1991.

Several of Lobdell’s early postwar paintings reveal his attempts to come to terms with the atrocities committed during the war. A comparison of his works the following years, reveal an exponential artistic evolution from an analytical and geometric dissection of the human figure, to an embodiment of irrational violence and overwhelming emotion – from a depiction of physical pain to the actual sensation of psychic angst.

Like many artists whose working lives have been similarly long and productive, Lobdell’s can be arranged into a discernible sequence of stages, even if they do not always assume a neat or outwardly logical order. But his career rightly begins in the late 1940s with his embrace of Abstract Expressionism, in which he recognized that painting might provide a lifelong arena of individualized inquiry, a place where he could, indeed, be entirely himself.  Later phases of his career, particularly the complex body of works that began during the mid 1970s, may be more far-reaching in their significance, but Lobdell was occupied from the start with the ideas that have engaged him throughout his career. One sees, for example, a fascination with the exchanges that occur when invented forms are placed in various kinds of spaces that can be created upon painted canvas; these spaces may allude to “real” spaces in an interrogative way but should never be confused with them, since one of Lobdell’s subjects, the origin and nature of meaning, is inseparable from his conception of the work of art as a controlled, intensely personal site whose uncertain relationship to the real world is very much the point. “Beyond Words” is a relative expression that characterized Frank Lobdell’s works as there is no meaning, no expectation and no relativity, but just meanings that are that, beyond words.

Natalee BruceFrank Lobdell