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Artist at work: Frost at the UAlbany gallery. Photo by: John Whipple

It’s in the Details

From a distance, Phil Frost’s paintings look like a stamping of tribal-like ink patterns. Currently on exhibit at the University at Albany’s University Art Museum, his works feature bold white symbols of hearts, arrows, circles, and other shapes that contrast with the wash of color peeking out of the negative spaces. With their size and stature (some reaching as high as 15 feet), they are best viewed for overall design from afar; but upon closer inspection, the textures of the paintings, some without an obvious pattern or purpose, appear. Bottle caps, dried leaves, rocks and fluffy colored feathers are nailed or glued into place, each welcoming visitors to carefully touch.

Besides Frost’s basic materials—spray paint, gouache, and correctional fluid—each additional piece of material was chosen not for its actual look or feel, but rather for is presence in his work environment. Something discarded and left behind by someone else or a piece of nature picked up off the ground becomes part of the documentation of the moment of each painting’s creation.

Frost, a Guilderland High School alumnus, began his career as a self-taught, self-disciplined graffiti artist in New York City. Later, he began working with canvas, wooden boards, and glass jugs instead of pavement. His work has been most often exhibited at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City, but has also appeared in galleries in Tokyo, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Frost’s designs have also been seen on album covers for DJ Shadow and Sick of It All, as well as on a line of DC skate sneakers.

Recently, Frost spent a few moments walking around the gallery and discussing his method of layering each work, his choice and use of materials, and his life as artist.

Straying from a list of basic questions, the reporter wondered out loud about his use of the sleepy-eyed, teeth-bearing faces, which appear repeatedly in his paintings. In one of these, Harvest, among layered pieces of newsprint, lace and correctional fluid, a face is placed subtly to the side. The face could have gone unnoticed it if it had not been for large, square, white teeth that clearly formed a mouth. When asked if that was something he had ever made a point of focusing in on, Frost answered, “Um . . . I don’t really think so.”

Later, after the tour was over and the reporter had gone, Frost phoned. He had been thinking about the comment on the teeth and the idea of a fixation. As it turns out, he had just been too shy to mention that there might be an explanation for the almost garish, grinning teeth. Frost had the traumatic experience of having a group of his own teeth knocked out in a biking accident when he was 9 years old. While he stressed that none of the faces was a self-portrayal, Frost wondered if the accident might be the cause of a subconscious sensitivity or focus on mouths.

Starting next week, Frost plans on adding finishing touches to a number of works already on display at the gallery. Like others finished before them, these mostly untitled pieces will have their share of layers added to the base painting. Nothing specific, but as Frost explains, each piece will be self-encompassing. Visitors who are able to catch the man in action can ask him their own questions.

—Katharine Jones

mALORsUDas sOLarMB: Selected Works by Phil Frost will be on display at the UAlbany University Art Museum’s second floor gallery through Sept. 3. For more information call 442-4035.


We’re Gone, You’re Forgotten

In a troubling postscript to the unexpected closing of the Albany-Schenectady League of Arts last month [“Sudden Shutdown,” Art Murmur, June 10], it was discovered recently that members who had secured health insurance through the ASLA were actually left without coverage as of May 31, not June 30 as originally promised.

In a letter sent to members on May 27, former League of Arts executive director Cynthia Bennett apologized for “having to close [their] doors and, hence, [their] insurance company.” A second letter from league president Robert Briber assured members that they would “not be covered through the league after June 30, 2004.” In early June, Briber went so far as to suggest that the decision to close had not yet been made, directly contradicting both himself and the board of directors.

The latest letter—dated June 24 and signed by Thea Hoeth, a member of the league’s board of directors—paints a far bleaker picture. “It is my sad task to inform you that . . . the League is unable to pay the health insurance premiums for your coverage for June,” the letter informs. Although the letter goes on to imply that there may be the option of continued coverage directly through CDPHP (Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan), the last day to file for an extension of benefits was June 5.

According to the New York State Insurance Department’s Web site, COBRA law mandates that “employers with 20 or more employees who provide group health plans must offer . . . an opportunity to elect continuation” of coverage, usually for a period of up to 18 months following the discontinuation, paid for by the individual. However, as the majority of members holding coverage were not actually ASLA employees, the law does not apply in this situation.

While some of the 60 members who held coverage through the ASLA were able to obtain coverage through other sources for the month of June, some were caught off-guard by this announcement and left with medical expenses that they are now forced to pay out-of-pocket.

Michael Wollowitz, whose wife held his family’s coverage through the ASLA, had a family member’s June doctor visit retroactively denied payment by CDPHP. “Our initial reaction was anger at CDPHP. . . . I feel strongly that CDPHP could have done a much better job of informing a group of its ‘members’ that they had been placed in a highly untenable position.” Wollowitz continues, “It took a couple of days before it dawned on me that ASLA had put us in a very dangerous position. . . . If I or any member of the family had had a major medical emergency during June we could have been ruined financially. I don’t know whether ASLA’s actions were legally criminal, but they were certainly ethically criminal.”

Emily Rauch, another disenfranchised ASLA member, offers her own insight into the cause and effect of the League’s closing. “Although commingling of funds is frowned upon, most small organizations borrow from Peter to pay Paul. . . . When income minus operating deficit is less than your legal obligations it is time to call it quits.”

A decision as to whether the members’ June premiums will be refunded by the League has not yet been reached, although, considering their bleak financial situation, that seems unlikely. Members wishing to inquire about the status of their premiums are encouraged to contact CDPHP’s member services department at 641-3700, or Thea Hoeth at 434-3052.

Robert Briber and Cynthia Bennett couldn’t be reached for comment.

—John Brodeur


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