Frank Root

Biography Leading to the Holocaust Series

Frank Root was born on January 12, 1936 in Philadelphia, PA, into a family of musicians. He was encouraged in the performing arts and following his father's career, became an accomplished drummer. Frank received formal training in the musical arts rather than the visual. While in high school in the early 1950's Frank played drums at a jazz club in Center City Philadelphia until he joined the Marine Corps during the Korean War era. Upon discharge he furthered his studies of percussion at Ornstein Conservatory of Music, Philadelphia.

After leaving music school he went on the road with many well known jazz musicians and finally spent three years as house drummer at Billy Krechmer's Jazz Club. Sensing the futility of being a jazz musician during an age when jazz itself appeared to have little future, he looked for some other creative career. He became involved in window display. After a period of apprenticeship at the Blum Store he went on to become a highly respected display director specializing in fine jewelry displays for Bailey, Banks and Biddle and the J.E. Caldwell Company where his miniaturized windows became part of the joy of shopping on Chestnut Street. While at Bailey, Banks and Biddle he won many awards including a study trip to Geneva with the Rolex Watch Company where he served as visual merchandising consultant to Rolex. During this period he won frequent awards and commendations from the display industry.

While at Caldwell's he was commissioned by Dr. Evan Turned to design the Crystal Ball For the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He designed and installed a series of light and glass sculptures.

He decided to start his own display company which grew to include many of the speciality shops on Chestnut and Walnut Streets including F.J. Cooper, TWA, and Fidelity Bank. It was while working on one of these accounts that he came across sheet vinyl and realized its potential for fine art. He developed a technique for working with sheet vinyl that would become his medium for a ten year burst of success. This allowed him to retire from the display business and focus his attention on fine arts. His vinyl sculptures became well known and in overwhelming demand. His work earned national attention and he was commissioned by Playboy Magazine to produce full page illustrations. His vinyl work was shown in many galleries including Louis Meisel in NYC and the London Marlborough Gallery.

In 1976, at age 40, he had open heart surgery, during which he had a death experience. After convalescing, he felt it was time to move to something new. All his vinyl portraits and other relief sculptures began as drawings on homasote which were cut apart, padded, covered with vinyl and reassembled. Many times as he did a drawing he felt it was a loss to cover the working drawing with the padding and vinyl. He began to experiment with carving and retaining the drawing on homasote. However, he found there was such demand for the vinyl work that for practical reasons he had to resume doing that.

In more recent years he has completed an extensive series of mixed media assemblages of historic aircraft and their pilots, and a briefer series on jazz musicians. All this work is realistic in nature and led to his developing the techniques used in the Holocaust Series.

Frank's work has been elected for exhibition in juried shows at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Woodmere Art Museum where he won the 1986 Rochelle Boonshaft Portrait Prize.

Frank has always developed media from unlikely sources. From his one-way mirror stabiles of the 1960's, to his vinyl covered portraits of the 1970's, to the graphite and homasote drawings and mixed media assemblages of the 1980's, he now has turned homasote into a surface for pure relief drawing. (Homosote is a recycled paper product usually used for building construction).

Following a technical concept of spatial illusion that had been intriguing him for several years, the medium and the message have coalesced in the Holocaust Series. The homasote surfaces are drawn, carved, assembled and again drawn upon with black and white pastel to create an image that is at once both actually three-dimensional and deeply trompe l'oeil. The few inches of actual depth that each piece is built upon are translated into feet or miles of illusory space.

He manipulates and refines the rough surface of the homasote to produce visual surfaces evocative of the heaviness of eroded concrete, old wooden beams and slats and brick walls, yet can be delicate enough to express the fragility of the human body or of pleading eyes.

Frank's enduring talent throughout his artistic lifetime is the ability to create such clearly focused images that the viewer is inescapably drawn into the work. This is part of the compelling effect of the Holocaust Series. The style of his work demands that his viewer share his involvement with the subject matter.

As he has become more involved and dedicated to conveying the powerful messages of the Series, he also became more engrossed with the personal challenge of developing this self designed medium. It is his almost clinical attention to detail and authenticity that make his work approachable and compelling despite its horrific content. There is not the sense that the images are exaggerated or sensationalized in any way. They are stated as clearly and succinctly as possible without color or contrived emotional overlays.