The Empathies

    This show consists of a suite of 96 dry-point prints created in 2005 by the eminent local artist Frank Boyden. Called The Empathies, it reveals the darker side of human nature, a side that exists within each of us, one we would rather leave out of our daily consciousness. This show demonstrates one of the highest functions art can hold, the power to illuminate the ethos of human behavior.

    Frank Boyden’s introspective nature can be seen by the fact that he executes at least one self-portrait a month. Two or three prints in this suite began as self-portraits but evolved into deranged figures. There is only one true portrait in the suite, relaying the ethereal origins of these characters. It is no accident that the faces of various alter egos are often hidden behind masks, cloths and hands.

    When people are confronted with their darker side, they usually take the easy way out and repress these parts of the mind due to a fear of the unknown. In contrast, Frank Boyden finds himself “sitting on the sandpaper" more often as he ages, contemplating the murky areas composed of vengeance, lust, pride and “loads of other shit." These prints force us to confront the animalistic tendencies present in our own as well as others’ psyches.

    Dry point is a printmaking process whereby the artist scratches the image onto a copper plate with sharp metal tools, similar to those of a dentist, and then transfers the image to a sheet of paper by rolling it through the press.

    By examining the hideous side of what makes us all human, Boyden unveils a sophisticated beauty that lurks inside each of us. If we are willing to look at death with a contemplative eye, we can discover the reality of the very life we are living. “On this level we can recognize the suffering that is essential to the human condition, thereby realizing we are all essentially interconnected," Boyden said.

    Once we have attained this level of understanding we cannot help but feel empathy for the morbid characters that fill this series, for they exist in our own subconscious. A brief meditation on the meaning of “empathy" will help us realize the power of this challenging work:

    Empathy: n.,

     1. The ability to identify with and share another person’s feelings or difficulties

     2. The transfer of your own feelings and emotions to an object such as a painting

    Boyden’s prints illustrate the profound significance of looking at that which is not easy to absorb with a brash view, moving from the first definition towards the second definition, characterized by an emotional transference. For the humble viewer, this work provokes an emotional response far beyond a superficial repulsion or a tertiary sympathy.

    On his artistic process for this series Boyden stated, “I spend a lot of time observing nature and I have an inordinate fascination with materials. I’m interested in surfaces, but I am more interested in how those surfaces open up, or are opened up, to reveal the mystery of what is inside." Boyden perspicaciously conceived of this series as a monochromatic endeavor from its inception. With the simple effect of black Charbonnel ink on paper, Boyden forces people to deal directly with the image and not get lost in their own subjective emotional states.

    One of Boyden’s printmaking gurus, Julia D’Amario, believes dry point is one of the most unforgiving and daring techniques in printmaking. Boyden’s bold sculptural temperament is perfectly suited for this technique. Having carved in clay for the past 38 years, Boyden thoroughly understands the physicality of a mark.

    Contrary to the way most artists make prints in collaboration with a master printer, Boyden created this entire suite in his own studio from beginning to end, and therefore maintained his own high standards for the work being produced. In his idyllic studio overlooking the Salmon River estuary on the Oregon Coast, Boyden works in direct harmony with nature. Along with his wife, Jane Boyden, he founded the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, a nonprofit arts center that hosts a broad range of classes as well as a serene residency program for artists.

    If we are willing to leave our expectations regarding the grotesque behind, this show has the potential to bring about a poetic rebirth from darkness into a vibrant passion for life.


Frank Boyden

Through Dec. 2, 2006

Laura Russo Gallery

805 N.W. 21st Ave.