I often start a new series. Never quite knowing their origins, or where they will lead me. Several series that I have developed, such as Post Canvas and Paint, Data Complexes, Variations, Rewind and Remixes are just that: Endless conceptual ideologies of ambiguities in form and structure, that for the most part, have emerged from past artistic influences. Every new work builds on something from the past: An exhibit here. A performance there. A poet’s word softly translated. An image seared in memory. Newly discovered places … deep dark places and beautiful heavens. And of course, there is the reflection in the mirror and memories behind everything. I enjoy working from my past. It seems at times to be all I know. So in this series of Variations, Rewind and Remixes, I will simply re-examine my catalog of artistic influences in a new way. Back in 2011, I created several posts under the title “In the Reflective Mirror | Various Artistic Influences”, and asked the question … When searching for meaning in a catalogue of artistic events, does one art form influence another? And I can say, that in both a direct and subliminal manner, that it does indeed influence the way I see and create art.
Below are links to several of those earlier posts.
The ongoing work of avant-garde monologist Joe Frank….
During the 1980’s while listening to NPR Radio, I came across the incredible surrealist work of monologist Joe Frank. His dark story of angst and misplaced reality quickly fascinated me. His work over the years has been a strong influence on my writing and my visual art. I am very pleased to introduce to you, my readers, to the beautiful work of Joe Frank. – Walter Smith
Joe Frank (born August 19, 1938) is an American radio personality, known best for his often philosophical, humorous, surrealist, and sometimes absurd monologues and radio dramas.
Joe Frank was born Joseph Langermann in August 1938 in Strasbourg, France near the border of Germany to Meier Langermann (then 51) and his wife Friederike (then 27), while in transit from Germany (where they were living, although they were Polish citizens). Being Jewish, his family was fleeing Nazi Germany and moving to New York City, where they arrived on April 12, 1939. Bills to allow the family into the country were passed in the U.S. Congress twice, the first having been vetoed by President Roosevelt. Joe’s father died when he was 5 years old. The next year his mother married Freddy Frank and changed Joe’s last name. In his twenties, Frank studied at Hofstra University in New York and later at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Frank taught English literature at the Dalton School in Manhattan when he became interested in the power of radio.
In 1977 Frank started volunteering at Pacifica Network station WBAI in New York, doing experimental radio involving monologues, improvisational actors, and live music during late night free-form hours. In 1978 he moved to Washington DC to serve as a co-anchor for the weekend edition of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, his first paying radio job.
During this period he wrote, performed in, and produced 18 dramas for NPR Playhouse, which won several awards. His 1982 monologue “Lies” was used as the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese movie After Hours, without permission.(He later settled out of court for a “handsome” settlement.)
In 1986, on the invitation of Ruth Hirschman [Seymour] the general manager of NPR’s Santa Monica affiliate KCRW, Frank moved to Santa Monica, California where he wrote, produced and performed in his own weekly hour-long radio program, “Joe Frank: Work In Progress.”
While at KCRW, Frank received several awards, including a Peabody Award and two Corporation for Public Broadcasting Awards, one for his acclaimed three-part series “Rent-a-Family.” Frank was also a Guggenheim Fellow.
Joe Frank continued to work at KCRW until 2002, and his work evolved, as evidenced by the diverse series he produced: first Work in Progress, then In The Dark, followed by Somewhere Out There, and finally The Other Side.
Frank’s radio programs are often dark and ironic, and employ a dry sense of humor and the sincere delivery of ideas or stories that are patently absurd. Subject matter often includes religion, life’s meaning, death, and Frank’s relationships with women.
Frank’s voice is distinctive, resonant, authoritative, and—because of his occasional voice-over work—often oddly familiar. At the 2003 Third Coast Festival he explained that he was “recording in Dolby and playing back without it—which created Joe’s now familiar intimate and gritty sound.”
Adding to the atmosphere of Frank’s monologues are edited loops of instrumental music from sources as diverse as Miles Davis, Steve Reich, Tangerine Dream, Can, Air and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
The repetitive music and Frank’s dry, announcer-like delivery are sometimes mixed with recorded phone calls with actor/friends such as Larry Block, Debi Mae West and Arthur Miller, broken into “acts” over the course of each hourlong program.
Frank’s series The Other Side included excerpts from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s Dharma talks at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In an interview on KPFA’s the Morning Show, Kornfield was asked about working with Joe Frank. Kornfield explained that although he had never met or talked to Joe Frank or heard his show, he didn’t mind Frank using the lectures and that many of his meditation students had found Kornfield through the show.
- He can be heard on the song ‘Montok Point’ on William Orbit’s album Strange Cargo Hinterland.
- “The Decline Of Spengler” Stage Play (New Directions 48, New York)
- “A Tour Of The City” Stage Play (Tanam Press, New York) was produced by Theatre Anima at Hangar #9 in the Old Port of Montreal in 1990, and was directed by Jordan Deitcher.
- The Queen of Puerto Rico and Other Stories,, William Morrow and Co, New York, 1993. ISBN 0-688-08765-5 a collection of short stories: Tell me what to do—Fat man—Night—Date—Walter—The queen of Puerto Rico—The decline of Spengler
Since 2002, Frank has performed on stage in Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago and Steppenwolf Theatre, in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall and in Los Angeles at the Hammer Museum and Largo at the Coronet, as well as other venues.
In 2003, Joe Frank was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.
His body of work (over 230 hours) continues to be aired on the Pacifica Radio affiliate station KPFA in Berkeley, California and many NPR stations including WNYC New York, KCRW Santa Monica and WBEZ Chicago. The entire archives, Joe Frank film shorts and other extras, are available by subscription to his web site. Show CDs, downloads, and iPods are also available through his website.
Frank’s new web site launch in August 2010 now includes free daily downloads of stories excerpted from his radio shows.
Frank continues to write new work for the stage and his website, and posts frequently on Facebook.
Inspiration to other artists
Frank’s body of work has inspired a variety of other artists including:
- Ira Glass of This American Life: “Ira Glass worked under Frank as one of his first jobs in public radio, and credits him as his greatest inspiration.”
- David Sedaris, writer
- Troy Schulze, a theater artist in Houston who created the show Jerry’s World (2003) for the Houston, Tx.-based theater group Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Utilizing material from several Frank shows, the piece was deemed “Best Original Show” in Houston that year, by the Houston Press.
- Jeff Crouse, artist and technologist, created Interactive Frank, which uses content from the web to dynamically create a Joe Frank Show. “The user types in a sentence, and Interactive Frank takes over, scouring the web for another sentence that follows a sentence with the last three words. Frank can also find streaming audio to accompany the generated narrative based on a word analysis, and it can read the narrative using an online text-to-speech generator.”
- Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher and Ivan Reitman have optioned or bought stories from Joe Frank’s radio shows.
Voiceover and acting work
Joe Frank has done voice over work for commercials including Zima, and Saturn Corporation. He was the voice of the computer in Galaxy Quest and provides voiceover for:
- “Wild Rescues” on Animal Planet
- “Conspiracies” on A&E
- “Ends of the Earth” on the Learning Channel
- “Hurricane X” on the Discovery channel
- “Sexy Beast” film: narrator on trailer. This trailer was nominated for best film trailer in 2004.
He also had a small acting role in The Game.
- Third Coast International Audio Festival Lifetime Achievement Award
During NPR Playhouse
- Broadcast Media Award
- Radio Program Award from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting
- Gold Award from the International Radio Festival of New York
- Gold Award from the International Radio Festival of New York (second)
- American Nomination to the Prix Italia
- Special Commendation from the Berlin Prix Futura
During Work In Progress
- Major Armstrong Award
- Corporation For Public Broadcasting Program Award
- Peabody Award
- Guggenheim Fellowship for Radio Art
What do you expect from art? How does art feel when it is
found? Where do you find art? Can art be here but not there? Is art on the
street? Why is art beautiful? Is art beautiful only when seen? Does art answer philosophical
questions? Does your child make art knowingly? Is art around the corner from
where you live? Do you dine near art? Is art inside your home, but not on your
wall? Can art be lost? Does art have longevity and sustainability? Is art your
religion? Is point A to point B art? Is art in an industrial park or in a
trailer park or in the park? Is art mobile? Is art agile? Is art sensitive unto
itself? Is art fragile? Does art have emotions? Is art dead?
What is modern art? What is post-modern art? What is
impressionism? What is expressionism? What is conceptualism? Is art abstract?
Is art figurative? Is art delineated by isms? Is art an analog tape loop? Is
art a digital sequence? Is art a light reflected? Is art a moment in time? Is
art a movement in contrast? Is art a reality unknown? Can art be more than it appears? Is
art a collection of artists? Is art a contract? Can art be voided, misplaced or
oppressed? Does art need to be more? Does art save the day? Can art save when it
has failed? Will art survive when it is destroyed? Does art breathe? Will art breathe
in us? Is art under water, in the sky, in a mother’s womb, or found bathed in silence?
Does art give birth? Is art alive?
What do you think? Why ask questions about art?
In the meantime enjoy the slide show: In the Reflective
Mirror / Various Artistic Influences.
- The Whipping Machine, Collective Enterprises
Productions 1989, Painted Bride Art Center
- The Whipping Machine, Michael Davenport, Walter
Smith, Van Grimes 1989
- The Whipping Machine, Painted Bride Art Center, 1989
- Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music
- Molissa Fenley and Dancers, Geologic Moments: Next
Wave Festival 1986, original photo Marcus Leatherdale, digital remix Walter
- Critics Pick, Solo Exhibition, Computer Art, Villanova Art Gallery 2001, Walter Smith & First Friday,
Walter Smith, Robert Wulbrecht, Marita Fitzpatrick
- 2 Men 4 Walls 1 Month, Highwire Gallery 1991,
Walter Smith & Mark Stolte
- Eiko & Koma’s New Moon Stories: Next Wave
Festival 1986, original photo Marcus Leatherdale, digital remix Walter Smith
- Commodore Amiga Computer, Genesis of Computer Art 1985
- Michael Clark and Company: Next Wave Festival
1986, original photo Marcus Leatherdale
- Ash Ra Tempel, The Gatherings Concert Series, St Mary’s Church,
University of Pa.
- Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker: Next Wave Festival
1986, Brooklyn Academy of Music 1986
- Scenes from CIVIL warS, Act v – the Rome
section, by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, original photo Peter Simon, digital
remix Walter Smith
- Steve Roach, Ambient Music, & Relache, Philadelphia Ensemble for Contemporary
- John Cage: Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy
of Music 1986, photo Peter Hujar
- Life and Stolen Innocence, Walter Smith, Highwire
Gallery 1992, Philadelphia Pa
- Philip Glass: Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn
Academy of Music 1986, original photo Lynn Davis, digital remix Walter Smith
- Robert Wilson: Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn
Academy of Music 1986, original photo Peter Hujar, digital remix Walter Smith
- Impossible Theater Social Amnesia: Next Wave
Festival 1986, original photo by Erik Kvalsvik, digital remix Walter Smith
- Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace with scenery and costumes by Robert
Rauschenberg, original photo by Jack Mitchell, digital remix Walter Smith
- Post Canvas and Paint Series 10.13.2010.6:48.a.m.
Digital Artist, Walter Smith