ISG Salon

Frank Webster on Time, Ecology & the Natural World

Frank Webster on Time, Ecology & the Natural World

Frank Webster on Time, Ecology & the Natural World

Frank Webster on Time, Ecology & the Natural World

In today's episode, we'll be sitting down with American artist Frank Webster, to mark the occasion of his exhibition with the gallery, Earthed Lightning: Northern Landscapes. Born in Fort Wayne Indiana, Webster is known for his monumental landscape paintings of Iceland, Ireland and Norway that capture the ephemeral, fragile, and sublime qualities of our planet. A devout chronicler of natural histories, and an intrepid and devoted explorer of the otherworldly, Webster bears witness through each brushstroke. His work explores themes of memory, transformation, time, and ecology and features rapturous experiences in mystical landscapes.


Isabel Sullivan: Hi, I'm Isabel Sullivan and welcome to our audio series for the Isabel Sullivan Gallery. To coincide with our exhibitions, we'll be sitting down with our artists to discuss their life, work, influences, and experiences. Be sure to follow us on Instagram where you can find information on upcoming events and exhibitions and access our media content. We're located in Tribeca at 39 Lispenard Street and look forward to welcoming you.

Philippa Brillis: Hello, I'm Philippa. I'm the artist liaison at the Isabel Sullivan Gallery and in today's episode, I'll be talking with American artist Frank Webster, who's known for his monumental landscape paintings that capture the ephemeral, fragile, and sublime qualities of our planet. Frank is a devout chronicler of natural history and he explores themes of memory, transformation, isolation, and the melancholic yet rapturous experiences with landscapes and we hope you enjoy today's program.

Okay, so before we get into kind of traversing portions of your life and work, I was wondering if you could bring it back to the beginning and maybe you could tell us a bit about where you grew up and when and maybe how you decided that you wanted to dedicate yourself to the production of art.

Frank Webster
Yfir Hálsinn (Over the Ridge), 2017
Acrylic on canvas
34 x 74 in (86.36 x 187.96 cm)

Frank Webster: Yeah, I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana and I was one of those annoying kids who was always drawing as a little kid and that was, yeah, I was always told that I was going to be an artist. So I, surprise, surprise, that happened and I did end up going to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a great town and then I ended up going to Rutgers for my MFA and lived there and moved to New York where I've lived ever since.

Philippa: I've always wanted to go to the Art Institute of Chicago to see their collection because I went to Chicago when I was little for the 4th of July but I didn't get to go to the museum because I wasn't interested in art then. So hopefully I'll make it there one day. So you completed your MFA at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and focused primarily on the Hudson River School.

So can you speak a little bit about what initially had drawn you to that group of artists because it kind of feels like a spark was initially lit then years ago that maybe kind of like dipped out for a second that's sort of more recently in the last few years been revived in a lot of ways and maybe what, like, because it seems like that's a really enduring, the impact of that is quite enduring. So if you can speak a little bit about that, that would be really interesting.

Frank: Yeah, I, well, I mean, my, it was actually my thesis. I wrote, we had to, for MFAs, we had to write a thesis. You know, you could write pretty much anything you want, but I ended up, I did actually do research on an artist that I was really interested in named Martin Johnson Heade (Fig. 1), who was a friend of Frederic Church and sort of his kind of sidekick on a lot of expeditions.

And he was interesting because he was kind of the, he wasn't quite the typical romantic painter of that time period. He focused on things like hummingbirds and orchids, butterflies. He painted in Costa Rica a lot.

He was also from New Jersey. So he did paintings of the marshes in New Jersey. And I always found that kind of interesting because they don't look very much like his paintings anymore.

And so I think that was part of why I was interested in his work. And, and yeah, I've always been interested in art that deals with natural history and, you know, have a side of me that loves science and, and biology. So that was kind of a natural for me.

Fig. 1. Martin Johnson Heade, Approaching Thunderstorm, (Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island), 1859, Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Martin Johnson Heade (1819 – 1904), was an American painter whose oeuvre particularly centered on landscape and still life painting. Although he is often associated with the Hudson River School, Heade is notable for his dedication to the portrayal of Natural Histories, and his explorations of light and its effects on atmosphere and chromatic depictions.

Philippa: Yeah. Cause that's really interesting. And it feels like maybe that's where the seed was planted initially.

Cause I know that you and I have spoken a lot about Alexander von Humboldt (Fig. 2). And so that kind of like amalgamation of like taxonomy, you know, like collection of data and then the production or I shouldn't say production, but like the depiction of that data. And actually I was listening to something recently, this woman, I forget her name, but she was doing this podcast and she works a lot with like botanical manuscripts.

And something that I found so interesting is that a lot of the scientific like textbooks, even medical textbooks are even, are still drawn by hand. There hasn't been like an AI factor that's been introduced. Thank goodness.

But even like a mechanical aspect, like it's all still rooted in the kind of like artistic production of that. It's still a, an art form in a way. So maybe that's sort of where your initial interest in that specific artist from the Hudson River School tied with Alexander von Humboldt.

Cause they both seem to kind of speak to each other, separated, separated by time, but, you know, brought together through your interest in both of them.

Fig. 2. Joseph Stieler, Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, 1843, Oil on canvas, Charlottenhof Palace, Berlin. Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was a Prussian naturalist, geographer, scientist and explorer. He traveled extensively throughout what are now South and Central America, Cuba, the United States, Russia and Europe. One of the most influential figures for Charles Darwin, and considered by many to be the father of Ecological Studies, Humboldt's most famous treatise Cosmos was published between 1845-62 in numerous languages, and he remained one of the most famous people alive during his colorful lifetime.

Frank: Yeah, certainly. Alexander von Humboldt was a big influence on artists of that period. He traveled extensively. He was like a world-class scientist at a time when the sciences were really coming into some exciting territory. We don't know about him as much today because a lot of his research was kind of superseded by Charles Darwin.

And so a lot of the theoretical stuff that he wrote was like, why is it, why are things like this? Well, the answer ended up being natural selection. So, unfortunately all of this, this travel and all of this, these beautiful paintings, he produced paintings as well as really amazing writings kind of fell through the, you know, fell by the wayside.

But in recent years, there's been more interest in his work and in the work of some of these early romantic scientists, essentially who were thinking about things in a more, I guess, more holistic and ecological, proto-ecological way. And that there's a move, I think, to get away from some of the ideas about specialization. And, you know, I think that the kind of desacralization of nature that's happened, you know, during the modern era.

Philippa: Wait, sorry, pause for one second. No, because I just had a question in my head. This is why I need a pen.

That's why I was trying to use my phone. Because what I think what was interesting, well, two things that I thought was really cool, obviously, because you spoke to me about Alexander von Humboldt. So I went on my whole little journey as it were.

But what I thought was really cool, obviously we know that Darwin completely, you know, took center stage. But what was interesting is like, I heard this thing that was so cool that Alexander von Humboldt was kind of framed as, I want to say like a more passive type of scientist. And that Darwin was much more combative.

What I mean by what I think that this person meant by this, what I deduced from it is that Darwin was like, sort of depicting nature as like forces of survival. So like, you need this to get to this point, whereas von Humboldt was like, this is how it is. And he was sort of like the observer, he wasn't trying to assign, like necessarily meaning, which there's absolutely value in assigning meaning and order to things.

I mean, it's science at the end of the day. But I think Humboldt coming in that time before him is maybe why for you, he feels so much more kind of like relevant and also personal, because there is something deeply personal about a man who for the first time went out into the world and took the science out of the lab, put it in a book and gave it to people. I think the other thing about his work is it wasn't translated into many languages.

Like even in German, it wasn't translated into that many languages. It was more his market was more in England and America. Anyways, so.

Frank: Yeah, I mean, what I can say more about him is in the transition with Darwin. Darwin, you know, the vision of nature became a bit more of competition and, you know, survival of the fittest, which, of course, Darwin didn't actually say that. It was kind of the people that interpreted him.

But that was kind of the vision of nature. Whereas I think his, yeah, there was something that was more that was more pacific. Let's put it that way.

It's more peaceful. And in his way of viewing nature, that everything sort of had a place and that everything fit together and that the world could be conceived of as a system. And it wasn't so much about everybody competing with everybody, but things in nature working together.

Philippa: Yeah, sort of like the divine dance of nature that exists, whether we observe it or not. I think that that's what's really cool about von Humboldt. And I feel like passivity is like that always has a negative connotation, that word.

But I think sometimes in nature, especially if you think of now with ecology and things like that, that passivity, not in terms of inaction towards prevention or like awareness, but allowing nature to be itself and to do its thing without us necessarily needing to intervene in terms of what we build as humans and what we bring as humans. So, again, I think his, you know, his importance is becoming ever more understood as ecology shifts and expands in fortunate and unfortunate ways.

Frank: Yeah. I mean, not to keep going with von Humboldt, but yeah, the influence he had on painting was also profound because he really, you know, helped, inspired a lot of artists, especially artists of the Hudson River School to go to places that they wouldn't have gone before and to really sort of look at nature in the raw, in its, you know, in its site, as opposed to getting it from books or from manuals on how to paint a landscape. So very influential in that way. Yeah.

Philippa: So I want to shift gears and go back to your work. But around 2016 and 17, what I noticed is that you seem to have made a really distinctive turn in your subject matter and maybe like, I want to say personal experiences in terms of like, going out into the world and then like, deciding to bring that to the public. And it feels like you really started to lay the roots of what comprises most of your subject matter more recently.

This kind of shift feels really purposeful and conscious, but I feel like we can always say that now, when we look back retrospectively, we're like, oh, of course there was a reason for that, or now it all makes sense. But maybe at that time, you wouldn't have characterized it like that. So, but it does feel like the magnitude of that reorientation is really mirrored by what it was that you are painting now and then, the kind of like grandeur and extremity of the places and the experiences that are in that exhibition now and that comprise most of your body of work today

Frank: Yeah, definitely. And it's, you know, it is hard to kind of look back and put yourself into that frame of mind that you were in when something momentous was about to happen. So, yeah, I guess in some ways, this was an evolution from that process of examining the natural in an urban setting to thinking about the world beyond and how global systems affect our lives.

And I think, obviously, at that point, Hurricane Sandy was pretty fresh in my mind and was prodding me in this direction, since weather, of course, does not respect, you know, national boundaries and was becoming abundantly clear that changes on the other side of the globe were going to have a direct effect on our daily lives. But, you know, I think certainly there was that visit to Iceland for the first time, something really clicked there. And I felt, you know, definitely felt compelled to paint that landscape.

And yeah, it set my mind in a different direction and put me on a new path. Another thing I can think about at that time was I had a show in Austria, Vienna, which was a wonderful place and really cool city to visit. And it was with a friend of mine who I'd been in residency with at PS122 named Fabian Patzak, a really wonderful painter.

And our show was called “Nature”, and we both were kind of, you know, grappling with this issue of the urban and the natural. And so we did a two-person show there. And while I was there, I stayed with him for a while and sort of traveled around Vienna, looked at museums.

We took a trip to the art supply store there, which was amazing, so much more paint that you can't get in the United States, and picked up some watercolors. And that was, we were painting together in his, he had a beautiful courtyard in his townhouse, and we were painting there. And that, I think, was kind of the beginning of this series of watercolors, because in about a month and a half, I was in Iceland and, yeah, started to work with a watercolor.

And so it was kind of, it was interesting in retrospect that that event probably had an effect. I think on another level, I did want to rebel against the distinctions like urban versus nature, and really just to kind of come at it from a bigger picture. So in that way, maybe this is less of a change than it might appear at first.

And ultimately, it's just an expanded field of inquiry.

Fig. 3. Egon Schiele, Edith Schiele in a Striped Dress, Seated, 1915, Pencil and gouache on paper, Leopold Museum, Vienna 

Philippa: I really like that you've decided to do a shift to watercolors in Vienna, because it feels like with the Vienna secession and like Schiele (Fig. 3) and stuff, that it's like a lot of like history that's like leading into that place. And maybe that, seeing all that art kind of influenced your desire to work with that, because there is something so kind of tactile about watercolors. I don't mean to speak, obviously, I'm not an artist, but there is something about like the bleeding onto paper, and like that feels like such a physicality that you, I don't want to say you have less control, because I don't, obviously, I'm not an artist, I don't have that dexterity in terms of knowledge or the physical act of that, but it does feel, do you know what I mean?

This like, so these spaces and clouds and how they can lend themselves so much more and like lychee to what watercolors can look like and what you can do with it, or even thinking about like Japanese prints (Fig. 4), for example. There's such a storied, in terms of the history of art and the canon of watercolors being associated with landscapes that are beyond like, the cliches that we normally think of, like impressionism and that site, sorry, that sort of plein-air tradition.

Fig. 4. Utagara Hiroshige, View of the Whirlpools at Awa (Triptych), 1857 (Edo Period), Color Woodblock prints, ink and color on paper, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland

Frank: Yeah, definitely. I mean, in terms of artists that I saw there, you know, Egon Schiele's watercolors and his landscape paintings are really, really quite amazing. And yeah, it has a, there's a kind of improvisational quality to watercolor, because yeah, it's hard to control, and, but it's also fast and you can make, you know, how do I describe this?

Intuitive, but precise moves with the paint. And I think that's why it's great to work with plein-air, it's good to work quickly and outside. So it's an interesting, yeah, it's definitely an interesting medium to play with.

Also, it kind of has that qualities of, as you were describing, of being sort of like, looked down upon as an amateur thing, which, which I think is sort of fun to work with, as an artist to take, like, yeah, so you think this is easy? Well actually…

Frank Webster
Esmarkbreen III, 2023
Watercolor & graphite on handmade paper
11 x 30 in (27.94 x 76.20 cm)

Philippa: No, sorry, I was gonna, I was thinking about something, but then I don't want to, because I was gonna, whatever, I was just thinking, no, because I'm not an artist. So I'm imagining because I really like, Jenny Saville always talks about this thing of paint as flesh and body and stuff like that. And I'm thinking about like, how watercolor functions, like quite differently to that.

But there also feels like something and I don't want to say, again, I'm not an artist, but thinking about it, that watercolor seems like quite, and please correct me if I'm wrong, because you'll provide an answer that's so much more articulate and well understood and like, existential, I mean that in terms of experience, that there's something like alchemic about that, that it will just like bleed and soak and, you know, where if you think about like acrylic or oil, it feels almost more like chromatic in the alchemic process, that it's like color alchemy, whereas like watercolor is maybe more like physically alchemic, even in terms of like mixing or like something being more wet, as opposed to like having the brush be more dry.

And obviously, you can speak to this much better than me. And I'm looking at your watercolor now in the corner, and the darkened sky and just thinking about how that's different to this acrylic painting behind me. I don't really have a question with that.

It's more of just like, a pondering on medium, I guess you could say.

Fig. 5. Excerpt from Webster's artists sketchbook wherein the artist has created and labeled various shades of blue in watercolor. In order to produce the medium of Watercolor, dry pigment is mixed with a binder, Gum Arabic, which is a sap derived from the Acacia and Senegalia trees. It is the careful alchemic ratio of water, gum and dry pigment that is created by the artist that produces the varying effects of luminosity, vibrance or transparency that we see in a final work of art.

Frank: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think you're definitely onto something. You're talking more about kind of that almost handmade quality that it has.

Because I mean, all this stuff is crushed up dirt in Gum Arabic (Fig. 5), you know, that's really what all watercolor is, you know, paint all has this kind of very alchemical quality to it. But yeah, there's a definite kind of freshness and brilliance. I think that's maybe the word to the way that the color lays out.

That makes it you know, I think, uniquely suited for landscape, for instance.

Philippa: So speaking of places and landscapes, I think let's switch back but in Marcia Bjornerud’s book, Timefulness, which I know is a source of interest for you. And also, most importantly, for people who aren't familiar with her work, or all of your work, that you've both spent a lot of time in similar, really remote places like Svalbard. And she speaks of this amazing idea.

When I was reading her book, I loved that idea of certain places having little memory of humans. And it's also just an incredible book. And the way that she writes is so profound, but it's so conversational without linguistically being conversational.

And it's very hard to talk about geology and petrology and these types of subjects. Because again, her whole point is that we don't feel that we can access time in those spaces in that way. And she's able to do that, which is incredible.

And so are you through painting these things and going to these places and bringing them back to us who maybe don't have the opportunity to experience them. But sorry, back to the places having little memory of humans. But so essentially, what she says, and obviously, this is paraphrasing, but time and any sort of attempt to conceive of time, which feels futile when you're talking about rock, and lava and things, because since we're not scientists, we don't necessarily have the knowledge to assess that on site.

And even if we did, we don't have the tools or the experience. But our understanding as humans of, sort of time, when we visit places is mostly understood through object or architecture, you can see like a progression of style, I think that's the most kind of well understood way. So you can see, for example, oh, this is Renaissance, and this is Baroque, because it looks like this and that.

Whereas, in the spaces that you're showing us, we don't have access to that kind of modes of perception and classification and temporal orientation. So I think what's cool is that what she says is basically as viewers, or visitors, it's kind of like this misleading idea of eras, or movements that cannot be applied to nature, and nature's modes of production. So I was wondering if you could speak kind of to the atemporality of some of the places that you visited that we can see in these canvases.

And when I look at your work, it's sort of like time folds in and out of itself. So all of these spaces feel so singular, but eternal at the same time, because we can't place them necessarily. But we are there in that place.

Frank: Yeah, yeah. Timefulness is really a thoughtful, but it's also a very down to earth book. And it has some profound implications, I think.

And yeah, Marcia is a geologist. And so it's she's kind of fighting an uphill battle talking about this stuff, because everybody thinks geology has got to be boring. But it's actually really interesting.

And of course, we live on the earth. And we know actually less about the earth than much of the cosmos. Certainly, you know, we know more through physics about the Big Bang and the origins of that than we do what's even at the center of the earth today.

So yeah, she did her graduate work in Svalbard. And that was one of the inspirations for me to visit. And that was one of the reasons I was looking at the Arctic Circle residency is that's something that would be worth going to. (Fig. 6) 

Yeah, a lot can be said about our relationship to time. And yeah, we think of space and time, but you know, it's, we sort of have a bit of anxiety about time, I think it's something that we're not so comfortable with, because we, you know,, we all are sort of chased by our mortality, as it were. But you know, things like art, architecture, and geology, all grasp at this notion of the eternal.

And I think that's, nice combination between, you know, the two disciplines in a place that they could have a conversation. So, yeah, as I was saying, you know, temporality makes us anxious. You know, we kind of have a hard time thinking about what's going on next week, let alone what's going to happen in, you know, 50 or 100 years.

And I think her argument has to do with, you know, trying to look at time, a bit more as a real thing in our lives, and something that we're, you know, we're going to have a legacy, and we have a profound effect on what happens down the road. She also, one of the things I liked in lectures I've seen by her, and she's talked about in this book is, you know, thinking of human beings as being at the end of this, this very, very long timeline is a bit of an illusion, because actually, the thing that became a human being has been evolving this whole time. And I think that she just wants to point out with that sort of, like, our real deep and existential connection with the earth itself.

And I think that's actually quite beautiful.

Fig. 6. In 2022, Webster participated in the Arctic Circle Residency, traveling and painting throughout the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard. Located in the Arctic Ocean, the archipelago consists of nine islands and is predominately composed of glaciers, tundra and mountains. Featured above are photographs culled from the artists personal archive, including images of Webster painting en plein air. 

Philippa: Yeah, because I was this weekend talking about, like, Neanderthals, and that one of the skeletons that they found was from 75,000 years ago. And it's just like, it's such an incomprehensible thing for us. And I think it also just shows, you know, our self-indulgence as Homo Sapiens, also living in 2024, to be quite unable to conceive of those things, even though if you actually, another thing that's interesting, because what she talks about is that chronophobia, which she ties to many funny, sort of like more irreverent things like plastic surgery or Botox, which is just fun to extend a geographic, geological discussion into the everyday, I think it's really important to kind of bring it home where people can have a variety of access points and entry and exit points.

But the other thing that's cool to think about with stone in your work is that a lot of paints come from stone, like, maybe now less or depending what medium you work with, but oil, you know, like lapis lazuli, or like, that's a stone that then becomes a color. So then you are using a stone that becomes a powder that's then put onto a surface to then make a type of stone to recreate that stone. So it's just this really beautiful circle that kind of keeps going.

So switching gears for a second, and also, again, I want to use a popular reference, because I like these kind of touchstones in different entry points for things. So in the fourth season, the most recent season of “True Detective”, which was set in Alaska, but as you told me, when I was at your studio, that it was filmed in Iceland, one of the tropes that they explore throughout is time. And it's augmented by the fact that, you know, I think in the first episode, it takes place, it starts after the last sunset at the beginning of winter.

And again, Bjornerud has this incredible term, “temporal illiteracy”. So an inability to kind of place ourselves, to orient ourselves temporally, which again, ties back to the whole idea of like Neanderthals, like what is 75,000 years ago? So it kind of serves to, in the show, it functions to in a way to underscore the disorienting nature of the crime and kind of like the more mysterious qualities, the characters, the setting, etc.

But in your case, and through your depictions and travels, you explore the opposite of the endless night, which is nocturnal sunshine. And one of the paintings we have that opens the show was painted in the midnight sun. So I'm wondering, as an artist, and maybe even personally, how your sensibilities, or if they were affected by this kind of like chromatical and optical experience, because it is so different being in prolonged light.

And it's something that few of us have ever experienced. And I think bringing up True Detective, even though it's the opposite, that's like a really good touchstone that we are the most familiar with, as it was like, broadcast on a show that millions of people watched. So I just want to know if you like if there was anything surprising about that experience, like physically, was it metamorphic in a way, like personally or artistically or mentally?

Frank Webster
Spákonufell, 2017
Acrylic on canvas
72 x 108 in (182.8 x 274.3 cm)

Frank: Yeah, sure. There's also like the classic Scandinavian noir, Insomnia, about the detective who goes to the far north, who cannot go to sleep. That's a great one.

But yeah, but my experience was more, I found for real prolonged light, energizing and not particularly disorienting. And in my opinion, it's great for your health. The Arctic summer is a bit like a drug, pure vitamin D, just pure vitamin D induced euphoria.

Yeah, and I was really, really struck by precisely how life is light. You know, we take the sun for granted. And I think we are very much all children of the sun.

Now we were talking a little bit about the Timefulness book, there's another phrase that she coins in that, called “heliophilia”, or love of the sun. And, you know, as a painter, trained to be sensitive to light, I really fell in love with that strange intensity of the color during summer solstice. And that's a lot of what that painting is about.

Yeah, during the season of midnight suns they're just exquisitely long golden hour twilights. And they can be, you know, described maybe as Elfin light, if that doesn't sound too twee.

And this quality of light is seductive from a purely coloristic standpoint. And I found it profoundly moving and inspiring. Yeah, there is a good reason filmmakers love that place.

Fig. 7. Gerhard von Kügelgen, Portrait of Caspar David Friedrich, 1808, Oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) was born in Greifswald, Germany, and is a canonical figure not only in the tradition of Romanticism in the 19th century, but of landscape painting more broadly. The exhibition, Caspar David Friedrich: The Soul of Nature, will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 8 - May 11, 2025. 

Philippa: So this year marks the Jubilee of Casper David Friedrich (Fig. 7). And a lot of institutions, well, a few institutions in Europe have organized quite an extensive exhibition that's traveling now and will come to the Met in the spring of 2025. And I read at one point, that Friedrich's work was almost entirely neglected by American institutions.

I don't know about private collections, but I know, in terms of public institutions, it was and that there were only a couple of his paintings that were on display. And I don't even know if they were on display at that point, before the last few years. So I was wondering what you would attribute to this renewed interest in Friedrich's work outside of the obviously, like, again, time, but the Jubilee of his birth.

Because it's interesting, because I feel like central to Romanticism was this like emphasis on individualism, a glorification of the past, kind of, medieval art over classical. So I was wondering what you make of this, both this exhibition and just because obviously, if they're putting this on, there's a public interest in this, for many reasons, I would assume. So, and another question, sorry, this is a long one.

But how in its contemporary context, because ecology is always underpinned by modernity and science, right? That's the crux of the whole thing. And then it has ties that are much closer to the Enlightenment, which, as we know, the Romantics, both writers and artists alike, this was not necessarily a point of inspiration for them.

In many respects, it was a turn away from the Enlightenment. And this idea of like, order and reason and rationale and everything else that goes with the Enlightenment and the kind of myth of the Enlightenment as like, you know, the noble gentleman and the ordering of the world. So I'm wondering how you kind of, how we can kind of reconcile this shift.

And maybe if neo-romanticism is maybe a movement that exists, or maybe it's a little premature to say that?

Frank: Yeah, I think Friedrich has definitely been re-evaluated lately. And I think a lot of it is in the light of ecological issues. I think that's without question.

I think he speaks to the moment also with this kind of earnest searching for a spiritual relationship with the natural world. And that's very counter Enlightenment. Yeah, as I think as well as a society, come to understand the limit of modernity and technology, ideas about, you know, ecosystems having rights, and beauty being, you know, enough to justify a landscape, a continued existence beyond, you know, the the sort of utilitarian notions of relentless progress.

I think in that way, this more holistic, pre-modern vision carries emotional weight. I also, you know, thinking about the Enlightenment, and “True Detective”, which we were talking about a little bit, you know, I think, I think an interest in things like other ways of looking at nature, indigenous ways of looking at nature, I think we're getting to a point where things that the Native Americans knew about the American landscape, for instance, are coming back as like, Oh, yeah, that actually was the right way to do things. So I think, you know, some of that definitely has a, I guess, a counter Enlightenment vibe to it.

And I think, you know, all of this is a good thing. You know, there's, I think right now, there's too much moving, too fast and breaking things. You know, I think we are in an era where we really need to learn to slow down and repair.

In terms of, yeah, neo-romanticism. Well, I do know that the poet and critic, Barry Schwabsky, recoined the term, neo-romanticism a few years back, to describe a tendency in contemporary landscape painting. I think, calling neo-romanticism a movement may be a bit premature.

But I certainly see more painters working in this mode, where I once felt like an outlier.

Philippa: Yeah, which I think is really great to see, because I think any kind of effort, whether it be like artistic, personal, spiritual, whatever it is to kind of open up the conversation and open up the world to us, once again, is deeply important and prescient. For many reasons that I think we all can kind of understand, hopefully understand and privilege and prioritize. So, final question, actually, I have two, the first one is just, is less, the second one is more fun.

But so as we make our final couple of stops here on our journey with you, I was wondering if you could tell us about any upcoming residencies or adventures that you have planned for the coming months. And yeah, just tell us a little bit about them and the places that you maybe are going to.

Frank: Yeah, at this point, I actually have just made plans to go back to Iceland for the month of August. And I'm going to the East Fjords this time, which is a really spectacular and beautiful part of the country. And yeah, I'm planning to go and do some backpacking, but also plein-air painting, you know, and work on site.

So that's the main plan that I have right now.

Philippa: Okay, well, I think we're all looking forward to seeing, well, hearing about what you see and then hopefully seeing what you saw at one point or another. And the final question that I think is maybe a bit more personal and soulful, but I was wondering if there was a specific place or even like an element, because we always assign place to these kind of like, sweeping things. But maybe there's like a mountain that you've always really wanted to see or a bay or like one specific rock you noticed in a photo.

I mean, I think we think of nature as this like, absorbing, consuming thing, but it's also made up of all these tiny little particles that make a whole. And so is there something, you know, something really small or something large that still kind of calls out to you that you haven't been able to visit yet or depict?

Frank: Yeah, I mean, there are so many places I would love to go to. I mean, the things that I would love to go back to, I mean, I really love the west coast of Ireland, I think that would be a really amazing place to go back to again. I know that I felt when I was in Norway, that there was more to do there.

And that's, that's definitely a place. But you know, one of those places that just like in terms of, you know, wilderness, you want to see, I mean, Alaska, I mean, that's definitely something I would really want to visit before I leave the earth. And even someplace like Patagonia, you know, its connection with that tradition of American landscape painting, I think is really strong, it'd be fascinating to go down there.

Philippa: Okay, well, thank you so much for being with us today, Frank, and taking us along on some of your journeys, and curiosities and bringing us into some of these bases of wonder and mysticism, both on the canvases that we're surrounded by and on this planet. So thank you.

Frank: Thank you.

This was the first episode of ISG Salon, where we sit down with our artists to discuss their life, work, influences and experiences, to coincide with our exhibitions. Subscribe to our podcast on Apple and Spotify for new episodes.

Earthed Lightning: Northern Landscapes by Frank Webster is on view in our gallery until June 20, 2024.



39 Lispenard St.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday—Friday: 10am—6pm

Saturday: 11am—5pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed



39 Lispenard St.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday—Friday: 10am—6pm

Saturday: 11am—5pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed



39 Lispenard St.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday—Friday: 10am—6pm

Saturday: 11am—5pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed



39 Lispenard St.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday—Friday: 10am—6pm

Saturday: 11am—5pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed