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PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST: Frank Rampolla

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Frank Rampolla's "Self Portrait"

From Friday, July 18 through Aug. 8, Selby Gallery of Art and Design is exhibiting selected work from Frank Rampolla (1931-1971), a renowned teacher at Ringling College in the 1960s.

I first encountered Frank Rampolla's work in the mid-1960s. It was during my father's stint as director of The Sarasota Art Association. Rampolla's work was part of one exhibit. Dad pointed it out to me. "St. Sebastian." An angry smear of tormented flesh, crucified on a concrete cross, speared with violent arrows. "You see it?" he said. "Yeah," I said. "Look closer," he said. "The painting has a double image." I looked closer. The anguished figure resolved into a screaming face.

His painting made an impact on me, even then. Physical, tangible. I felt it — like the whack of a Zen monk's stick on my shoulders.

Rampolla's art was like that. His style had an affinity with the work of Francis Bacon. But it was, above all, his own style. His powerful images reflect the social and political volatility of his times, the drama of the Catholic liturgy, and the agony and ecstasy of the human condition. The world according to Frank Rampolla. Enter if you dare.

The facts of his life? As always, biography informs, though it doesn't explain. But the bare facts are these ...

The artist was born in New York City of Italian immigrant parents in the early days of the Great Depression; he grew up in a world at war. After completing his studies at The Art Students League, Cooper Union, Rampolla had his first one-artist show at Fleischman Gallery in 1956. He was awarded the Grand Prize of The Friends of Art of Boston University in 1959, and graduated magna cum laude with a B.F.A. degree in 1960. After moving to Sarasota later that year, Rampolla taught painting, drawing, color and design at Ringling College of Art and Design (now Ringling College of Art and Design). He was married in 1961, and had his works included in a group exhibition, "Art USA," at Madison Square Garden. In 1968, Rampolla was appointed to the art faculty at the University of South Florida, where he continued teaching for the rest of his life. He died in Tampa at the age of forty.SG-RampollaPAINTING-CROP

Although he died young, Rampolla's legacy as an artist and teacher lives on. Perhaps knowing his that life would be short, he worked prolifically, creating an impressive body of mostly figurative work. The statements he made endure — and have lost none of their power. Each piece creates an immediate, gut-level impact. Each piece reveals hidden depths.

Years later, I saw Rampolla's "St Sebastian" again. I saw the double-image effect that he'd created: the image of a man on a stake, shot full of arrows, that resolved into the image of a screaming face. This time, I studied the painting some more, Gradually, a third face seemed to emerge.

Meditative, at peace. Beyond the pain.

Looking back at me from a place where the pain of this world couldn't touch.

Frank Rampolla's work is in the collections of The Ringling Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, The Mint Museum, The National Gallery of Art, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum, to mention a few.

Performance of the Visual: The Return of Frank Rampolla opens THIS Friday, July 18, from 5-7 p.m., and continues through Aug. 8 at Selby Gallery at Ringling College of Art and Design; 359-7563.

 

Performance of the Visual: The Return of Frank Rampolla. July 18-Aug. 8 at Selby Gallery at Ringling College of Art and Design; 359-7563.
Last modified: July 17, 2014
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