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Frank Oriti treasures what paintings lost in fire taught him

January 12, 2017 // by Denise M. Reagan

MOCA Jacksonville visitors adored Frank Oriti's intricate, detailed portraits set against abstract, experimental backgrounds in Get Real: New American Painting. Many snapped up copies of the exhibition catalog which featured his painting I'd Rather Sink (2013) on the cover.

Frank Oriti Get Real Members Preview
Frank Oriti attends the members' preview for Get Real: New American Painting in 2014. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

Since that exhibition, Oriti's work has appeared around the country and was chosen for the coveted BP Portrait Award exhibition.

In December 2016, a fire that started at a neighboring cinema consumed RJD Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York, which represents Oriti. Eighty-three works of art worth a total of $1.2 million were lost in the fire. Twenty-four artists lost original works-some lost several pieces, including Oriti.

At the time of the fire, the gallery was featuring the work of Oriti, Alexander Klingspor, Rachel Moseley, Margo Selski, and Armando Valero, and many other artworks were stored there. Andrea Kowch, whose work also appeared in Get Real, lost a painting and a series of prints.

We asked Oriti about the fire and how his work has progressed since Get Real.

Frank Oriti Id Rather Sink Get Real Catalog Cover
Frank Oriti's painting I'd Rather Sink appears on the cover of the Get Real catalog. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

What works were lost in the fire?

Eight paintings were lost in the fire. These paintings were all created between 2013 and 2015.

  • The Illusion of Safety, 2013, 30 x 24 inches
  • Comeback, 2014, 30 x 24 inches
  • C.K., 2014, 10 x 8 inches
  • hxcwick, 2014, 10 x 8 inches
  • Closer, 2014, 10 x 8 inches
  • The Beginning of the End, 2014, 40 x 30 inches
  • Heart Means Everything, 2015, 24 x 24 inches
  • My Father's Worn Boots, 2015, 30 x 24 inches

Have you ever lost work like this before?

This was the first time I have ever lost work.

Frank Oriti Heart Means Everything
Frank Oriti, Heart Means Everything, 2015. Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.
Frank Oriti Comeback
Frank Oriti, Comeback, 2014. Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.
Frank Oriti My Fathers Worn Boots
Frank Oriti, My Father’s Worn Boots, 2015. Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

How are you handling the loss?

I'm in a much better place now. I grieved for about a day and came to the conclusion that I could let this sort of occurrence weigh me down, or I can accept it and move forward--and most importantly, get back to work! I chose the latter. I realized there is new work to be made--always.

Upon first hearing about the fire, I was obviously at a loss for words, having visited Sag Harbor and the gallery countless times. Once I came to the realization that chances were good I had probably lost some work to the fire, I patiently waited to hear which ones were gone for good. The eight pieces that were lost were paintings I cared for deeply. When I finish a painting and it leaves the studio, it's as if it is off to live a life of its own. With that being said, my time with each piece while it was being made was important to me. Each work brings new challenges with the hopes of becoming a better artist. I can honestly say that while the physical works are lost to the fire, what remains with me is the knowledge I gained from all of the lessons learned in the hours spent creating them.

Frank Oriti A Study in Blue
Frank Oriti, A Study in Blue, 2016. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

You've been really busy since Get Real. Could you share some of the highlights?

Yes! Since Get Real, I've been featured in shows at the galleries I'm represented at, RJD Gallery and The Bonfoey Gallery. I've also been invited to be a part of numerous shows in cities all over, ranging from San Francisco to Columbus, Ohio. I think one of the highlights I'm most excited to share was from 2015 when my painting Clarity was featured in London's National Portrait Gallery BP Portrait Award. The painting was one of 55 chosen by jurors from almost 2,800 entries submitted by artists all over the world.

How did Get Real affect your career?

Get Real effected my career in so many ways. To me, the most special was being classified in what was described by many as the new class of realist figure painters. To have my work in an incredible space such as MOCA Jacksonville alongside some of the best painters in the country was not only a career highlight but also an opportunity that set the bar for me to continue working towards being featured in shows of that caliber in the future. 

Frank Oriti Ruined
Frank Oriti, Ruined, 2016. Oil on panel, 14 x 11 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.
Frank Oriti Waves
Frank Oriti, Waves, 2016. Oil on panel, 20 x 16 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

What are you working on now?

I currently have about four paintings that are in all different stages of completion. One is a portrait and the other three are more geared towards still life.

Are there new directions or ideas in your work you're exploring?

Yes! In the last year and a half, I've been exploring my love for painting different materials. Although trained as a figure painter, I always found myself enamored with the areas of clothing in a portrait I would paint. I would accept these challenges of trying to teach myself how to paint these materials as life-like as possible--even if that meant coming up with new approaches to applying the paint. I felt that, because flesh, denim, and leather (to name a few) all look and feel and exist differently in real life, they should all be painted differently as well. While I still paint the figure here and there, my recent work has focused on painting these different materials. So with paint, I explore the materiality of these items, recreating a visual history of how they rip, tear, scuff, fade, break down, and evolve over time.

Frank Oriti A Study in Black
Frank Oriti, A Study in Blue, 2016. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Do you have any exhibitions planned for 2017?

While we anticipate the new RJD Gallery opening in the coming months, I'm excited to be a part of some the shows they will host in their new space. I feel it's an important thing to show support to a gallery that's been so supportive to me and to so many others. I'm really interested in the new direction my paintings are heading. So I'm looking forward to focusing my efforts on producing new work in the studio to send out to Sag Harbor, New York. 

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