Darkness brought to light through sculpture

“John Frame: Mephistopheles and the Swan Girl,” a sculpture show, is on exhibit at the Claremont Museum of Art through April 24. The museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and free for students. The museum is at 200 W. First Street in Claremont. / photo by Natalie Medrano
“John Frame: Mephistopheles and the Swan Girl,” a sculpture show, is on exhibit at the Claremont Museum of Art through April 24. The museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and free for students. The museum is at 200 W. First Street in Claremont. / photo by Natalie Medrano

Joseph Chavez
Staff Writer

Artist John Frame uses stage lighting to display highly detailed sculptures, photographs, videos and other artwork he created for the 2018 production of “Faust” by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Portland Opera.

“Mephistopheles and the Swan Girl,” his exhibit currently at the Claremont Museum of Art features his work from the 2016 short film “The Swan Girl.” It’s on display through April 24.

The art museum was dimly lit with studio lights flashing down on the wooden, jointed sculptures with humanoid forms. While some do resemble human beings, others are creature-like figures. Each sculpture is meticulously detailed and has an eerie energy while some projection cutouts displayed shadows onto their podiums.

Frame said that the studio lighting was all intentional in order to bring his pieces to life and to be presented the way he wanted others to see them.
“That’s done by me. The lighting is really crucial to the way I present the work,” Frame said. “That’s actually my studio lighting, that’s exactly the way I work in my own space.”

One sculpture, front and center of the others, resembles a person contemplating or thinking about something while leaning on a spiral. One of the cutouts projects what seems to be a man being strangled by a skeleton continuing this feeling of darkness.

Robert Bravo, museum visitor and sophomore business major at California State University San Bernardino, said he got a sense of dread and mystery while looking at the figures and the darkness that surrounded them.

“After looking at these sculptors (for) a while, I really got a sense of something ominous going on as if something else was hiding in the shadows. But really it was some really detailed looking work,” Bravo said.

Frame said he is self-taught in creating sculptures like these.

“I’m self-taught so over the course of the years starting in 1980 I began to make objects (and) every time I made one, I would try to learn something new,” Frame said. “But with each new piece I tried to add something so with the next few pieces, right at the beginning, I’d tried to add arms and legs and feet.”

Frame said a lot of work was put into the production design of the 2018 opera, “Faust,” and he worked to bring something new to the more than a century-old opera.

“The company that commissioned me to do the production design, they really wanted to bring something different to the opera and make it a more contemporary presentation,” Frame said.

Frame projected the shadows of his sculptures onto the stage, something that Frame helped bring into the opera that made it unique.

“Those shadows projected onto the wall were all done using a technology called projection mapping. Basically what you’re doing is you create a three dimensional map of the entire stage and you can put images on whatever part of the stage you want,” said Frame.

Frame said in his work on the short film “Swan Girl,” he helped his son-in-law Johnny Coffeen, the director of the short film, with the screenplay and other aspects of the film.

“He kind of got stuck on the screenplay halfway through his master’s program, so we ended up writing the screenplay together,” Frame said. “I perform in the film. I am also credited for production design and I also scored the film.”

Many visitors said they loved the sculptures and found them quite impressive.

“I always had a passion for art so I definitely wanted to check out this exhibit and I’m glad I did as I found the pieces very different and just amazing to look at,” said Brooke Neville, a resident of Claremont attending the exhibit recently.

The exhibition has been extended through April 24 at the Claremont Museum of Art and is open to the general public.

The Claremont Museum of Art is located at the Claremont Depot at 200 W. First Street. It is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Free admission for students.

Joseph Chavez can be reached at joseph.chavez2@laverne.edu.

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