“Frank’s paintings play off
the tension between
the beauty, danger and
fundamental loneliness of
places like the Everglades.”

Seeing the Light
Frank Corso

by Julie Clay

WHEN YOU CAN'T get outside for some nature, experiencing a Corso could be just the invigorating jolt you need to get on with your day. No, it’s not a new brand of coffee; it’s the work that acclaimed artist Frank Corso delivers each time he takes paint to canvas. Sweeping, delirious sunset beach vistas and charming countryside panoramas exist alongside portrayals of our cherished Florida Everglades. His ever-growing audience of over 30 years is always eager to see what the next ‘Corso’ is going to be.

It’s not so surprising then, to discover that his technique is a deft combination of sheer talent, years of practice and study, as well as total immersion. Yes, Mr. Corso is known to have planted his easel in the middle of his intended scene, be it a flooded Everglades prairie or the late afternoon mist of a mountain lake, in order to truly live the moment that he’s bringing to life. Not that he’s taking so many chances anymore, especially in the Everglades.

Frank explains, “When I first came down to Florida I was doing that. It kind of spooked me, but it was always kind of exciting. I’ve never been able to take a photograph that represents what I saw out there. It does introduce an entirely different element of danger into the mix when you’re out there by yourself! I’d walk three, four miles out in those prairies and I’d be coming back at eight or nine at night, in the dark. It’s amazing that I never stepped on a snake!” From safer surroundings, Corso continues to bring to life a myriad of vivid landscapes depicting nature’s true beauty at varying times of day. At first glance you might even think you’re looking at a photograph. It’s a technique he calls the illusion of realism.

“When you look at my paintings up close, it’s not much detail,” he says, “It’s all brush strokes and paint. You get a good two feet away and it looks all blurry. When you stand 10 feet back it looks clear. I’ve worked on that for many years. I do a couple strokes, then back up and look at it. When I paint outside you’ll see a 10-15 foot strip back from the easel because I’m walking back and forth to look at it.” Frank adds, “I like to paint the feeling. That’s something that I’ve worked on as long as I’ve been painting. I have a big painting at the Ritz Carlton Tiburon and people comment all the time.”

During a recent visit to his studio, we could see from both up close and a few feet back the canvas he was currently working on and understand his logic. Also, sitting on the floor next to his easel were a banjo and guitar, since as it turns out, Frank is also quite the musician. He paused for a moment during our conversation, picked up the banjo and strummed a few chords.

‘Music and art for me have always gone hand in hand,” he ruminates,” I don’t really know which one I like more. I can’t imagine my life without either one of them. I always have three or four guitars set up on one side. I’ll paint for a couple hours, then I’ll sit down and play. Then I’ll paint. Even when I’m painting, I’ll write lyrics. I’ll write them on my iPhone, then I’ll go back later and finish fabricating the song. It just happens that I make a living from painting, but both go hand in hand.”

Corso remembers what first inspired him to paint when he was a young boy growing up in Syracuse, New York, “When I was a kid my parents had a painting on the wall of a fall scene and a creek. I just really loved it. I would sit there on the couch and just stare at that painting. I started drawing, and I found out pretty quickly that I was good at drawing. My mother sent me to the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. Then I got to be pretty good at drawing from that point on.”

He took art classes in school, even switching high schools to focus more on his craft. This is where his teacher, oil painter George Benedict, became a mentor, influencing Frank to switch from pastels to oils, hosting classes at his home at night. With high school ending, Frank was shocked to learn his parents, who had been supportive of his art all along, insisted he major in something more ‘realistic’ in college. He decided on architecture as a close substitute, but his true calling was too strong. Around this time, he also met Austrian painter Robert Hoffmann.

A lifetime of work behind him, including painting celebrities, Hoffmann became a mentor to Corso as well, “I met him at an art show where I was playing my guitar. He was around 80 when we met. I went to his house and I saw a life size portrait of Winston Churchill. He said, ‘I can teach you how to paint. If you want to be an artist you have to learn how to cry.’ He became my closest friend and I was with him, studying and painting, until he died at 98. I studied everything he could give me. Robert and George were hugely inspirational to me. When everyone else was telling me I couldn’t do this, they were telling me I could.“

Back in southwest Florida, Corso has garnered quite the following. Collector and friend of 13 years, Selma Nettle owns close to two dozen Corsos. She says, “Frank’s paintings play off the tension between the beauty, danger and fundamental loneliness of places like the Everglades or a northern river. My favorites are the late in the day Florida paintings where you can almost feel the heat and see the light shimmer in the hazy surroundings.” Gardner Colby Gallery in Naples is the area’s foremost gallery to view Corso’s works.

Gallery owner Nancy Winch says, “Gardner Colby’s relationship with Frank Corso goes back more than 20 years, to 1994, when we first opened our gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. In the years we’ve represented him, Frank has firmly established himself as the preeminent interpreter of the Florida landscape. We are proud to have a been a part of this true ‘Renaissance Man’s’ growing legacy.”
Gardner Colby will host the first exhibition of Corso’s works in more than two years in February, with an opening reception on February 21. You can also catch his musician side when he performs his repertoire of ‘ragtime country blues’ as part of Neopolitan Cluster Pluckin’ at The Woodwork on Saturday, January 18. Corso will also be performing as part of the Palmgrass concert series at the Alliance of the Arts in Fort Myers on April 29. You could say that Frank Corso has figured out how to live life by one’s own direction.

“I love portrait painting, but the problem is there was too much direction from other people. I finally just said I’m done with this because I don’t want someone else telling me what to do. That’s how I’ve lived my whole life, by following my own set of rules and not listening to other people. I believe in what I’m doing,” he reflects, adding, “It was that painting above the couch when I was young. It was like a magic trick that I really loved. That’s the magic of oil painting that I love so much.” •

The opening reception for ‘Corso!,’ an exhibition of new works by Frank Corso, is February 21, 5:30-7:30pm. The reception is free and open to the public. Gardner Colby Galleries is located at 386 & 365 Broad Avenue South in downtown Naples. For information, call 403-7787.

January-February 2018