Mid Atlantic Region
Frank Novel (b. 1954)
Sketchbooks By Frank Novel
Art Type or Medium: Drawing
Secular or Religious: Secular with Religious aspects
Frank Novel (Noo´-vel) is a mental health outpatient who lives in a low income apartment building in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania. He keeps a sizable collection of vintage LP’s in his small apartment and is especially partial to ’60’s and 70’s pop rock. Since the 1970’s, he has drawn almost daily in sketchbooks – sometimes making one dated drawing per day on consecutive pages. Music is an inspiration for his work, and he talks about hearing songs playing in his head while he draws in silence.
Many of Frank’s earlier works incorporate peace symbols and appear to be partially influenced by 1960’s psychedelia. He says he draws spontaneously, without having any initiating subjects or ideas in mind for the new page. Frank typically carries his current sketchbook when he leaves his apartment; drawings completed on buses, inside restaurants, or on park benches often seem to incorporate representational bits and impressions of his daily experiences (streets, buildings, signs, cars, railroad tracks, food items, the sun…). Holidays (Christmas, Halloween, St. Patrick’s and Valentine’s Days…), seasons (spring, summer), and the after life have also been subjects of Frank’s drawings. The sketchbooks additionally contain pages of written text that Frank often refers to as poems.
Additionally, his subjects include the Beatles, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and other pop culture figures such as Charlie Brown, Batman, Betty Boop, Harry Potter, and Angela Lansbury – as well as news events such as 911 and Desert Storm. “Gretta Groupie” the title character from a 60’s/70’s comic strip published in the rock and roll magazine Circus is Frank’s most frequently reoccurring figure, other figures seem to be partial cartoon-like self-portraits, but most seem anonymous, often enveloped in stylized chaos. Some of Frank’s drawings appear to be entirely non-representational – often conjuring an emotional response through frenzied mark-making.
I met Frank during his 2009 exhibition at the Erie (Pennsylvania) Art Museum. Sitting at a work table, he was mostly an artist in-residence during the exhibition, greeting visitors and working on his sketchbooks.
Bloom Collaborative (a twenty-five block walk from Frank’s apartment) offers community art classes and an open studio in conjunction with Erie’s Stairways Behavioral Health. Frank has made small etchings through classes there:
Mostly he enjoys the supportive social environment fostered by the Director, Lee Steadman, and he just comes in to do his own work.
Frank doesn’t produce original artworks for sale, but he and I have scanned and enlarged pages from his sketchbooks for exhibition. National guest jurors have frequently chosen these reproductions of Frank’s work for the Erie Art Museum’s annual Spring Show. We would be happy to provide printed or digital reproductions of Frank’s work for other venues.