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Artist Profile: Painter Frank DeAngelis

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Burlington artist Frank DeAngelis - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Burlington artist Frank DeAngelis

Burlington artist Frank DeAngelis has been many things: plumber, punk music zine-ster, anarchist, rock climber, environmental activist, business owner. Only last April did he add painter to his résumé, and to say he has embraced the new role wholeheartedly is an understatement. In about a year and half, DeAngelis has prodigiously cranked out an estimated 150 studio paintings and some 100 (and counting) smaller charcoal pieces at his home.

Explosive and exuberant, his works seem to shake with energy. With a distinctly street-art flair, DeAngelis combines a vocabulary of symbols and characters with his own experimental methods — using chopsticks, say, or spray-painting scavenged metal for fields of texture. His paintings tend to be loud in color, while his drawings and charcoals are more subdued.

DeAngelis often builds a work around a cartoonish figure drawn in profile. One of these wears a baseball cap and is named "Sekausky." Dating back to the 1980s, when the artist was making his punk zine Chaos, he's modeled after a guy in the "scene."

"I call every piece an experiment — a passionate experiment," DeAngelis said during a recent studio visit. When he gets ready to paint, he said, "In all honesty, I have no idea what I'm going to do."

"Disaster" - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • "Disaster"

At his S.P.A.C.E. Gallery studio on Pine Street, DeAngelis paints mostly at night — usually from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., though sometimes much later, he said, citing insomnia. (During the day, he covers the sales floor or warehouse of his bath and hardware business, Close to Home, as needed.) Evidence of this wee-hours work can be found in many of his paintings' titles, such as "Two a.m. Warrior," "4 a.m. Insomnia Head" and "1 a.m. Sky." The moon, conveyed as a simple crescent, is a frequently recurring symbol.

Like many artists, DeAngelis describes his creative practice in ways that evoke a ritualistic trance. Besides working almost exclusively at night, he offered, "I like [to paint] alone, and I like to blast music." He favors riot-grrrl bands and "lots of '80s punk, really loud," he said. "I just go; it's super crazy. I get the most energy — I love it ... I don't even know what happens half of the time."

And he can't leave a work unfinished: "I have to complete everything," he said. "I can't leave it 'til the next day."

DeAngelis' practice has evolved quickly. Shortly after that first encounter last spring, he rented space at E-1 Studio Collective. By June, he had works up at Radio Bean. "I was addicted," DeAngelis recalled. He participated in his first South End Art Hop last fall and recalled the thrill of artists preparing for festivities in the alleyway behind Speeder & Earl's Coffee.

DeAngelis has had paintings accepted into several juried shows, including at Arts Alive in Burlington and the T.W. Wood Gallery in Montpelier. His design is a finalist in this year's Magic Hat Brewing Art Hop Ale competition. In addition to the painting "One Equals Zero," now hanging in the Art Hop Juried Show at the SEABA Center, he currently has works on view at the Revolution Kitchen in Burlington. Of the eight works he's sold so far, two went to a Tokyo buyer who discovered the artist through his postings in the Facebook group Asemic Writing: The New Post-Literate.

"Two a.m. Warrior" - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • "Two a.m. Warrior"

DeAngelis moved to Vermont from New Rochelle, N.Y., with his first wife in 1989. "I'm the only one that left the Italian nest," he said. He was raised Catholic in nearby Pelham, where, he said, "I did not have a good childhood." Since he's taken up painting, he noted, analyzing and discussing his artwork's relationship to abuse and his life at large have become an integral part of his therapy sessions.

Certainly, many of his works have a sinister tone. The painting "Eve," for example, is a split canvas. On the right, it depicts a foreboding black cross over an orange-red background, with a full moon (or sun) rising overhead. The left-hand segment is a chaotic scene framed by pink, stitchlike lines and dripping, bloodred paint. Four hands rise from the roof of a cross-bedecked church; lines emanate from their fingers into the sky and connect to three faces, whose large, bugged-out eyes appear hypnotized. DeAngelis pointed to a small figure beside the church: the monsignor with a penis growing out of his head, he explained.

DeAngelis fervently tries not to let his own negative experiences hurt others. "I believe in being nice to people," he said. "I think people take their aggressions out on other people, and I don't believe in that."

Indeed, he sees promoting an ethos of love and gratitude as paramount, and the trials of dating and romance also factor prominently in his work. Last November, DeAngelis mounted a solo show called "Heartrocities" at the Backspace Gallery; it featured ample depictions of hearts and heartbreak.

"Ronald Smiles" - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • "Ronald Smiles"

Asked if he considers himself an "outsider artist," DeAngelis responded, "Like a renegade? Yep." Stylistically, he shares the tendency of many self-taught artists to avoid empty spaces and to repeat certain symbols and patterns over and over. He recalled a friend comparing his irreverent, graffiti-like style to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

DeAngelis admitted that, before that exchange, he wasn't familiar with the New York artist, who died in 1988 at age 27. Now he looks up to him. "He just did his fucking thing — I find him a hero in some ways," DeAngelis said.

"I believe that art is supposed to be in your face, and I also believe that art doesn't have to be perfect," he said. Of his own practice, he offered, "This is huge for me; this is the most important part of my life."

DeAngelis certainly shows no signs of slowing down; he's found something to love, and he's not holding back.

Correction, September 8, 2017: A previous version of this story named the incorrect restaurant venue currently showing DeAngelis' work: the correct venue is Revolution Kitchen.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Art Improv"