The Lone Star Modernist that Helped Pioneer Austin’s Art Scene
As a professor at the University of Texas, Michael Frary became a leading figure among the Lone Star (or Texas) modernists in Austin, a mid-century movement that paved the way for the city’s flourishing abstract art scene. California-born-and-raised, Frary had originally studied to be an architect before moving on to painting. These early studies and subsequent career in film had a clear impact on his work, especially in his attention to structure, surface, and noir-ish contrasts.
Frary’s oeuvre is manifold in terms of method and influence; regardless of medium, his strong technical ability enabled him to tease out the potential of his chosen subjects—usually variations of nature and humanity—as his style changed throughout a long career. An early oil work, Paris Nude (1948), shows a clear line of reference from Picasso and Braque, combining cubist leanings with considered attention to surface and composition, which he continued in Blue Abstraction (c. 1950s). His work evolved as he progressed toward his period in Texas, oscillating between semi-abstraction and a surreal, architectural style. He adopts a more symbolic outlook in Storm Coming (1999), in which he conveys the inevitability of time, pushing a deep, ominous sky in dense watercolor far back into the distance with a light foreground rendered in distorted perspective.
Throughout his career, Frary had over 200 solo exhibitions and his works are in collections of institutions worldwide, including those of the National Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. His painting Antelope Country was selected to be presented to the Prime Minister of New Zealand by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and he was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Austin Visual Arts Association.