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John Frazier

For burgeoning artist John Frazier mastering the fundaments of painting would be his easiest career task; journeying through the tumultuous and transitional times in American art would reveal his true savvy. Frazier garnered early art education from Rhode Island School of Design in 1909 and the New York Art Student’s League in 1912, ironically, these American art schools which had only come into existence at the end of the nineteenth century were under attack by the twentieth century for cultural parochialism. Recent graduates, such as Frazier, began their precarious professions with solid academic values but the un-nerving undercurrent that the very tenets of their art education were about to be revolutionized.

John Frazier achieved early success as a painter and teacher. After a series of appointments in Illinois and Kansas, Frazier settled into a faculty position at Rhode Island School of Design in 1923. While watercolors dominated his early profession, this passion quickly gave way to oil painting or “pure painting” as Provincetown mentor, Charles Hawthorne descried. From 1919 until Hawthorne’s death in 1930, Frazier was determined to master his craft. Deftly painted portraits and landscapes brought Frazier respect in the local art community and commissions from Rhode Island patrons. A frenzied exhibition schedule during this period yielded him thirty-four shows. In 1928, Providence Journal art critic and painter Mabel Ducasse praised him for his “swift, emphatic brushwork with clean fresh color” (Providence Journal 11/14/28). Just becoming comfortable with Hawthorne’s stylistic tradition, Frazier was confronted by the 1930’s fickle and fluctuating art world. Hans Hoffman, not loyal protégé Frazier, assumed Hawthorne’s major tutorial role in Provincetown and the liberal currents introduced by the 1913 Armory show demanded a new aesthetic far removed from Frazier’s oeuvre. National exhibitions were harder to come by for Frazier and the time had come to explore new territory. Although never straying from basic academic standards, the senior artist in the 1940’s pushed the boundaries of his style. There was a heightened color intensity and a simplication of form (Robbins, 1966). Frazier’s style evolved leaving a rich and varied body of work during the last three decades of his life. He coupled his painterly progress with significant academic career advancements. By 1945 he became the Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Rhode Island School of Design and in 1955 the President of the school. He retired in 1962 to paint full time and by the time of his death in 1966 Frazier had succeeded in straddling the decades of change in American art as both a painter and art administrator. What is most admirable about the man is his choice not to be consumed by his struggle but meet the inevitable challenge of confronting the very language of his own art (Berger, 1972).

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John Frazier
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