Frank Piatek Double Reversed Odalisque (Yellow) (1988)
Acrylic & Charcoal 32.25 x 46.25 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago

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Piatek was graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Baccalaureate degree in Fine Art, 1967 and earned the degree of Master of Fine Art in 1971. His works have been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Terra Museum of American Art. See Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images, Chicago Art Since 1945, Chicago, 1972.

Frank Piatek was born in 1944 and spent his childhood reared in Chicago, Illinois. He attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his BFA in 1967 and his MFA in 1971.

During his undergraduate experience, Art Institute of Chicago curator Don Baum took interest in Piatek’s work, which prompted his invitation to include the young artist in the Whitney Biennial, setting the stage for a promising career. In the 1970s, Piatek worked in the artist group Allusive Abstraction, which included Chicago-based artists Miyoko Ito, William Conger, and Richard Loving.

At the time Chicago Imagist artists were prominent in the mid-west and abstract expressionism still had a hold on New York City. Allusive Abstraction artists worked outside of the dominant artistic order, and their work contained biomorphic and corporeal qualities existing between figuration and complete abstraction.

Piatek dedicated decades of his practice to visualizing knotted forms that twisted and bent like intertwining bodies or melting metal piping in a non-descript space. He refers to the knotted work as his “archaeology of knots” and mines for artistic inspiration from spiritual symbolism, the Book of Kells, Aztec, Minoan, and Egyptian iconography.

In 1972 there was a shift in his practice, when after dreaming of a dead man in a boat, he created boat sculptures with shamanistic representations. In the 1990s, Piatek worked with collage assemblages, integrating mixed media into his practice.

He also adopted a form of drawing that included freezing charcoal with acrylic adhesive from which he could shape the materials as if they were pigment. Piatek’s bent, contorted, and arched, works are critical to the development of abstract painting in Chicago.

Evoking both a corporeal and material sense, they reorient an understanding of the haunting referential quality of abstraction. Piatek works and exhibits to this day, while also teaching at SAIC. Double Reversed Odalisque (Yellow) (1988) is a sister work to Double Reversed Odalisque (Blue) and the knot form was Piatek’s primary subject matter at this time.

The work’s title beckons a bodily, and sensual, consideration, as “odalisques” are historically female slaves often found in art historical depictions of Turkish harems. If the knot is Piatek’s concubine, its twists and curves seem more and more like the bends of a body as one continues to study the abstraction work.

Formally, the work is a complex study of color and shape to produce depth, movement, and form. The composition is comprised of two horizontally-oriented, curved, knotted shapes and vertically-oriented, arching, linear forms.

A yellow-green tone fills the background and is peppered with lighter white texture scattered around the edges of each side of the composition. The knotted form consists of two, horizontally-oriented shapes that emerge from the left and right lower side of the composition.

As they meet in the middle, the right form angles downwards and forwards, creating the illusion that it is over top of the form on the left. Deep black and teal, contouring along their outer edges, along with highlighting across their middle, gives a sense of depth and recession to the tubular forms.

At the top edge of the composition, two separate narrow ovals take shape and cascade downward across the knot, momentarily uniting with the bottom edge of the knotted tubes. While their verticality contrasts the horizontally-oriented knot, their rough linear texture aligns with the overall composition that is comprised of small scratches, strokes, angles, and hatching.

Overall, Piatek’s odalisque mirrors its sister blue work as a snaking arch of knotted tubes whose corporeal horizontality feels much like its art historical Turkish haram reference.

While an overtly apparent human body is absent from the composition, this abstract composition shows the imaginative possibilities that a seemingly simple formal study can produce.

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