The realist and earnest American themes of Frank Shane include scenes of his native Missouri, and California and Colorado landscapes and towns. Throughout this work there is a charm and slightly bizarre quality that develops into Surrealism -- macabre in the 1940s, more lyrical in the later years.
While in Missouri he painted View from the Studio, Kansas City, 1933. The clean and orderly neighborhood, the active citizens, and the distant shimmering downtown, have an optimism remarkable in the depth of the Depression. This ambitious, densely constructed painting is evidence of a happy and productive period in Shane's career. In this work a street leads into the central area of the composition and disappears. This device became a favorite motif. In 1934 Shane was on the Public Works of Art Project. At this time Thomas Hart Benton had returned to his home state to paint the Missouri State House Murals. Shane and Benton met and in 1935 and developed a close friendship.
It was at this time Shane developed a mixed media painting technique. He started with dark ground, used white for highlights, and then worked to dark again. He combined tempera, oil paint, resin, and glazes in a manner that resulted in rich surfaces of great depth. Also by the mid-1930s blue-collar men and women figure prominently in genre scenes. Shane created a signature style within the tradition of American Regionalism. The subjects of Sunday at Balancing Rock, 1939, and Curio Shop - Mummified Indian, 1940, are site- and moment-specific with slightly off-beat but intrinsically American subjects.
Shane was interested in the slightly bizarre or absurd. In Curio Shop mentioned above, the mummified figure holds his own descriptive label. In the 1940s this interest developed into the macabre, a surrealism that was a significant part of his oeuvre, and a reaction to the Holocaust and World War II. Troubadour of Death and (The Fall of Man), both about 1945, are meticulously drawn temperas filed with horror and hopelessness. These themes occupied Shane in large and small work, in paintings and drawings, throughout the 1940s. When he returned to painting in the 1970s the bizarre is still present, but somewhat brighter and more benign. The world is still unfathomable, but not quite so dangerous.
From 1939 to 1944, Shane made regular summer trips to Colorado, and in 1945 through 1949 summered mostly in California. The Colorado paintings of this period, such as Red Rock, CO, 1941, feature once-thriving, now deserted houses and towns. Their deterioration is straightforward and not at all picturesque. The oil paintings of coastal are grand views of beaches such as Beach, LaJolla, 1945, one of this country's great sites. With town and amusement park hovering between the sky and the rock formations, a huge drainpipe towers over the well-populated beach.
In Colorado Shane often worked with his friend Adolf Dehn, and in California, he painted with his friend Milt Gross, an illustrator and cartoonist. It was with Gross that Shane went to the Hollywood movie sets and back lots. These subjects share with the abandoned Colorado towns a run-down, and sometimes intentionally war-torn quality. In this show the elegantly drawn temperas, Santa Monica (Bait Stand), about 1945, and Los Angeles Overpass, 1949, have some that same gone-to-seed quality.