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FAC Legacy Series: Frank Mechau

His horses galloped on the foundations of the Fine Arts Center.

March 5, 2016 - May 15, 2016

Frank Mechau (1904–1946) is among the greatest artists associated with the early 20th century development of Colorado art. Mechau commanded national renown through his vision and virtuosity as an artist, as well as his influence as a teacher.

Mechau was a tremendously significant presence in Colorado Springs during the 1930s. He was invited to serve as substitute lecturer for instructor and director Boardman Robinson in 1934 — the year before the Broadmoor Art Academy became the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Mechau then taught for the Fine Arts Center School in 1937-38. Under the continued influence of Robinson, Mechau maintained the Academy’s traditional teachings, making the FAC a western focal point for the Works Progress Administration mural projects.

Exemplary of Mechau’s mural work, as well as his best-known subject matter and style, is the 60-foot mural, Wild Horses, located in the FAC courtyard. Mechau’s mural was designed specifically for the newly-built FAC’s east wall, and unveiled with the building’s opening in 1936. Mechau painted the mural in the buon (true) fresco tradition, a very permanent method in which pigmented plaster is applied directly to the wall.

Mechau’s art, especially his mural work, reflected his admiration for early Italian Renaissance painters. During his travels in Europe, Mechau encountered various instances of the harmonious marriage of mural painting with architecture. During his years in New York and Paris, Mechau encountered the innovative artists whose work was defining the era of high Modernism. In his work, Mechau combined these influences with the flat elegance of Japanese prints and ancient Chinese painting. At the height of his career, Mechau’s subjects ranged from his observation of the contemporary West’s gritty realism, to imagined visions of the historic West — from frenetic sports subjects to serene family scenes.

Mechau won an unprecedented three Guggenheim Fellowships in his short career. He was the first Colorado artist to be awarded the study grant, and was among the first fellows allowed to use the award at home in the United States. Mechau’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and many other prestigious institutions.

This exhibition spans Frank Mechau’s life as an artist, and is the third major offering in the FAC Legacy Series; which began with original exhibitions dedicated to the art of Birger Sandzén and Charles Bunnell. Other exhibitions in the FAC Legacy Series have been devoted to the art of Ellen O’Brien, Eric Bransby and Myron Wood. These single-artist exhibitions are conceived to reveal the brilliant work of artists who have shaped this region in general, and the Fine Arts Center in particular.

Image: Frank A. Mechau, Wild Horses (detail), fresco, 1935, commissioned by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

“The exhibit includes work he did in Paris, and some of it, like “Abstraction Méchanique,” a very Dalí-esque composition, is quite radical for the time. Still, the show really takes off with pieces that Mechau exhibited once he was back in Colorado.” – Michael Paglia Denver Westword

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