June 28, 2016
Above: “Simple Pleasures” by Frank Cloutier
One of North Carolina’s most successful, versatile, and prolific artists has died. Frank Cloutier was a new friend and I will miss him sorely. A visit with he and his wife Marilyn was energizing because, to me, they epitomized the fully realized creative life.
During his long career, Frank Cloutier produced an impressive, perhaps incredible, number of paintings in a wide variety of styles and subjects and sold almost all of them. There are still a few in secure storage, giving astute art lovers plenty of opportunity to add to their collections. Above the living quarters in their western North Carolina home a huge studio is filled with Frank’s works in progress. For visitors, Frank could, little by little, be convinced to share his vision of the world he and Marilyn inhabited, which covered the globe. As the interest of his guests intensified, they were ushered into the presence of beautiful women from exotic places, their garments rendered in meticulous detail; ballerinas who are captured in the casual moments of their art and the physical letdown after practice; mysterious evocations of olive groves, of empty houses, of ordinary objects – a rocking chair, a boat – awaiting a human presence and always the haunting landscapes. Among my favorites are the Greek islands, rendered in colors so subtly enticing that even the Greek skies and seas can‘t compete.
As Frank described his works, slowly turning the pages of voluminous portfolios, his enthusiasm for them ratchets up as it is fed by questions and observations from visitors who have demonstrated that their interest and admiration is genuine. Frank did not suffer dilettantes gladly. I know, because on my first visit, bestowed upon me only because I was escorted by Mike Trull, one of Frank’s closest friends, I thoughtlessly referred to his huge portfolio of paintings as “a lot of stuff.” An innocent observation perhaps evoked because Carole and I had just downsized for the third time in fifteen years and we had gotten rid of a lot of priceless possessions, frequently referred to as “stuff,” or even more offensively, as “clutter.” Frank forgave me this grievous gaff as soon as I had summoned up enough appropriate observations to convince him that I was not a complete philistine. It was not long before we discovered a common veneration for Edward Hopper. One of my proudest moments was when I returned another day to discover that he had hung my own portrait of Hopper, which I had sent him as an expression of appreciation for the visit, hanging next to a photograph of Frank and his friend Norman Rockwell. My modest little work is keeping company with two giants.
So this incredible artist, who had more skill in his little finger than I have in my entire body, and I, a Sunday painter at best, established a rapport that I hoped would last for several more years, each visit a transfusion of renewed determination to reach beyond my grasp. In the brief time of our friendship, he revealed a wicked sense of humor by sending me exquisite sketches he had just knocked off in an idle moment. One was of the Madonna and Child, (a sketch of the Pieta), on which he had drawn and redrawn the hands of the Madonna. In the margins of the sketch he had written “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit,” showing how frustratingly difficult it is to draw human hands. I responded with my own sketch of Pinocchio with an extended nose that drooped or turned up, or grew branches, or was square, labeling my own effort “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit”
Unfortunately, our friendship was to last an altogether too short a time. As I made my last visit, walking around the studio in which he had worked for so many years, it was impossible not to visualize the artist at work, painstakingly deliberate but joyfully so, a man so involved in his creation that he might be holding a conversation with it, oblivious to any distraction until the painting had said all it was going to and he could put down his brush, not entirely satisfied that he was really finished, but knowing there was another painting waiting to be started.
Resumes rarely provide an insight into the spirit of its subject, but they are a handy way of summing up experience. So I offer here Francois Cloutier’s resume and hope that my remembrance of his last years has given give you a more intimate peek at the man himself
Frank (Francois) Cloutier was born of French and Irish parents on the island of Montreal. He began drawing at a very early age and attended the Valentine School of Art, where he graduated in design and figure studies. After a journey across Canada, he settled in Vancouver, B.C., where he continued to develop his figurative work, attending classes at the Vancouver School of Art. In Vancouver, he met and was encouraged by the prominent artist, Lawren Harris, founder of the famous “Canadian Group of Seven” painters.
Returning east and on a visit to Arlington, Vermont, Frank spent time with artist Norman Rockwell in his studio. Mr. Rockwell influenced the young artist to emigrate to the United States to further his career in the art world. The two always remained friends.
During his early career in art, Frank found positions in the advertising departments at Warner Brothers Pictures, became chief designer for the famous Orange Bowl Festival, and served as designer for the inaugural ceremonies at Walt Disney World. An accomplished costume, stage and scenic designer, his credits include intercontinental extravaganzas and many musical comedy productions.
After his marriage to dancer/choreographer Marilyn, who still teaches ballet, Frank became involved in the ballet world, producing many costume, lighting and scenic designs, working with such personalities as Edward Villella, Violette Verdy, and Natalie Makarova.
After his successful “first” one-man show in oil painting, Frank continued his promising career in the fine arts, exhibiting in such cities as New York, Toronto, Carmel, Scottsdale, Palm Beach, New Orleans, and Miami.
Frank has had numerous one-man exhibitions across the United States and Canada. His paintings can be found in many corporate and private collections throughout the world.
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