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Of Myth and Memory – Beasts of Summer

The Art of J. Frank Munns

June 3- 29, 2024

The artwork of J. Frank Munns (1943-2013) is an uneasy collaboration of contradictions: playful/poignant, naive/naughty, sacred/profane, comedic/tortured. His visionary mixed media compositions exude energy and motion and are both broadly mythological and abstractly autobiographical.

An exhibit of his work entitled Of Myth and Memory, curated by Daniel Forbes, will be on exhibit in the East Oregonian Gallery at the Pendleton Center for the Arts June 6-29.

Born in Walla Walla, J. Frank Munns obtained a BA in classics from the University of Washington. He then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington where he received both a MAT in Latin and an MA in Classical Archeology. Later in life he returned to academia, attending the San Francisco Art Institute
where he completed an MFA in Painting and Sculpture.

Munns’ early art career focused greatly on installation and performance and drew heavily on mythic themes and ritual practices. His pieces and accompanying creative choreographies were featured in a number of museum and gallery shows, including Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery and at the Washington State University Museum of Art.

Fascinated by world religions, Munns traveled extensively, visiting Egypt, China, Japan, Mexico, and various countries in both Africa and South America. He spent time in Russia and wandered extensively across Europe. His keen eye and brilliant mind absorbed the art, history, and culture of everywhere he touched down. The places he experienced left their mark on him and he, in turn, translated these into the literal marks that filled the surfaces of his artwork.

Curator Daniel Forbes was introduced to Munns’ work when he moved to Walla Walla to attend Whitman College. Forbes’ grandmother lived at the Marcus Whitman hotel, on the same floor where Munns had a room where he stayed when in town from San Francisco to help manage his family’s farm business.

“She said I should meet her artist neighbor,” said Forbes.

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Forbes traveled to Pullman to see an exhibit of Munns’ work at Washington State University and the impact was immediate.

“I didn’t grow up going to museums—Frank’s exhibit was really my first museum experience. As soon as I saw his work, I recognized that he was speaking my visual language and it resonated with me deeply, on many different levels,” said Forbes. “That experience changed my idea of what art could be.”

Forbes and Munns didn’t form deep personal connections until they worked together on an exhibit of Munns’ work at the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College in 2001, where Forbes served as the Gallery Director.

The last decade of Munns’ studio practice, focused primarily on drawing and painting, was particularly generative, his creative pace almost frantic. At the time of his death in January 2013, after producing artwork for over three decades, J. Frank Munns left behind a legacy of works on paper and canvas,
numerous sketchbooks, and sculptural elements, many of which will be included in the Pendleton exhibit.

Through Forbes’ curatorial work, he’s dedicated to preserving the work and legacy of significant artists in the queer community in the region, and Munns’ work is a key pillar of that work. Of Myth and Memory: The Beasts of Summer offers a look into this remarkable body of work and a glimpse into the mind of an extraordinary artist.