Frank Correa paints the city with phosphorescent chimeras.
“I’m really into dresses right now,” says artist and photographer Frank Correa, holding up a pair of green striped pants beside a knee-length green sweater dress. “And I’m trying to bring a lot more neon into my wardrobe this summer.”
Correa’s everyday clothing straddles nonchalance and visionary rigor—much like his art. While going through the contents of his closet one afternoon, he piles up a heap of shifts and shapeless dresses, including a fuchsia chemise that belonged to his grandmother in Peru. He tries on hooded hats, neon-lime T-shirts, billowing silk harem pants, sport jackets with racing stripes, black leather pants that he pairs with ruffled Edwardian lace colors, a pink silk vest from India covered with embroidery. The items carry a glut of braiding, appliqué, embroidery and lace overlaying silk, cotton and velveteen—similar to the scintillating appliqué of color and pattern that bring his photos to life. His wardrobe is the byproduct of his photography. “Pretty much everything I have I bought for someone else to wear, with a photograph in mind,” he says. Eventually the stuff ends up in his closet.
Fashion—or the anti-fashionable use of garments as form—is essential to Correa’s portraits, which narrate phantasmagorical scenes of his friends dressed up and posed around town, on street corners, seductively sprawled on lawns, trees, bare floors. Unafraid to err on the side of blasphemous, Correa’s style-for-art’s sake is decadently incandescent. It mashes the sartorial philosophy of dandies with the acidic hypercolor of Alice Wheeler’s grunge gamines. Or Leigh Bowery’s outrageous, DIY glamour and the clubby, jacked-up glitter of Studio 54. Golden Girls at a strip club on acid.
Correa shares his Seattle home with Nick Bartoletti, a musician and videographer who uses vintage analog mixers to create spasmodic abstract visuals from video feedback. Their living room walls are covered in cozy caramel-colored wood paneling. Cameras and vintage video equipment are piled up everywhere. Potted plants sit on a windowsill scattered with a confetti of crystal and glitter.
He pulls a four-foot-long decorative sword from a shelf and describes how he found it at a yard sale along the way to a photo shoot. “I had to have it,” he says. “I bought it and used it in the photos I shot that day.”
Correa uses a 35mm point and shoot Minolta that’s at least 15 years old. It’s sitting on his coffee table next to a hodgepodge of trinkets and objects: a star-shaped ornament with blue panes of glass; a gold-framed, miniature religious icon painted by his father; a tube of blue lip gloss (his standby, made by local cosmetics manufacturer Swagger). The pictures he coaxes from his camera verge on otherworldly. He tints the images in Photoshop after the film is processed. Digital pigment bleeds from foliage or radiates from walls, like the vibrant artificial hues of early Technicolor films or hand-painted Victorian stereographs.
Correa moved to Seattle from Peru at age 10 and began shopping for himself at thrift stores as soon as he had an allowance. He still sources his fashion from out-of-the-way places; thrift stores, chance and gifts from friends.
“I never look at fashion blogs or magazines to keep current with trends,” he says. “Having good friends that know you and your style is like having more eyes looking in other, new places.”
Frank’s Wild Seers
When going on a photo shoot, Correa never takes multiple shots of a pose. Just one and move to the next scene—if it works, it works. In Rust In Pisces a clump of weeds in a sidewalk crack vibrates like a halo.
This is the sword Correa found at a yard sale on his way to the shoot. Magic ensued. In Water Cutter, artist Rodrigo Valenzuela’s inner archangel is unleashed under a radioactive spray of spring flowers at 21st Ave. and Jefferson St.
Global Warning Frank Correa encounters an anonymous nook in a building—a tucked-away doorway, wall or other forgettable nuance of urban architecture—and indelibly transforms it. Textiles get the same treatment, reconstructed as pure sculptural form. Garments turned upside down, inside out.