Sometimes art just has to find its public. It rises from its makers without pretense or ironic intent (or context) and keeps arriving as a tonic, a feel-good elixir, no matter the medium or venue.
Consider the new exhibit, The Paintings of Commander Cody, which opens Sunday, August 4 at The Falcon down in Marlboro with an accompanying early evening concert by the painter and his latest band of hot-rodding western swing aficionados. Some may nod their heads and think that what’s up is yet another crossover marketing ploy, a means of showing the raw talent someone of a Captain Beefheart/Don Van Vliet ilk showing prowess in new areas.
But no…George Frayne IV, as the Commander is known by day, had received his B.A. in design from the University of Michigan by the time he and Ann Arbor buddies Bill Kirchen and John Tichy formed their outlaw band The Lost Planet Airmen, dedicated to reviving barroom rockabilly and other lost Americana sounds. And then a Masters in painting and sculpture, as well as an experimental film in the Museum of Modern Art collection, by the time everyone moved out to San Francisco to start opening for the Grateful Dead and other hipsters of the era. He and his cohorts were more than they looked — with Kirchner going on to become one of the stalwarts of his style of Telecaster guitar, and Tichy, a PhD who now heads the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) up in Troy.
The original band broke up in the 1970s after several hit albums and a huge impact (many can shut their eyes and remember the driving impetus of “Watch My .38” or their versions of “Hod Rod Lincoln” and “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar,” to this day). Frayne, meanwhile, kept recording…but also kept at his painting, eventually teaching and publishing a recent book (Art Music and Life) that won kudos from NPR and other national taste setters.
His work is pop, acrylic, and occasionally has a penchant for cars. It mixes an abstract feel with images of old friends and peers from the worlds he’s inhabited…and is as fun and professional as his approach to music has always been.
“I was first inspired to paint by my dad, who commented to me at the age of 5 or 6 that sitting around complaining there is ‘nothing to do’ is wasting time,” he wrote in that tome. “He pointed out that he and my mom were both artists and having free time meant having an opportunity to create…..I’ve been doing so ever since.”
Commander Cody now lives in Saratoga, where he still paints, plays top-shelf boogie woogie piano, and tours with his latest bands — and sometimes the old Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen — in a total act of populist artmaking, and sharing.
The Paintings of Commander Cody at The Falcon, open reception at 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 4 followed by a concert performance by Frayne and friends at 7p.m. The Falcon, 1348 Route 9W, Marlboro. (845) 236-7970; www.liveatthefalcon.com.