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Night Train

Night Train
oil and oil pastel on canvas
43 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. (110.2 x 199.9 cm.)
Executed in 2016.
Hilde Gallery, Berlin
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Baltimore, PLATFORM, REASONS: Works by Louis Fratino, August-September 2016.

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Louis Fratino has a unique ability to draw forth from everyday moments entire worlds that offer vast insights into the human condition and contemporary relationships. Fratino’s otherworldly and cinematic Night Train, painted in 2016, is emblematic of his desire to create forceful stories from quiet moments. Epic in its size and horizontality, the canvas, six and a half feet long, invites the viewer directly into the scene, enveloping the viewer in the artist’s world. In the tradition of art history’s greatest painters of portraits, group scenes, and still-lifes, Fratino captures with empathy and skill the range of emotions evinced by a single moment. Night Train is emblematic in this regard, showing us with unparalleled emotive intensity our desire for connection, love, and intimacy.

In Night Train, Fratino takes a seemingly everyday scene and turns it into evocative portrayal of disparate relationships. One figure, sporting a blue beanie, exists only as a head emerging from the painting’s lower edge, like an avatar for the viewer who comes upon the scene. Two other figures occupy the lower right corner, apparently engaged in conversation and passing the time as pleasurably as they can. Or perhaps, given that one person seems to talk or glare while the other stares straight ahead, they do not know each other, and Fratino has captured a moment in progress that is not a moment of connectivity, but rather an instant that only looks like conversation.

“Painting gives me a way to linger.” - Louis Fratino

Fratino’s expressive brushwork and attention to detail gives each of these characters their own lives and stories, making clear that everyone has a fascinating narrative that deserves to be told. Like the great Dutch still life painters of the seventeenth century, Fratino gives even inanimate objects lives of their own, such as the abandoned McDonald’s paper bag, creating a series of memories and lost desires.

As the artist told writer Christopher Bollen, “Sometimes things will happen to me that have a particular flavor that feels good for painting, such as a night spent on the roof, swimming nude at the Rockaways, smoking in the attic of a Milanese apartment—things I want to last longer than they can or will. Painting gives me a way to linger” (L. Fratino quoted in C. Bollen, “For Louis Fratino, Painting Offers a More Permanent Kind of Pleasure,” Interview Magazine, 2021).

The locus of Night Train’s own lingering moment is the central figure wearing a blue hoodie, boots and sitting with his turquoise backpack on his lap and a book cracked on his knee. He looks outside, longingly, as if he might stay remain aboard forever, just to see the beauty that passes him by. The windows are covered in detailed scrawls and graffiti, making it productively difficult to tell what is on the glass and what is outside it. On the train platform are figures of all kinds, again illustrating Fratino’s democratic and loving attention to bodies of all kinds. It is surreal, but it is also a scene that city dwellers and travelers experience every day, somewhere between being home and being a stranger. Night Train reminds us of the journeys we all take to find where we are loved and safe. Perhaps most importantly, Night Train also shows us the beauty we find along the way. We arrive with so much more than what we set out with, and we can love more deeply as a result.

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