Metal artist Frank Strunk III turns 50 this weekend.
There's a party in his honor, FrankFest (Sunday, April 13, at the Ale and the Witch), with beer, music, food, art and more. I met Strunk 10 years ago at a swing dance and later worked for a short time as a carpenter in the space adjacent to his studio. The harden-industrial artist has a soft spot for the creative spirit, and has encouraged myself and others to pursue our passion on more than one occasion.
He has a way of challenging those around him to do better. And love or loathe him, Strunk and his art elicit a response. That's the purpose of art. Strunk spoke with Creative Loafing about some revelations he's had in his 20 years as an artist in St. Petersburg.
Frank Strunk III:
I'm Frank Strunk III. I'm an artist, and I'm about to turn 50 years old. I live in St. Petersburg, Fla. I'm an American artist. I'm by no means a Florida artist.
Is that caveat important?
It's important because my work is informed by our nation. I don’t do fish. I’m a metal artist, probably the only metal artist in the state of Florida that doesn’t do fish.
When did you decide you were going to be an artist?
I used to work construction, I've always worked with my hands. At the end of the day, I'd put any excess metal scraps in the truck and try and make stuff at home. It was awful for a long time. You have to be bad for a while. It's a pipeline. If you're lucky, you'll have someone critique you gently enough as opposed to just slamming you. Because in the art world, people slam you.
You say it’s important for you to be identified as an artist and for the people around you, who are artists, to identify themselves as that.
Yes, it’s important because it’s true. Other professions have no problem declaring themselves as their profession or as their calling. Artists just seem to be less likely to do it. Even to this day I feel like I'm not going to be able to do, even though I've been doing it forever.
You're self-taught, how do you think that's influenced your work as an artist?
I don’t act of theory or lesson. I act out of ambition and trial and error and spirit. I have no formal education, like I barely got out of high school, and I mean barely. I was not good in school. I was upset, and I was failing. Even the art teacher was like, 'It’s okay, not everyone is an artist.'
We have a lot of young artists here who are struggling and hungry. But our city touts itself as an "arts city." You've spent a long time as a working artist here. How did you make it work?
First, don't take St. Petersburg as an art city, or any city as an art city. That's a term used by government employees, real estate agents and tourism bureau dollars. Look at our country as one big art city. You can sell your art anywhere in the country. When people start to identify with a city, you become dependent on it. We have a lot of talent here, and I realize we’re in the mural zone where we have murals on everything, but you should be going everywhere to paint your murals.
I’ve been the big fish in the little pond, but St. Petersburg is a small town. It's about getting down to the serious work of making art.
And what’s that?
The greatest work you can do as an artist is in your studio by yourself. I'm talking hours upon hours. It’s a solitude thing. You have to connect with the source and channel that shit. It's not going to happen if you’re just getting hammered all the time. I like to drink and smoke, and I get what that’s about.
You have to work on your skills so that you can execute an idea when it comes to you. You haven't committed if you can't execute it. And recycling ideas is bullshit. Commitment starts and it's like your married, and the idea kidnaps you for a couple weeks. You're lost, and when you come out you can't believe you actually made something.
You’ve asked me and others before, what’s your contribution? Why that question?
What do I want to do and how does it benefit the universe? What is your contribution is the only question. The rest are just sub questions.
Most people are more weary of challenging others, but you’re not as far as asking people what they’re doing creatively or what they are contributing.
A lot of people work 9 to 5 their whole lives and die with their music still in them. There’s nothing worse than that. Who made that up? Your contribution was to be culturally relevant, and Western culture can be a piece of shit, especially for women.
You have to wear some kind of clothing, eat some kind of food and live somewhere. That’s cultural shit. Then you have to find a way to do and accomplish the work you were put here to do. There is a reason, and then you need to do it as best you can.
Then you look up, and you're 50. I feel like my skills are the highest they’ve ever been. I feel like I’m just starting. I’m not a great artist, I haven’t done great art. After this many years, I feel like I heard the starting gun, and it’s time to really pursue it.
Any advice for your younger self?
Watch your distractions. Be careful who you share your dreams and aspirations with. There are people out there that are fucking dream killers. When you are vulnerable around people and tell them what you want to do and be, what happens is, you've now opened yourself up to their self-doubt, and you have enough self-doubt in you that you will spend a fucking lifetime defeating it.
You will spend hours of tears and cussing and spitting and ranting to try and overcome the product of your self-doubt. You don't need to hear other people's self-doubt about what you want to do. Have a few sacred people that know you and your heart, and know what the fuck you are here for, and share your dreams with those people. Haters gonna hate. Enjoy your doubt, bro, that's cool. It's safe there.
Have you struggled with addiction?
You can get through entire public education without reading one book on addiction. Although addiction is one of the things that destroys our culture more than anything. And you can get addicted to a lot of shit. I did.
Addiction is such a part of creative culture. Our heroes, so many, have addictions. And so much is romanticized, and so much validity seems to have from these struggles. And they all usually die terrible or self-inflicted deaths.
Don’t glamorize that shit. We all want to live as long as we can. Part of being able to deal with the creative life and energy, and assimilate it and digest and live it, is the swing of the pendulum can get pretty big. There are high-highs, low-lows. Once you embrace creative life, there’s no going back anywhere to anything normal. How could you? It’s perfect in its extremes. You’re a vessel, you get to take credit for it, you sell a piece of art and you get to buy a thick steak and a bottle of Merlot.
Do you ever grapple with feeling like a fraud as a result of that?
Absolutely. I’m just here to tell you, let me be the one millionth artist to tell you, this shit is very real. If you’re a creator, it's vital that you embrace these things. I’m just here to tell you after 50 years on this planet, and 20 years as an artist, this shit has been true for me. I see the young art movement in their heyday, and I want to tell them there's a big world out there. Don’t strive to be big in St. Petersburg. Go to the country and show them what you've got.
FrankFest, Sunday, April 13, the Ale and the Witch, 5 p.m., prices vary, 111 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, 727-821-2533.