Compared to the frenetic energy and abstract composition of works by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, the scene of a New York City ribbon factory is quiet and still. The artist, Frank Anthony Bologna, doesn’t use black pigment. “It muddies the other colors,” he says. Instead he relies on a brush dipped in raw umber to sketch the outline of what he will paint. Then he covers the canvas with a thin layer of the raw umber and begins to lay in the other colors, the grays and greens and reds and smoky blues.
A stack of boxes fills one corner of the 5’ x 5’ canvas. He remembers Elaine de Kooning standing in front of the painting and saying to herself, “Wow, he must’ve had a lot of fun with this one.”
“As a matter of fact I did. It took maybe eight or twelve hours to paint that. Those boxes, the paint quality is incredible. Thick.” Despite the earth tones, the empty, melancholic quality of the painting, there’s visible movement in the brushstrokes, making the scene of a doorway, a conveyor belt and the cardboard crates come alive.
I know the artist not as “Frank” or “Mr. Bologna” or “Francesco” or “Franco”—“Francesco sells more paintings, Franco sells more sandwiches,” he tells me with a wink—but as “Inky.” Many times I’ve found myself sitting on his couch becoming lost in the painting of the ribbon factory.
Inky was born in 1927 to Sicilian immigrants. He grew up in Corona, Queens. When he was 7, he recalls, “I was playing on the street and this man—Willy Mazinka—walks up to me and points and says, ‘Inky! That’s what they should call you. Inky!’ I ran into him years later and he says, ‘Inky!’ and I says, ‘Willy Mazinka! How the hell are you?’”
Inky started painting with oils when he was twelve. After leaving the army in the early ’50s, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Art in Rome on the GI Bill. But he fell in love with and married Barbara Landi and, instead of going to Rome, he took classes at the Art Students League in New York City. In 1969, he and his wife moved to Springs and Barbara became a popular teacher at East Hampton High School for many years while Inky started a framing shop on Newtown Lane and then opened the Bologna Landi Gallery.
“When we moved out here, I didn’t know this was an artist community. Didn’t know Bill—Willem de Kooning. Didn’t know Jackson Pollock,” Inky says. I ask him if he ever became acquainted with the artists and he shrugs. “I didn’t bother much with groups. I have social anxiety.”
And that might be the crux of it. During a time when being an experimental and modern artist was the thing to do, Inky’s paintings of crumbling Venetian buildings and rusted gas pumps, lonely SoHo alleyways, the grassy dunes of Gerard Drive and the dark blue canals with empty gondolas, recalled a more traditional school rooted in Impressionism. That, coupled with the social anxiety, made self-promotion difficult. Though Inky says that “as fast as I could paint ’em I sold ’em,” and despite showing in Milan and Lucca, Italy and in numerous galleries spanning Long Island, he remains a relative unknown.
But fame and recognition were never things with which Inky concerned himself. For him, painting was as necessary as breathing. He began traveling to Venice with Barbara, sometimes staying as long as three months in a small apartment they rented just off the Grand Canal. He tells me, “There are more paintings in Venice than you could imagine—every street, every corner, every building.” For him, it was the light on the water, the texture of cobblestones, the bright red of shutters. Those where the things that mattered.
Inky laughs softly, “My son says, ‘Think she’ll ask you what’s the meaning of art?’ and I says, ‘I hope not.’ But I thought of an answer anyway.” He pauses for effect. “Art is everything…and art is nothing.”