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(1946 – 2013), United States

Frank Moore Biography

A prominent American art world AIDS activist, Frank Moore painted fantastical and politically insightful images of nature. His surreal alternate universes grapple with topics of greed, homophobia, corruption, environmental degradation, and death.

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Early Life

Born in Manhattan and raised on Long Island, New York, Frank Moore took an early interest in nature during summers spent in the Adirondacks upstate. Studying Art and Psychology at Yale College, Moore graduated in 1975. Continuing his studies, in 1977 Moore spent a year studying in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts.

Frank Moore's New York City return in 1979 saw the artist establish himself in the Manhattan's fast-emerging counter-cultural district of SoHo. While collaborating on theatre and dance projects, Moore turned his attention to painting and drawing in the 1980s. His first solo show was held at the Clocktower in Tribeca in 1983.

Figurative Paintings and Drawings

Frank Moore's seminal work of the 1980s and 1990s consists of highly detailed, figurative paintings and drawings that offer constellations of surreal imagery set within natural environments and landscapes.

Nature plays an important role in Moore's work. Not overtly political, his works created intertwining ecosystems of nature and human elements with emblems of greed, industrialisation, environmental degradation, homophobia, spirituality, and death.

Exemplary of Moore's green-fingered surrealism, Moore's series of images from the late 1980s and 1990s depict humans, mystical figures, and insects interacting and coexisting. In The Client (1995), commissioned by fashion designer Gianni Versace, the artist portrays the celebrated fashion designer dressing a praying mantis.

In the mid-1990s, Moore created a series of paintings of severed hands making the Buddhist 'mandala offering' mudra—a Buddhist symbol of releasing worldly attachments. Within them, the artist presents an itemised visualisation of his worldly possessions. Around the same time, Moore also created a series of oil paintings of the Niagara Falls onto which he silkscreened the formulas for the chemicals polluting the iconic waterway.

Visual AIDS and Activism

In 1985 Frank Moore was diagnosed as HIV positive. Over his 17-year battle with the disease, Moore became a prominent AIDs activist. He was a founding member of Visual AIDS, an organisation dedicated to HIV-positive artists and their legacy. Moore also played a key role in founding the Red Ribbon Project, establishing a universal symbol for AIDS awareness. He succumbed to the illness in 2002.

Themes relating to AIDS, bioethics, healthcare, homophobia and homosexuality, and death also became prevalent in Moore's art as he grappled with the virus. In Gulliver Awake (1994–1995), a young man attempts to break free of the ropes of societal constraints and illness on a sea of pills and other medicines.

Medicine is a dominant feature in much of Moore's later work. Wizard (1994), Frank Moore's opus of AIDS symbolism, features a landscape of AIDS and HIV drugs, as well as a burning pire of wooden coffins bearing the names of people he knew who had passed away from AIDs.

In his works of the late 1990s, Moore produced a number of bed paintings. In works like Patient (1997–1998) and Prairie (1999), bedsheets transform into landscapes, lakes, and snowy tundras traversed by buffalo herds. A Later work, Beacon (2001), presents a surreal, nightmarish, and morbid scene: an emaciated figure in a hospital bed sinks beneath a tempestuous sea, as syringe wielding tentacles rise up from the deep.


Frank Moore's solo exhibitions include More Life: Frank Moore, David Zwirner (2021); Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore, Grey Art Gallery (2012); Frank Moore: Green Thumb in a Dark Eden, Orlando Museum of Art, Florida (2002); Nature/Culture and the postmodern Sublime, Bard College, New York (1996); and Drawings for the Theater, Abbaye Royale a Fontevraud, France (1985).

Moore's group exhibitions include Brighten the Corners: Art of the 1990s from the Tang Teaching Museum Collection, Saratoga Arts, Saratoga Springs, New York (2021); Art after Stonewall, 1969–1989, Grey Art Gallery, New York (2019); Art AIDS America, Tacoma Art Museum, Seattle (2015); Into Me/Out of Me, MoMA PS1, New York (2006); Political Nature, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2004); and From Media to Metaphor – Art about AIDS, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montreal (1992).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021

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