A film still from “2nd Eulogy: Mind The Gap,” by artist Billy Gerard Frank, who grew up in Grenada and now lives in New York. His work will be on display this summer at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Portland. Courtesy of Elizabeth Moss Galleries

It started with a suitcase.

Multimedia artist and filmmaker Billy Gerard Frank hadn’t returned to his home country, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, in decades.

He left as a teenager after growing estranged from a region of the world where living as a gay person meant ostracization, or worse. Grenada still has so-called buggery laws, which prohibit sexual contact between two men.

Frank revisited for the first time five years ago, after the death of his father, and the long-awaited return was both cathartic and creatively inspirational.

“I found this suitcase he had that was filled with letters and mementos and maps,” he said. “That sort of became the impetus to mine his life and also mine my life alongside his.”

The result was a series of work that will be on display, beginning this month and running through mid-August, at Elizabeth Moss Galleries on Fore Street in Portland. His solo exhibit, “Eulogies,” includes a film installation, set mostly in Grenada, accompanied by multimedia collage canvases, mixed-media photographs and sculpture. The series explores themes of exile, colonialism and sexuality, all of them personal to the artist.


Self portrait of Billy Gerard Frank with his artwork in the background. Photo by Billy Gerard Frank

Frank, who is in his late 40s, has been getting plenty of attention in the art world – he has twice represented Grenada at the Venice Biennale, a major arts and cultural exhibition in Italy, and at shows in New York, where he now lives – but this is his first exhibit in Maine.

He’s no stranger to the state, though. In the ’90s and 2000s, Frank dated a Maine resident, and he also worked for five years as a studio assistant to New York abstract expressionist painter John Hultberg, who had deep ties to the state.

Hultberg – along with his then-wife, artist Lynne Drexler – had been coming to the artist colony on Monhegan Island for years, and Frank sometimes accompanied Hultberg there.

“I grew up on a small island that’s known for boatbuilding and fishing, and my own dad was a boatbuilder, so there’s a lot of connection I felt to Maine,” Frank said.

“Except the weather is different,” he added with a laugh.

Moss, whose original gallery in Falmouth has been operating since 2004, opened the downtown location last year.


“I was interested in showing more national artists in the Portland gallery, as well as a more diverse perspective,” she said. “I looked at his work and immediately fell in love with his eye.”


Grenada is a chain of islands in the southern Caribbean, northeast of Venezuela, that’s home to a little more than 100,000 residents. Most live on the larger main island, but Frank grew up on a smaller island – Petit Martinique – with a population of less than 1,000.

Like many island nations in the region, Grenada was under British control for centuries and only gained independence in 1974. Still, life there changed little. It was still overwhelmingly Christian, and its collective attitude toward homosexuality remained hostile.

Frank said he realized early on “there was not a place for me in the Caribbean growing up there as a gay person.”

At 16, he left his home and family for the United Kingdom, where he began painting and exploring experimental video and art installation. He then moved to New York as a young man and continued studying studio art. That’s how he met and came to work for Hultberg.


Although he was still interested in painting, Frank started to branch out even more. He studied production design and filmmaking and even founded a film festival in Brooklyn, the Nova Frontier Film Festival & Lab, that showcases works of filmmakers and artists from and about the African diaspora, the Middle East and Latin America.

“I think I’m primarily a multidisciplinary artist now,” he said. “Painting, sculpture, films. Whatever the particular series needs is how I develop the work.”

Frank has always drawn from his own life for inspiration, but never more so that in his current series, “Eulogies.”

One of the things he realized in learning about his father and his own upbringing is how much he was exposed to art, albeit in non-traditional ways.

“My dad, who was primarily a boatbuilder, was an incredible carpenter. He had a deep appreciation for aesthetic,” Frank said. “He was an artist himself, just not by name. Anytime he built something, he knew it had to be beautiful.”

Frank’s mother had similar sensibilities. She worked as a seamstress, sometimes even for local theater companies in Grenada.


“She never considered herself an artist, either, and I think about that quite a lot now,” he said. “All these people who have a particular craft, those are art forms that are not given as much attention.”

A mixed media canvas by artist Billy Gerard Frank that is part of his exhibit, “Eulogies,” on display this summer at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Portland. Courtesy of Elizabeth Moss Galleries


Frank’s exhibit in Portland isn’t a traditional paintings-on-the-wall presentation.

The centerpiece is a 40-minute film, “2nd Eulogy: Mind The Gap,” that will play on a single screen inside Moss Galleries, complemented by other pieces, including photographic stills from the film, a hand-stitched canvas collage and a sculpture.

The film, Frank said, centers on Nelson, a fisherman, whose gay son, James, comes of age in a changing island landscape. The story is fictional, but James’ story mirrors Frank’s own.


Moss said it wasn’t a challenge to exhibit Frank’s work even though it crossed mediums.

“He’s such a strong artist that each of those different mediums tied to the themes of what he’s trying to explore,” she said.

Moss said the photographic stills from the film are particularly evocative – “complex but visually sensual.”

The suitcase will be part of the exhibit, too.

Frank said the object symbolizes a larger conversation about the geographical displacement and generations of exile of his own family, which has roots in Africa and Scotland.

“I’ve always adopted the philosophy that artists are here to disturb the peace,” he said. “People like myself come from specific regions of the world, we can’t help but be political. It’s a natural part of who I am.”


“I feel it’s important to bring this work to places like Maine that probably needs it more than New York, for instance, because in New York we’re kind of talking to the choir,” he added. “Maine might not be as exposed to Black and queer issues in the arts.”

Frank has plans to spend more time in Maine beyond his exhibit, perhaps even under a residency program where he would create new work. He’s also interested in fostering conversations about art that breaks down barriers between traditional patrons of galleries and the rest of the community.

“I do think it’s an intimidation that the general audience can have,” Frank said. “For many years, institutions as well as galleries have had a white glove sort of approach and catered to an elite society in a sense. And that society has been the patron of the art world.”

Moss said that’s one of the reasons she wanted to open a second gallery.

“In Portland, I’m hoping to provide more of a platform for national voices that might not always reach Maine, and also young artists coming out of art school, to help prop them up,” she said. “Because there is a void.”

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