Frame's identity is even harder to pin down in the three other self-portraits from the '90s. A collaboration with Swihart, titled "Tenax Vitae: A Double Portrait of John Frame," depicts him in duplicate. "My Sebastian: If I Fade" shows him in triplicate. And "Self-Portrait: On the Narrow Sea" portrays him in quadruplicate.
In all three, the various facets of Frame's personality appear to be conversing among themselves. Similar conversations transpire in many other works from this time, including dialogues between a monkey and a puppet ("Strapping Boy"), a ventriloquist and a dummy ("God's Bugs!"), and a cripple and a wood nymph ("Was It for This the Clay Grew Tall?").
The 16 pieces Frame made since 2000 are his most elegant works. Forms are refined, compositions simplified and stories stripped of inessentials. "One ... John" draws portraiture, Hopi kachinas and the biblical story of John the Baptist's death into a compact icon that is as riddling as the sphinx. In other works, carefully observed human musculature, flesh and skin, along with the sensuous twists of masterfully carved tree branches, replace the imperfectly pieced-together parcels that predominated in the past. Cast bronze in the form of a wild boar and a masked pilot (who appears twice) adds to Frame's increasingly realistic repertoire of sympathetic misfits.
Like all of his works, these evoke such kindred spirits as H.C. Westermann and Michael McMillen, two other hardworking artists whose handcrafted miniatures never take their eyes off the big picture. Part puppeteer, preacher, philosopher and poet, Frame is a jack-of-all-trades with a singular vision that's able to sustain so many stories some always seem new.
'Enigma Variations: The Sculpture of John Frame, 1980-2005'
Where: Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, until 8 p.m. Thursdays
Ends: April 10
Price: $5 adults; $4 students, seniors; free for children under 12
Contact: (562) 439-2119