Artist explores facets of female faces

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Carol Sorgen

As a young art student, Espi Frazier belonged to a group of mixed media artists and performers dedicated to changing audience perceptions of African Americans.

In her upcoming solo show at the Hamilton Gallery during November, Frazier, now 60, strives to do the same for women — one of her favorite subjects.

The 18 black and white illustrations that make up “The Many Faces of Beauty” depict the faces of a variety of women of various ethnic backgrounds. “True beauty is not limited by race, age, gender,” Frazier said.

Frazier focuses on faces because she believes one’s face truly shows a person’s being and state of mind, and that the eyes reflect what is in the soul.

An early artistic start

Frazier has been enchanted with drawing since she first picked up a pencil at the age of 5. The Chicago native, who was raised in a foster home, credits her talented foster mother with setting a creative example by showing young Espi how to cook, design clothes, crochet and much more.

“I watched what she did and I learned,” said the Loch Raven resident.

Frazier completed a BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. For many years, she has taught art at Friends Middle School in Baltimore.

“Espi Frazier’s creative flare, her cool demeanor, and her demanding approach in her classes brings out the artist in all of her students,” said Friends Middle School principal Scott Harrington. “They love it, and they love Espi.”

She originally focused on fashion illustration, but in addition to her drawings and illustrations, she has developed her own “wood graphics” process that uses colored inks on relief wood carvings. She also works with mixed media, including mosaic tiles, glass, beads and copper nails.

Her favorite Egyptian symbol, the Ankh — representing life — shows up in much of her work.

Drawn to drawing

Though Frazier is well-known for her life-sized carvings, she said that drawing is her favorite medium. She uses a pencil to help her define layers, and pen and ink to explore design and pattern, which helps create her visual language.

Frazier also enjoys drawing in black and white as she feels it is equal to and sometimes more compelling than color.

Frazier credits African American and social realist artist Charles White as a strong inspiration for her work. “His understanding of light, shadow and depth of emotion was powerful, and showed me the importance of mastering the ability to draw well all the time,” said Frazier.

Frazier’s work has been showcased on HGTV Modern Masters, WJZ-TV Art International’s Art Competition, and Contemporary Craft Masters, and is in several private collections.

Though Frazier’s professional life as an artist has been multifaceted, she always returns to her first love — drawing. She said her drawings for the upcoming show were all done since this past summer, when Frazier would just sit back and watch a movie, with a pen or pencil “twirling around” in her hand.

Frazier so enjoyed the experience of creating these drawings that she thinks she may continue the series. “I love the feeling of a pencil in my hand,” she said.

The opening reception for “The Many Faces of Beauty” will be held on Friday, Nov. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Hamilton Gallery, 5502 Harford Rd. Gallery hours are Tuesday, 6 to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Friday, 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, 1 to 9 p.m.

For more information, visit or call (443) 248-1119.