A stroke of genius: He’s young and hungry but the ideas come fast

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 7, 1987

Frank Lindner was too young to buy a copy of Playboy at most stores when he went to work as the magazine’s art historian. Before leaving his teens, he had worked his way into a job that sounds like every man’s fantasy come to life.

Today, the 22-year-old bachelor is works as a free-lance art director and illustrator for the Limelight nightclub. His latest work – a series of sensual murals dubbed “Erotic Haze” – is on exhibit through October at the Limelight, 632 N. Dearborn.

But back to those early years, before a summer job brought new direction to Lindner’s life.

Even as a boy, Lindner knew he wanted a career in art. In grammar school at St. Sebastian School, 810 W. Wellington, he found pleasure in sketching and painting. When he was 13, he took a class in drawing human figures class at the Art Institute of Chicago. Sometimes he’d ketch landscapes, but his heart – and talent – was in painting women. He loved to capture their shapes, detail the curves of their bodies.

He enrolled at Lane Technical High School in 1978, but found the work too  rigid. He stayed one year before transferring to the now-defunct Chicago Metro High School, which encouraged creative writing and art. Metro’s flexible curriculum gave him the encouragement he needed to exercise his imagination.

“Metro was like an alternative school in that you could make up classes and get credit for them,” Lindner says.”I made up a class called Restaurant Critique, where I’d go out to restaurants, eat, go home and write about them, and then hand the papers in to class. I did the same thing with movies. For a 15-year-old to have this kind of freedom (was) really great.”

After his sophomore year, Lindner applied for a summer internship at Playboy.

Not surprisingly, there were scores of applicants in the running. Lindner’s extensive background of art projects at school and his established qualifications gave him an edge  and he captured the coveted position. He helped arrange the many art exhibits in the Playboy Building, cataloged paintings in the magazine’s collection and did a bit of  art restoration.

From the start, the magazine staff was impressed with his work.

“He was an energetic kid, very talented and willing,” recalls Barbara Hoffman, administrative manager of the art department.

“We had him doing busywork at first, but we found out he had his own talents. And accordingly, he moved up the ladder before he quit. We hated to see him go, but I think what he’s done at the Limelight is really wonderful. Someone like him will go far.”

The summer internship helped Lindner decide about his future. With his parents’ approval, he quit school to take a full-time job as Playboy’s art historian.

“I really was for it because I knew he could do it,” says his mother, Lana Stowe. “As a child he was always sketching and I could see that he was talented and interested.  When he told me that’s what he wanted to do, I encouraged him.

“A lot of folks would’ve gotten upset about letting their 16-year-old quit school to work.  But I think they knew that I had made a serious decision at an early age, and they respected me enough to honor my choice. They made it that much easier for me because I didn’t have to rebel against them not letting me do this.”

His job as art historian was an expansion of his duties as a summer intern. He managed auctions of graphics from the magazine and arranged art exhibitions. Landing such a plum assignment at a young age wasn’t much of a big deal, he says. “I presented a somewhat professional portfolio and I did what I was told. So the fact that I was a teenager didn’t really work against me. I had to prove that I could hold my own. Once that was done, there were no problems.”

Shortly after he started working full-time, Lindner’s superiors offered him a chance to demonstrate his own artistic talents. The first assignment: Paint a tattoo of a bunny in a heart on a Playmate’s breast. He used acrylic paint and theatrical greasepaint because they can be applied to the body easily.

“It was a little nerve-wracking because I was young, you know. But you know, it was a job.”

It took time, but he became more accustomed to working with beautiful women, clothed or unclothed. When he had to bodypaint a model so it would look as though she were wearing a bicycle-racing uniform, he did the job in an hour.

“Painting bodies was never a big goal for me. You know the saying, `A model is an artist’s canvas’? Well it’s true for me. The models are very professional. You can’t be a jerk when you’re dealing in a personal situation like that. Otherwise the woman will feel uncomfortable.”

Friends tittered about the “fringe benefits” of his job, but Lindner kept his cool.

“I had to be professional about it because I could get fired if I messed around on the job,” he said. “Plus, I have to get the work done in a hurry before the paint cracks. I guess a lot of guys would envy my job, but, I mean, I just do my job and then leave. If it didn’t bother the women (who posed), it didn’t bother me.”

Lindner was promoted to art director of Playboy’s products and licensing division last year. He did illustrations for Playboy advertisements and designs for the now-shuttered Empire Club in New York.

His six years at Playboy, he says, were a more complete learning experience than he could have gained through formal training in art school classes. Leaving the organization a few months ago was a major and somewhat difficult decision.

“It was nice going to work 9 to 5, but it also is a challenge striking out on my own. I was a little nervous at first, but I think I made the right choice. I’m very grateful to Playboy for giving me a chance at such a young age. I really learned a lot from them.”

Today, Lindner works on his own at the Limelight, moving  at a fast pace and usually using bright colors and voluptuous subjects.         His Erotic Haze murals at Limelight cover more than 7,000 feet of wall space in the Dome Room – a project completed in just under four weeks. Part of the work was done by spraying paint through air guns, a technique he calls a more refined form of graffiti painting. He also used a cherry picker to ride 50 feet up so he could paint the top of the dome.

“That was a pretty intense project because it was so huge,” says Lindner. “I wasn’t sure if I had taken more than I could handle in the beginning, but as I worked I knew I could complete it. But I started to get nauseous up in the cherry picker because there was nothing to hold on to, so it would wobble. I was glad to get the dome painted and get back down to ground level again.”

The woman on whom he bodypainted a cyclist costume at Playboy was the inspiration for one of his Limelight murals. The paintings, which highlight various women’s appendages, also include a couple of raised fists (a la Billy Idol) and a muscular torso. Lindner says he would have preferred to have done only female parts, but the club requested that he paint something women would find erotic as well. Of his artwork featuring women, he says “It’s not sexist, just emphasizing the beauty in the world.”

His mother and an aunt recently went to see his work. “They said, `It figures Frank’d draw dirty pictures up on the wall,’ ” Lindner recalls, laughing. “They were just kidding. They actually liked it a lot. My mom’s really pretty cool. She had a good time.”

Lindner, who moved into his own apartment at 16, says his early independence made him value his family even more because he wasn’t with them all the time. He fondly recalls the days when his mom would cook dinner for him. Now he relies on microwave dishes and restaurants for his meals.

Chicago fashion photographer and magazine publisher Stan Malinowski commissioned Lindner to do airbrush paintings of porn star Seka for the first issue of Metro Chicago, and of Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, a former Chicagoan.

“Those two ladies were really fun to meet because they were so different,” says Lindner. “It’s still fun for me to meet celebrities because I guess I’m still a little in awe of them.”

Hanging in his studio is an autographed photo of Seka, inscribed, “You have given me the best strokes I have ever had. Thanks for the rush.  Lustfully yours, Seka.”

“We’re just friends,” he says, laughing.”I guess she was happy with the painting I did of her.”

Meeting celebrities isn’t the only perk he reaps from his work. For designing logos and graphics for Europa Limousines, he was given use of a Mercedes 500 SEL. “It’s a beautiful car, but I feel so ostentatious coming out of a thing like that in my jeans,” says Lindner, who doesn’t own a car. “Maybe I’d feel less so coming out of a  Porsche.”

This young artist is obviously not starving. He declines to discuss his annual income, but he cheerfully admits to paying $1,000 a month for  a studio in the upscale River North area.

His scarce leisure time is devoted  to lifting weights. A trip to California to relax  is on hold for the present.

He calls sleep his favorite night hobby, something he hasn’t been doing enough of lately. “I was used to working 9 to 5 at Playboy,” he says. “With the murals I did for the Limelight, I had really erratic hours.  But, it’s fun because I can work there, go out and eat, and then go back there in the evening for drinks.”

The Limelight also has proved to be a rich source of business contacts. Through club manager Russ Brunelli, Lindner met Frank Rossi of Martin and Rossi. Lindner has been hired by Rossi to work on his two London nightclubs. Brunelli also introduced Lindner to a representative of Goody’s Records in New York, where Lindner will paint wall murals.

“I know he’s worth introducing to these people,” Brunelli says. “I think Frank is a really talented young guy who’s worth promoting. We’re very lucky to have him working with us.”

Energetic and ambitious, Lindner describes himself as “an art slut” who wants to work for everybody. He has a New York-based agent who gets him work on the East Coast and he works as his own agent in Chicago. He also wants to break into the Los Angeles market. “I would also love to work for publications like Vanity Fair and Chicago,” he says

At the moment he says he has no long-range plans, although he is considering dabbling in photography in the future.

“I have to take it a step at a time, but I love working and keeping busy.  And even though everyone says I’m young and have a lot of time to do everything I want to do, I feel like I’ve got to hurry before it all ends.”

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