Frank’s crabs and birthday wisdom for the ages

by Brian Clarey

This happened on the ass end of 2007, right before Christmas.

I was sitting in my living room flipping through the TV channels; my wife, after putting the last of our unruly Irish brood into his cell for the night, approached me all excited.

“I forgot to tell you,” she said. “Frank Russell has crabs!”

I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a drink in my hand, but through the idealized lens of memory I executed a spit take worthy of Don Knotts.

Our dear friend, the artist and philosopher Frank Russell, has crabs? Good lord, woman, why are you telling me this, and how did you find out?

But really what I said was, “What?!”

And my wife favored me with the kind of look that, here in the South, usually is paired with the sentiment, “Bless his heart.”

“He’s got crabs in the window of his gallery,” she said, and was kind enough not to add: “You idiot.”

Because though he first found his artistic voice as an abstract painter, Frank is probably best known for the found-object fish he churns out at an incredible pace from his studio and gallery, Artmongerz on South Elm Street in Greensboro. And he not only crafts piscine visages out of hubcaps, barbecue grills, tin cocktail trays and such, he sometimes creates other sea creatures like seahorses, lobsters and turtles.

And, of course, crabs.

Frank’s the kind of guy who appreciates stories like this, so when I had an opportunity to call him last week I relayed the tale.

“Oh man, that’s funny,” he said. “I could build a whole installation around that one.”

I can see the poster now: “Frank Russell Has Crabs!” in 36-point bold across the top, with a black-and-white photo of the artist in the center, affecting a Zappaesque smirk and, possibly, holding a found-object crab.


The reason I called him was so I could put the touch on him: Regular readers may know that a film I worked on for the Greensboro 48-Hour Film Project has seen some success and has given us, the filmmakers, an opportunity to screen the thing at the Festival de Cannes, that crazy-mondo movie orgy held each spring in the south of France. And regular readers may also intuit that when I get a chance like this, I am all over it like crabs on a hair-metal band roadie, and I don’t care if I have to sell a kidney – my own kidney, even – to make it happen.

That’s the thing: Most of us on the Keene Collaboration film crew have young families, limited incomes and all sorts of pressing financial demands that, unfortunately, preclude springtime jaunts to the French Riviera to party – uh, I mean work – with film-industry heavies, A-list actors and up-and-coming starlets.

So we’re accepting charitable contributions on our website,, and holding a big fundraiser April 30 on the Greene Street rooftop at around 5 p.m. where we’ll screen the movie, showcase a few local bands, give out some free brews and food and hopefully piece together the last few thousand we need for this trip.

I asked Frank if he would donate a piece for the silent auction. He paused.

“What’s in it for me?” he asked.

“To be honest,” I said, “not all that much.”

“Man,” he said, “you gotta work on your pitch.” And then he agreed to donate not one, but two pieces for the event, and he plans to make them specifically for the fundraiser, using themes of film and France and whatever else his wonderfully abnormal mind can cook up.

Love that guy.

And please, everybody… come on out on April 30 to meet and congratulate all the filmmakers, most of whom worked much harder than I did on this great little project.


One more quick note: I am writing this column on Sunday, April 13, which as it happens is my 38th birthday.

I’m at the age now where birthdays are not such a big deal, and 38… well… like I say: What’s the big deal?

Well, for one, I seriously never though I would live this long. If you met me 15 years ago you wouldn’t even recognize me. A lot of my friends from back then had me pegged as a future member of the Forever 27 Club, along with Jimi, Jim, Janis and Kurt, though what I had in common with those folks was not musical talent.

But I’ve lived an entire lifetime, it feels, in the last 10 years. I met my wife. I started a family. I got serious about my career. I bought a house. I cut off my hair. I started to exercise and eat better. And not to sound too corny, but I learned quite a bit about what life, love and happiness are all about.

I’m not one who spends too much time looking backward, and I’m a man of few regrets. But when I do cast an eye on my 38th year – appropriate, I believe, on my birthday – I’m satisfied that it was a good one. I’m happy with my job. My family is healthy and safe. And like I try to do every year, I get a little bit better at living my life, learning the lessons I’m supposed to and letting the people I care about know how I feel.

Life is short. Love is eternal.

That is all.

For questions or comments email Brian Clarey at