reviews & essays

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BACK & FORTH
Victoria: Slide Room Gallery, 2016
Essay: Karen Louise Jones

Jane Francis’ large-scale abstract paintings capture the essence and energy of plant forms. These are physical paintings for Francis as many of the works are the same size or larger than her.  Her process begins by standing in front of her work and visualizing the way plant forms grow in nature; taking the time to imagine how she will express the sensation of the plant growth. Then, using the force of her entire body, and often painting with both hands simultaneously, she begins to make her highly expressive gestural marks. 

The confidence and strength conveyed in these latest paintings is evidence that Francis has dedicated the last eight months to drawing and painting her responses to various plant forms. Assiduously working through this single idea, the repetition of her actions has become part of her implicit memory; her body unburdened from focusing on details, allowing Francis to more freely make her visceral marks and connect with the paintings.

There is direct ancestry in Francis’ work to the works of gestural abstraction artists such as: Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline, and Helen Frankenthaler. Like Francis, these artists were interested in making art that is instinctual, spontaneous, and dynamic. Francis’ expressive, loose brush marks, full engagement of her body in the painting process, and working “in” her paintings firmly root her work in this genre. 

Francis’ work also contains characteristics of Zen calligraphy, both visually and in the meditative approach to her paintings. However, freed from the confines of factual letter making, Francis is responding to the memory of a shape or a form. The paint from her brush records and conveys each bodily movement, position and pressure. Respecting and acknowledging what has come before, Francis does not conceal previous marks; rather each new layer adds to the complexity of the work. 

The paintings are a continuance of earlier drawings and paintings, and while Francis maintains the limited palette of earth tones, black paint is now a dominant medium. In some works the paint is layered and collage is added to build up surfaces that form a relief appearance, giving the work a sculptural quality. The gestural marks are powerful and deliberate, crossing over and through each other to create opaque mappings of the energy of Francis’ movements; the velocity of her actions documented. The opacity of the thick marks give way to raw areas of the substrate and delicate washes of earth-toned paint; providing enough tension to offer a sense of depth and emergent life. 

While Francis’ work began with the idea of natural plant forms, it soon became more about the abstract nature of making marks to represent her responses to the life forces and characteristics of her subject matter. Through her dedication to her idea, and her expressive, gestural brush marks, Francis is capturing the ineffable patterns of growth and life forces. 

 

IN THE THICK OF IT
Victoria: Slide Room Gallery, 2015
Essay: Karen Louise Jones

The most immediately striking feature of Jane Francis’ recent abstract drawings on paper is their dramatically large scale; the two life-sized drawings invite the viewer to fully engage with them. The gestural graphite marks of gently arching and curving lines weave in and out of each other with graceful femininity. Reminiscent of natural forms each drawing is an idiosyncratic representation of nature’s offerings; carefully examined, assimilated and translated.

The larger of the two drawings is titled Close of Day, whose graphite marks disappear and re-appear and are interwoven with translucent washes of watercolour that is kept to a limited palette of earth tones. The paint is both poured and brushed, allowed to pool in some areas and drips off the bottom edge of the paper, refusing to be restrained. The layered washes of paint combined with areas of raw paper provide the drawing with a sense of lightness and openness; a chance for the drawing and the viewer to breathe.

I have an overwhelming sense of knowing the space Francis has created in this work: I am reminded of looking up through the gently entwined branches of a birch tree in the fall; almost barren of its leaves, but just enough remain to provide a comforting glow in the late day setting sun. My thoughts jump to Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea. Although Frankenthaler’s use of thinned oil paints to stain the canvas is counter to Francis’ chosen media, it is clear Francis, like Frankenthaler is inspired by nature; not to overtly represent it, but to capture its essence.

In Conusphilia Francis does not use paint; instead she allows the dark graphite lines to dominate the paper. I am reminded of a contour drawing, the marks are strong and feel determined; the lines are heavy evidence of the physicality of its’ making. The meandering lines weave across the paper creating a sense of following a thought, a memory or a feeling. The drawing is evocative of an outstretched human form engaged in a solo dance; perhaps a reflection of the artist at work.

Francis says her current drawings are a departure from previous work. Nonetheless, she continues to draw on her experience from her graphic design career, her love of nature and light, and the ‘in between spaces’. With these drawings she has put away source material, freeing herself to make immediate, intuitive marks; relying on her personal experiences of nature. These are physical drawings; using both hands simultaneously. I imagine an orchestra conductor’s performance. These large-scale works are fluid, rhythmic and graceful.  

 

ARTIST’S ASIDE
Victoria: Village Vibe, 2015
Article: Jillian Player

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Gazing at the large abstract paintings that recline against Jane Francis’s studio walls, I am intrigued by the tender graphite marks that reside in the spaces between an explosion of paint strokes. Her inspiration from nature, and her walks around our Fernwood neighbourhood, trigger Jane’s imagination to produce complex yet pleasing abstracts. Layers of thin washes of acrylic over graphite markings give the paintings an ambiguous, ethereal quality. There is confidence in composition but there is also vulnerability and curiosity.

Jane Francis is embarking on a new adventure, a new way of being, a new career. With a background in fine arts and commercial arts, she has worked tirelessly in the field of graphic design for many years, creating a successful business until her retirement a few months ago. She now just wants to paint.

Jane seems to get her cues for making life-changing decisions from influential people. In the late eighties, while working for a publishing house in Boston, her employer gave her the opportunity to live and work where she desired. Jane chose Victoria. Within weeks of arriving she acquired the Belfry Theatre as her first client and she has designed their print material for the last twenty-three years. Her studio was in the theatre’s tower until her business outgrew it. Another trigger for change came when her father-in-law passed away. A passionate and acclaimed academic, he wrote until his dying day at the age of eighty-nine. This inspired both Jane and her partner to make career changes.

Jane began exploring art instruction and collaboration with her friend Jo-Ann Richards. Another influential friend encouraged Jane to enter a piece in the 2014 Sooke Fine Art Show. To her surprise she won an Award for Excellence. Jane and Jo-Ann just had their first show together at the new Baumann Centre where it was a huge success. Strengthened by her recent successes, Jane is now embarking on a year of artistic introspection by enrolling in Vancouver Island School of Art’s rigorous Independent Studio Program. I’m sure that Jane’s conviction and verve will produce a flurry of compelling work. See Jane’s work at janefrancis.com