Fran Siegel’s “Reconstruction” at Acme
by Lorraine Heitzman
Fran Siegel’s current exhibit “Reconstruction” brings attention to the vitality, breadth and complexity of our contemporary urban landscape. It also showcases the artist’s impressive talent for integrating massive amounts of visual information into coherent, powerful images.
Her two mural-sized works on paper are knockouts. Siegel draws, paints, and layers her cityscapes with cyanotypes, a method of reproduction most often associated with architectural blueprints. These monochromatic images of crudely cut building fragments, highways and skylines can be seen under careful inspection, but abstraction dominates in the same way that a Chuck Close portrait is a different painting depending upon your vantage point. Step back a few feet and things begin to magically coalesce; the subject of the work comes into focus.
In “Overland 18” the viewer hovers above a sprawling, dense city that stretches out towards the horizon. Rather than feeling distanced by this perspective, we are immersed in the imagery because of the sheer size of the work. The energy is palpable, possessing the appearance of an electrical circuit board with the implication that this network may be overloaded.
In “Bridge 01”, the scale of the work is equally large, but the viewer is closer to the action. The piece references the rebuilding of the Gerald Desmond Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles, not far from the artist’s studio. The details are more apparent; an easily discernible crane extends almost beyond the frame and vignettes of construction are knitted together into the larger image. Despite the fractured and frenetic qualities of these bigger pieces, the entirety of the cityscape is united by Siegel’s vision as a collagist. She takes disparate materials and unifies them, creating a new, singular image as she incorporates multiple viewpoints and scale.
Looking at the smaller paintings on display provides insight into her process. One of the strongest of these works is “Apparatus 2”, a small painting on paper. Against a woozy striated blue and white abstract sky, electrical towers fill the frame. Their loose geometry contrasts against the organic background, but they are nevertheless integrated through a careful balancing act of perspective versus flatness, verticals versus horizontals and man made versus natural. Created in 2015, the same year as “Overland 18” and one year before “Bridge 01”, Siegel can be seen working out a common concern: How abstract and complex can she make an image and retain the identity of its subject?
Another standout is the small painting, “Power Plant”. Capturing a power plant at night, glowing yellow against a backdrop of a dark sky, Siegel depicts a grid of rectangles in loosely painted strokes. Her limited palette is an important tool used to unify many elements, but it is also the imperfect hand in her drawing that carries significance. In all her work, the evidence of her hand represents her humanity, and by inference, ours too. The messy painting and not so careful cutouts keep Siegel’s work firmly rooted in the handmade while they depict the man made/ machine made landscapes. They are not blueprints for some future dystopian metropolis by an artist who deplores the nature of our urban sprawl. Siegel’s view is more celebratory. Her large cityscapes are exuberant in their size and technique and manage to express both beauty and complexity in her sweeping views of civilization.
Now on view at ACME through October 22.