Ian Francis at Corey Helford

Ian Francis: Changing the Season with Artificial Winter. Photo Courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery.

Ian Francis: Artificial Winter at Corey Helford

By Genie Davis

Through November 25th

Both figurative and abstract, Ian Francis’ Artificial Winter turns its own graceful constructions inside out. The U.K.-based artist works in acrylic, oil, charcoal and ink, creating works that are both socially aware, jolting, and beautifully, in some ways traditionally, rendered. The canvases are vibrantly colorful yet dark, dreamlike and surreal and yet again grounded in a recognizable landscape.

On view at Corey Helford Gallery through November 25th, this is Francis’ first solo show with the gallery. Francis calls his works a critique and celebration of our media-dominated lifestyle, and describes his subjects here as “pornography and news reports from war-zones rather than sex and death.” There are certainly dense, murky undercurrents to his works here, which confront the saturation of every aspect of our lives with media and technology.

Francis asserts that he loves technology but perceives the “extent to which it would come to dominate our relationships with each other, our own self-image and our perception of reality” as out of control. The intertwining of media as a spectator sport with individual participation in that media is the true subject here; the entanglement between the watched and watcher, the multiple ways in which people who were once passive viewers are now shaping themselves into the active subjects they see on their screens, or at least attempting to do so. And the real question here is, at what cost?

The artist expresses this enmeshment and the mutability of our desires and interactions within his painting style, shifting from bold, decisive figurative elements to more fragile abstract ones. He says that his work has always been based on photography and film, and certainly there is a visceral, filmic quality to these works. His surreal world becomes hyper realistic within the context of the scenes he displays.

Ian Francis: Changing the Season with Artificial Winter. Photo Courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery.

In “Two Mannequins Wash Up On The Shoreline,” the very realistically rendered  mannequins appear to be lying on slabs, corpse-like, while waves both frothy and tinged with sunset fire are about to not lap over them but consume them, or have consumed them. That’s a very cinematic image, it’s a dissolve in mid-dissolve. It is also representative of a shifting in perception, not unlike a filtering of everyday occurrences through social media, or our daily diet of news. The incessant barrage, whether it is relentless waves of technological smoke signals from tweets, newsfeeds, and cable networks, is devouring us.

In “Two People Face Their Idols But Realise They Exist On A Different Scale,” two partially clothed, very relatable human figures, their backs turned to the viewer, are looking at two distorted, enlarged facial images, images that could be projected on a JumboTron screen. Those faces are incomplete, filled with visual static, towering over the human protagonists. The static, the technological noise, appear to be overtaking the couple, sifting over them.

The story-telling moment in these two paintings and in each of the works in this exhibition is frozen for viewers to contemplate – which fits the title of the show. Very vital, very surreal moments are captured and immoveable, giving the viewer time to contemplate the meaning, to digest the images that have in many ways taken over our lives. For just a moment – a treasured, forever-moment hanging on the gallery walls – the constantly moving and shifting trajectory of media, social media, and technology is stilled.

Francis says the title was inspired by a science podcast on global warming and ways to alleviate its impact, but the words led Francis elsewhere, into the idea of trying to control the world. Interestingly, by creating these works, Francis has controlled his world, and by association, ours, forcing us to look inward instead of outward, not at creating a perfect “us” for mass consumption, but at the person within who desires to control and create.

As beautiful as these paintings are, there is also a sense of fragility and doom contained in them. If we should take our gaze away, even for a moment, there is no telling what will happen next.

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