Anne Francey: Paintings
Sturman: The Waves and Other Recent Work
Gallery, through July 2
curating an art form? It seems in the hands of Firlefanz Gallery
codirector Cathy Frank that it can be. This time, two overlapping
exhibitions—one a pairing of painter Anne Francey and photographer
Timothy Cahill, the other a solo show of ceramic sculpture
in the garden by Audrey Sturman that has spilled into the
gallery—have morphed into a finely tuned three-person show
that, while spontaneously created, looks as though it was
meant to be.
This is the first time Francey’s work has been shown in this
gallery, though her resume is filled with recent exhibitions
at other prominent area venues, as well as a number of exhibitions
abroad, mostly in her native Switzerland. Here, she presents
about a dozen pieces, ranging from 6-foot-tall gestural paintings
on canvas to 2-inch-square scratch-through drawings on paper
mounted to wood blocks. In between are four 2-foot-square
canvases that combine the representational with the abstract.
In all Francey’s pieces, color is a major player: For example,
bold primaries dominate the four large paintings, titled Red
Flower, Blue Flower, Green Flower and Yellow
Flower. But the titular color of each painting, laid on
quickly, covers the background, while the nearly abstract
strokes of the flowers themselves are muted and more layered.
This makes for an interesting game that flattens the pictorial
space, and places the emphasis on the dancelike gestures Francey
has derived from the floral subjects.
Conversely, Francey’s wood-block trio titled Insect Life
I, II and III takes scale way down to the
bugs’ level and features simple but tighter lines in its miniature
confines. The playfulness of these pieces is restored, though,
by the choice to mount them on magnets, making the four blocks
of each piece movable or even interchangeable.
I find the complexity of shapes, lines and, especially, layering
that infuse Francey’s four medium-sized paintings make them
the most satisfying of the work she shows here. Titled Dido’s
Errands I, II, III and IV, they vary
in palette from highly contrasting colors (e.g., blue/orange
and green/red) to a much narrower range, but are all quite
dynamic in their compositions.
Though not entirely abstract, with recognizable vase forms
most prominent, the Dido paintings emphasize the floating
edges of shapes, overlapping layers of paint and textures
of brushmarks. Their obscure visual references and built-up
density also make them seem more personal, urging the viewer
to contemplate and study them, and rewarding the effort with
Color is also a key part of Sturman’s new work, a development
from her last big show at Firlefanz two years ago, which I
recall showed the beginnings of this direction. Now, in addition
to the strong elements of texture along with earth or mineral
tones of the earlier work, Sturman is building up patinas
of reds, blues and greens on her new forms, which continue
to explore their physical relationships in pairs or threes.
These formal juxtapositions are at the core of her process.
In the current Wave studies, organic water and underwater
shapes work in relation to each other but also develop interest
from their beautiful surfaces, such as in the emerald- and
rust-colored Wave Series 29 and the green and rust
Reed Sea. Another pedestal piece, Dark Swell,
has similar colors but verges on the figurative; other larger
pieces placed outside evoke reaching hands, reminding us that
Sturman’s formal explorations will never take her too far
from nature. Then again, we don’t really need reminding—with
the recent rains making everything grow so fast lately, nature
nearly takes over in the gallery’s garden, where Sturman’s
pieces are becoming somewhat overwhelmed by the foliage.
Whether working large or quite small, Sturman always lets
the clay speak; now she is adding other language as well,
taking phrases from sacred texts and rendering them in curling
calligraphic Hebrew that sometimes evokes other ancient or
imaginary scripts, as in Bresheet/In the Beginning,
with its rows and patterns of runic or hieroglyphic marks.
Here, too, color plays a role all over the surface of the
piece, interacting with the inscribed marks in a way that
brings the Middle Eastern traditions of decorative ceramic
tile to mind.
Timothy Cahill hasn’t exactly been hiding his light under
a bushel basket these past 10 or so years, but his re- emergence
from journalistic exile into once again making and showing
art is most welcome. Not surprisingly, the writer is very
much present in these 14 black-and-white photographs taken
from 2000-2004 and printed in an intensive marathon this spring.
This is evident in both the evocative titles and the poetic
sensitivity of the images.
Most of the pictures are taken in close-up—not macro, like
you see flower and insect photographers do, but from a natural
distance that allows comfortable scrutiny of the subject within
a narrowly bounded context. So we peruse a pair of dead sunflowers,
individual fallen leaves, a single pine cone set among waves
of needled branches, or a gathering of natural detritus frozen
into ice as micro-environments signifying themselves but also
intended as metaphors.
Why else would a title such as Apple Leaves As I Found
Them be necessary? With his words, Cahill is guiding us
in interpreting the pictures—and he’s exposing himself. The
intimacy of the pictures, in terms of distance, is matched
by true intimacy from the artist. By taking the risk of letting
us know how he feels, Cahill is making connections with his
One of the techniques that makes this group of pictures particularly
affecting is that they are all sized a bit differently—from
a lovingly made 2 1/2-by-4-inch print titled Torch Leaf
to the 9-by-13-inch, soft-edged Naked Seed, Cahill
has treated each image as an individual with particular needs.
In a few cases, a print is a bit washed out or has blocked
up blacks, showing the rust in his technique. But the majority
hit just the right tones, whether gray or contrasty, to give
you the feel he wants.
Among my favorites are three from 2004 that are shown together,
titled Court, Cloud Hidden (First warm day of February)
and Instead of Writing (Not afraid of winter);
in all three, a surrealistic atmosphere pervades. Also successful
are a pair from 2003 titled Gravitas Levitas and Aura
#25, in which leaves have been temporarily fossilized
by invading ice crystals.
But the best piece is a long horizontal printed on two pieces
of paper butted together that shows a tusklike seedpod arcing
above a delicate little almond-shaped leaf against a dark
ground. Titled Seed and Leaf (For Andy), this photograph
evokes the processes and perils of life: Male and female join,
reproduce, nurture, protect—but they also separate, struggle,
Cahill’s gentle foray into photographing nature at its nadir,
in late fall and winter, has produced subtly life-celebrating
results. His statement says his next pictures will be about
summer—for that effort, I wish him luck. Courage he already
The outdoor section of Audrey Sturman’s exhibition of ceramic
sculptures will continue at Firlefanz Gallery through July
peripheral vision this week