Walking into Lazarides gallery in Soho, I was immediately overawed at the artwork on display to me. Ian Francis’s works carry the depth and sense of sublime taken from works by John Martin and the intimacy of the works of Joseph Wright of Derby and pairs that with an aesthetic that is immediate and ethereal and visceral. The works depict objects and figures which occupy their space and inhabit their environments so perfectly, yet equally pale and fade as ghosts. Ian Francis’s works are born of the internet age and there is no other way of saying it.
This painting “Forest Fire Seen From Below” is a perfect example of this digital aesthetic that Francis has brought into his work. The way the trees are depicted as being hollow trunked surfaces that don’t have a rear side to that which is seen is very similar to the way textures act when no-clipping through a video game world.
Another reminder of this digital world in the exhibition was the painting “Reflective Encounter” that depicts a cctv camera protruding from a skeletal form, looking over another soul. Here the architecture and the interaction it has with the rest of the image is what steals the show for me, the great dome in the background is joined with the focus by the floor made of wooden planks, a pathway into the colosseum behind. The contrasts made here in terms of colour and tone are wonderful, a prime example of something Francis does in all his work, creating a great feeling of space and timelessness.
Petrified archway is another example of this timeless atmosphere, even with the great action of the leaping tiger and its skeleton. Again, Francis flirts with death here, coloured and pale human figures are separated by this great dual leap of great powerful and dangerous figures as if separating life and death themselves.
Finally, though not in the show, I had to include this image “Condiminium (People Living Separate Lives)”. My mind has more recently focused on architecture in art and this is a lovely little scene to me. The different floors, the social housing aspect and yet still that space, that time-removed element all brings out this feeling that although there are as many people as can be imagined in this block, none are familiar. Francis also is at his most Bacon-esque here, though he applies the animalistic human-flesh-mortality imagery more subtly than in other paintings, the smeared blood on the walls, the distorted human-like creatures that stalk the floors as if he is trying to say ‘you don’t know what monsters you’re living with’.
Chilling and beautiful is what I think about Ian Francis’s work.