Mark Francis’ new work at Kerlin delivered his usual artistic acumen, each work displaying an almost Op-art blending of focal planes. The sharpness of surface in response to such complexity of design, especially in a work done in oils, is admirable. I have to say it’s the first time in a long time that I felt I would love to own one of the works. Yet I fear this is no coincidence. Many of the shows I have been to recently have been established artists exhibiting paintings, human-sized paintings at that, and with not unreasonable prices. Not to mention that each showing is vast considering the timeframe of the works. I am beginning to fear that there might be numerous caged artists being whipped into action in a dungeon somewhere by gallerists attempting to survive the recession.

Regardless of this potential concern, I noticed several viewers glued to the surface of the works, examining them in minutiae. As Francis’ work is sheer to the point of being textureless, the work focusing more on optical depth of field, I couldn’t understand it. In fact, I have noticed this phenomenon in more and more galleries and museums.  As I mentioned last week, this close-quarters method of viewing makes me extremely nervous; it’s my militant museum-guide training.  Furthermore, I do tend to feel an overwhelming desire to push their heads into the painting, which I am not sure I can suppress much longer.

As I said, the surface of the work in question was decidedly flat, so what exactly are the close-peerers up to? I even noticed people I had taken with me suddenly assuming the stance and standing nose-up to the painting. Apparently it’s catching. Of course during recessionary times one runs the risk of ending up with a nose-full of wet paint, so quick are galleries and artists to produce works just off the easel. It occurred to me that perhaps such close inspection is in order to catch some sort of optical trick? It brought to mind those eye games that were all the rage in the early 1990s. One had to peer into a complex pattern, relax your gaze and suddenly a secondary image surfaces. I never managed to see the secondary image, though if anyone asked I would say I had. You never know, perhaps Mark Francis has included some sort of secondary image under each complex pattern and I am missing out. Can someone let me know if I am, and next time I’ll pretend to see it?  Imagine how much fun you could have at a showing of work that was actually two shows – one when you looked properly and the other when you peered closely. We could increase artist productivity two-fold; I am sure all concerned would go for it.