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Website: Chestnuts Design

Francesca Simon   |   Bar Notation       

Francesca Simon at Artshed Glaisdale, until 5 May 2023

A review by Chris Yetton

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Francesca Simon has recently taken the important and fruitful decision to move from painting on aluminium to linen, already sized and stretched on panels. She is now free from the arduous and complicated task of preparing the aluminium to take paint and this has opened up new visual possibilities. Two of these panels, fraction i and fraction ii, were shown at Small is Beautiful XL, 2022, Flowers Gallery. They are both in a horizontal, landscape format with its implied reference to the sky, and the airiness and lightness of the unpainted, sized linen is immediately apparent, especially in fraction ii, with its paler colour.

In the works shown here the unpainted linen functions more as a light-filled space than a ground, subtly modified by the vertical portrait format. Francesca Simon has consistently played with the implications of painting formats. The only horizontal work here, DOUBLE CHECK D, is a duo, marrying a left vertical panel to a right horizontal panel, It brings to mind her earlier folded ‘altar-style’ panels which open up to broad landscape diptychs or triptychs.

CHECK C, 2022, 164 x 120 cm, acrylic and pencil on linen on wood.

The move from aluminium to linen is a move from a constructivist modernity with its reference to fabrication and bright reflective hardness to a softer airiness with a painterly intimacy. At the same time Francesca Simon continues to explore the possibilities of the concrete art combination of rectilinear and diagonal grids with a diagonally divided square, drawn with a delicate pencil line.

Into this clear, simple construction she has introduced horizontal bars which lift or depress what become columns within the paintings: single, double or triple squares wide. These bars disrupt the grids in a dynamic dance and at the same time cause the viewer to read the columns like ‘musical’ themes which are raised higher or lower in the scale.  The artist composes them harmonically using repetition, transposition, mirroring, inversion and rotation.

This essentially musical way of thinking about form is developed in the largest and most vertical work here, CHECK C, in which the blue columns in the centre of the painting flicker like a concrete art version of analytic cubism or a sharp melodic vibration. As far as the experience of the work is concerned, it is unnecessary to describe all the repetitions, transpositions, mirror-imaging and subtle changes of tone within the dynamic central blue zone, held between the more stable greens. They are purely visual thoughts that the mind recognises directly; it fluctuates between them as one’s perceptions do on a day of fleeting sunshine.

DOUBLE CHECK D, 2022, diptych, left panel 63 x 50 cm, right panel 63 x 70 cm, acrylic and pencil on linen on wood.

However, a formal analysis of the apparently straightforward duo DOUBLE CHECK D can help reveal the mechanisms underlying the complex impact of the work. This work is built from a series of repetitions which have a similar effect to rhyme and partial rhyme in poetry, and reprise in music; that of returning one to a previous time or place. The two double square columns on the left of the vertical panel are repeated in the middle of the horizontal panel which, reading the work from left to right, sends one back between the panels. The prominent motif of the double square column with the two inverted large green triangles and the single large blue one, introduced by the double square blue column on the left panel, is bracketed and gently held by that same column in the right panel, although it is subtly varied on the far right by being mirrored through its central vertical. The divide between the panels acts like a caesura, a spatial pause but linked by the central double square across it being mirrored through the vertical while the double squares above and below it have rotational symmetry of order two. This all helps create a lovely balance within a gentle movement and creates a feeling akin to the calm clear space of a classical landscape.

Four of the works here have bars of yellow or pink which, with their horizontal form and in the historical context of the exploration of colour since Post-Impressionism, seem to introduce a notion of sunlight into the paintings, an effect reinforced by the other colours being natural blues and greens and the different tones looking like the same colour in light or shade. These ‘daytime’ paintings are joined by a ‘dusk’ painting check 6 (below) with violet bars and an extraordinary shaft of bright light down the middle, as though a reflection from water. This shaft of light creates the illusion of crepuscular oval forms hovering within it.

Two works, early in this Check series, have burnt orange bars, a solid colour which contrasts with the spatiality of the linen and threatens to become a dominant in both the paintings by invading the triangular element in CHECK B and as a new constructing form, a triple bar, in check 2. These two paintings display a markedly different conception of harmony to the others.

check 6, 2022, 46 x 36 cm, acrylic and pencil on linen on wood.

Is it misleading to refer to the world in the discussion of these abstract works? This is also the case, in different ways, with other British non-figurative artists that include Francesca Simon’s friends Trevor Sutton, Carol Robertson and James Hugonin. Can one speak of a British school of Concrete Art, headed by the universally loved and admired Bridget Riley, in which the strict non-figurative rules of the continental concrete artists are creatively broken?