by Kenneth Baker
Portland painter Sherie' Franssen borrowed a line from Philip Guston (1913-1980) to title her first San Francisco show at Dolby Chadwick: Satisfaction is nothing.
"Frustration is one of the great things in art," Guston said, "satisfaction is nothing." He was admonishing fellow painters more than viewers, but for years viewers of his late work found it frustratingly hard to decipher, especially considering that he had reverted from abstraction to imagery.
Franssen's best pictures, especially Blood Muscle Meat (2006) produce a sensation of delicious bafflement similar to what we sometimes experience in confronting late Gustons. Delicious because of the profusion of color and brushwork, and baffling because the pictures open up spaces that invite us into disorientation.
Not resolving things in a painting entails the risk that it will feel undercooked or abandoned, and the more challenging risk to the painter of staying relaxed. We see too seldom in contemporary art the combination of drive and relaxed touch, of assurance and open form that pervades Blood Muscle Meat, The Great Highway and at least passages of several other pictures on view. That sort of fluency makes a more-than-optical connection to the viewer's body.
We can discern in Blood Muscle Meat and Three Sweethearts the makings of figures and flora in a landscape. But they never coalesce, and so produce, along with dreamy pleasure, an electrifying feeling of following the painter into the creative anxiety zone.
Franssen mentions a well-known Goya painting of two men fighting with clubs as a source for Blood Muscle Meat. Her picture certainly stirs thoughts of conflict, borne on a torrent of brushwork. But Francis Bacon may come to mind in this case more readily than Goya. The visceral quality of Franssen's art, like that of Bacon's, intimates a nontopical response to the times on her part in which we may find our feelings mirrored.
Those who know the work of contemporary painter Cecily Brown may find Franssen's paintings, especially "An Unfinished Woman" and "I Had a King," uncomfortably reminiscent of it. Then again, both painters practice a style so demanding as to discourage imitators.