by Kenneth Baker

The work of Southern California painter Sherié Franssen has long satisfied what seem to me the requirements of solid contemporary painting. It is improvisational, history conscious, unstinting and frequently surprising.

Poems on the Floor I 2014 I oil I 45 x 41 inches
Sherié Franssen | Poems on the Floor, 2014 | Oil on canvas | 45 x 41 inches

However, not all the surprises are good in her latest show at Dolby Chadwick. (Note: The gallery will be closed until Friday, Jan. 2.)

Like Franssen’s previous exhibitions here, this one confirms that her work’s successes hinge not only on her adventurous, and so, occasionally wayward, color sense but also on technical adjustments such as relations of scale between brush marks and the dimensions of a canvas.

Untitled I 2014 I Oil I 22 x 25 inches
Sherié Franssen | Untitled, 2014 | Oil on canvas | 22 x 25 inches

Those relations could hardly be better in smaller pictures such as Poems on the Floor (2014) and Untitled (2014), but they falter in The Heaven We Chase (2014) and collapse in Dawn in Timbuctoo (2014).

Most of Franssen’s paintings begin with human figures that, in her best work, tend to get dissolved in brushwork to the point of complete, or nearly complete, abstraction. In several pictures in the current show, the figures stand tattered but exposed, conferring an almost embarrassing nakedness on Franssen’s process. Pink Wave (2014) presents an unhappy example that not even her fearless color can redeem. But the low point of the show is surely Intimate With Madness (2014), a small picture in which Franssen appears to have tried to channel Francis Bacon (1909-82), without success.

Dawn in Timbuctoo I 2014 I oil I 67 x 65 inches
Sherié Franssen | Pink Wave, 2014 | Oil on canvas | 67 65 inches

Years ago, Franssen worked her way to an authentically individual, demonstrative sense of painting as decoration of a surface. “Decoration” gets denigrated critically by those who see it as a signature of triviality. But Franssen has the chops to animate a decorated surface with guidance and pleasure for the eye, modeling the very sensations that, moment to moment, give value to life. Consider the way the small untitled picture here, consciously reminiscent of Cubism, conducts attention through adventures of light and shade, of substance, transparency and depth.

For these reasons, I see a loss of nerve in her reversion to overt figuration. I hope it turns out to be merely a phase.

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