Dolby Chadwick Gallery is thrilled to announce Just One Look, an exhibition of new work by Sherié Franssen. Franssen’s highly charged, vibrantly colored paintings feature sweeping, sensual gestures that dance across the canvas, forming woven layers of unfurling energy.
Over the past several years, the human figure has emerged slowly, piecemeal, out of Franssen’s dynamic abstract environments. Just One Look marks another step in this evolution, with the figure asserting itself more visibly and directly. Also driving these paintings is a newfound sense of urgency—a yearning to capture ephemeral visions and fleeting truths “before time slips away.” She identifies this urgency as arising in reaction to the upending of our lives over the past two years, a through-line that has entered into other artists’ practices as well. In addition to signaling the contingencies of time and life’s finitude, the human body challenges Franssen as an artist by pushing her practice to new technical heights.
To nurture the natural unfolding of her paintings, Franssen has begun laying in the backgrounds right away, working directly on and into them with thinner-than-usual coats of paint. In this way, she is better able to handle the nascent figures and allow them to surface in response to the overall composition. This weaving in and out of form and color gives the body a more fluid and seamless appearance, animating the paintings without overwhelming them. Even in those works that do not appear to contain a figure, such as Switcheroo (2022), one is always in there somewhere, having slipped into the gestural whorl of Franssen’s painterly marks.
Franssen’s recent engagement with the human form is inspired, in part, by a fascination with Michelangelo’s imagery, particularly his “powerfully expressive treatment of the female body.” In both his painting and sculpture, he brings the body to life with his skillful handling of flesh, attention to anatomy, and understanding of bodily mechanics. Franssen dexterously translates these sensitives, as well as the monumentality of his figures, in works such as Embarrassed – Not Afraid (2021) and They dropped like stars, like petals from a rose (2021). Here, fleshy bodies striated into hues of peach and brown fill nearly the entire picture plane as they twist and intermingle in sensual yet ambiguous unions.
The sense of urgency that suffuses Franssen’s recent work is also reflected in her interest in precarious crossings and themes of migration, especially by water. Indeed, the fluidity of her gestures evokes rivers, waves, and waterfalls. Michelangelo serves here as another reference for the artist, who is drawn to the chaos of the image of Charon ferrying souls across the river Styx in his Last Judgment. Franssen introduces the larger motif of the perilous journey in several smaller works titled Titanic (2022), in which vigorous blue and sea-green marks appear to toss about flickering hints of a boat-like form against a tempestuous black sky. Such stories of water crossings involving existential danger resonate on a deeper level with Franssen, whose mother traveled at great risk by ship to the United States from Cuba as a small child with her own mother and eleven siblings. In art as in life, thresholds are meant to be crossed.
Michelangelo is but one reference for Franssen, who also notes an affinity for artists as diverse as Artemisia Gentileschi, Cezanne, Degas, Max Beckmann, and Richard Diebenkorn, among others. Such a varied lineage informs not only her handling of the body but also her deft deconstruction of space into its component parts. To this, Franssen brings an emphasis on instinct and intuition, eschewing a purely intellectual understanding of art-making to allow ample room for feeling and emotion.
Named after a popular love song from the 1960s, her painting Just One Look (2022) epitomizes the artist’s singular ability to mine the deepest and most unexpected depths of our feelings. She describes the work—which also shares its title with the exhibition itself—as a “nostalgic trip back in time” that captures the intensely affective experience generated by the song as opposed to the narrative it conveys. Such is the central impact of Franssen’s paintings, which seize us so thoroughly with their exuberance and honesty that they awaken something deep within our core.
Sherié Franssen was born in Long Beach, California, in 1952 and earned her BFA in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach. Her work has been exhibited in museum and gallery shows across the country, including in HEADS, a 2011 exhibition curated by Peter Selz. Her art has been reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Art Ltd. This will be Franssen’s eighth solo show at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.