One or two Things I know – Linda Francis
Brent: A drawing dated 1978, Untitled, chalk on paper, has a pair of identical penciled or conté grids which you use to make a series of what appear to be perfect arcs; there are finger marks or smudges; some arcs are taken out. The arcs appear to form some shape, allude to volume, but never really do. What I see is a point where you stopped. Was that because you felt the image had reached a stage whereby via the residue the movement just kept going on all by itself? I sense the building of form and then the letting go, engaging in a perfect slip, of folding in and out, in pairs, a synchronizing of different stages.
In Dark Nebula in Saggitarius, 1979, the marks have a similar feel in touch, and there appears to be some pairing, folding, and twisting. Though any geometric sub-structural hint is well hidden under what lay on top. I have an image of this as the remnants of a bout.
Linda: That was a smaller try of a group of large (approx 4×7′ or larger depending upon the space) drawings I made on the wall. The grid was ruled in with pencil and made a rectangular pattern. Each part of the symmetrical grid was drawn upon with chalk using simple rules: only quarter arcs, straight lines, changing the movement at a crossing, etc. They were freehand and each section done with each hand. That is to say, the right grid drawn on with the right hand and the left with left. I just started in the middle and drew out and then came back. I not quite erased what went before to push it into the background and then did it again, responding to the first drawing. I thought of it as re-seeing in time that could have gone on forever. I guess I stopped when I thought the movement was over. Kind of with a long exhale very much as you describe.
I went from the analytical gesture to some years of drawings in which I used the chalk and eraser to literally remake various spiral galaxies. I was looking at small photos in the Hubble Atlas of Galaxies. The epiphany was that these galaxies were the analog of the gestures in the earlier work, and of course by extension the body and brain alike were similarly organized natural phenomena. Drawing for me was a kind of research. Looking at those small pictures united my hand and mind as I tried to find the structure that was simultaneously building and destroying the form. This info was not commonly available as it is now and the few books that existed like Mandelbrot’s first and Pirogene’s were the only references I had to try to find out more of what I intuited to be true. In 1982 I did an exhibition of big drawings in Copenhagen. The show was titled The Order of Chaos and here is a picture of one of them done from the galaxy M101.
Brent: I find it interesting that you could work the drawing with both hands merging left/right personalities, the two forces. Is this also the case with Dark Nebula in Saggitarius?
With Untitled, 51×43”, chalk/paper, 1981, the action, the model, the energy in the final drawing is there.
What led you to Spiral, 50×38”, chalk/paper, 1992, ten years later?
Linda: I think what happened was that the left/right hand thing became an interest in the natural symmetry of objects as in the Dark Nebula and all the spiral galaxies (which are 2 spirals pulling in opposite directions around a central core): Symmetry so physical like Greek “contrapposto”, like for every action there is an equal reaction …etc.
In Untitled, 1981, and the others I began to think of the image as a character not in the sense of personality but in the sense of Chinese calligraphy. [No kidding- I actually own a very good piece by an early 20th century calligrapher, which I love].
Later, in work like Spiral, ’92, I began to see the macro world as it is comprised by the micro. Same interest in unfathomable things, conditions, states. Realized that if atoms were moving in every direction at once (!) the things we see are somehow the result of some stabilizing accident: If every speck is every line is every circumference of a circle, in every location, every possibility, then maybe handedness and symmetry might be conceived of as this. I thought I would draw it, stacked up improbably with the same two curves repeated. I actually found it amusing.
Brent: In Spiral you have arranged balls, some with strong erasing, others dense, horizontally as well as diagonally. There is a set of nine. Two sets of three are heavily erased, and one set are left very dense with a noticeable orb around the dark spots’ circumferences. This spiraling or lacing appears in the heavily erased. An extra dark ball snuggles into the two top-left. This all reads very visual to me. There is a wonderful balance, one that seems to be there for no other reason but to create a visual tension.
The left dark ball has a very stretched relationship to the three dark ones on the other side. In fact the travel of the eye hits pretty much center of the center of the dark ball set to the the right – the shortest distance. And while I see stacking, along with the twisting of the spiral, I’m reading this other arrangement that keeps the whole thing, all the things in the composition, in movement. The movement makes sense, but how? Was this just very much intuiting a sense, or did you have it all planned and ready to go, worked out in a small diagram, or testing?
With Divide, 44×32”, chalk/paper, 1998 it gets more problematic despite the initial simplicity. There are five years in there.
Linda: The way I work is not methodical at all. I have so many ideas floating around in my head that they just pop up at various times. The thing for me to do in the drawings is to make a field for them to sort of come up in. My field is a pencil grid of circles, very simple. The number of the circles depends on the width of the paper. The whole paper is a screen for me to do something in a comfortable place on it. Then I start to fill in with black chalk. No composition in the classical sense. Every place is just a place to start. One can see that (in Spiral) if I started erasing in the top 2 circles in the middle, then thought of going down the line repeating the loop that occurred in one, there really was no other place for me to go to connect or finish the movement. The circles left black were not necessary to the idea only in that they were part of the whole fabric. I’m kind of led by the nose by the structure that unfolds.
Small diagrams are things I do occasionally but those are just doodles and may wind up as a clear idea or may not. They function as a kind of exercise. I more often may use them in a painting. But I don’t work out the drawings in advance and don’t know what they will become, if anything.
Divide came about by my making a pencil grid of big circles. Only could fit maybe 2 on the piece of paper. I remember thinking what now? – Maybe see how many circles I can fit touching into each circle – hexagonal close packing. And then I realized that I could diminish the size infinitely, and strangely enough the smaller the circles became, the silhouette of the individual configuration started to resemble a hexagon. The structure became the object. Blew me away: All of this an organic progression from one understanding to the next. This kind of thinking was my way into Mandelbrot sets.
Regarding the time lapses: All of my work so far is part of the same continuum, which fascinates me. I don’t need to work in series like many artists do, the work is not design, it has real content, each work over the years has used the same elements and methods and can arrive at discreet structural and philosophical revelations. For example: The drawing Divide eventually resulted in the painting The Square and the Tortoise which was a send-up of Zeno’s paradox and another idea that a curve could be a straight line and circle could be a square.
Brent: Spiral, this time oil on wood, 1997, is a procession of circles each proportionality larger than the one before until the largest loops back into the smallest. There appears to be color. It’s very stark and geometric. I could go back to Five Four Three Two, 52×40”, chalk/paper, 1994 [fill me in on the title] looking for line work but there you are still working primarily with paper and chalk.
With Spiral there is almost a full frontal feel despite the proportioning. It really sits there in the squarish space of the panel support. And because of the looping and scale there is this sense of space. There is this shading or shaded out area that comes up in earlier work and again much later. This adds another dimension to the piece, and I’m wondering what and why, and where it comes from?
Linda: Five Four Three Two is just counting. I started out with overlapping circles in a pentagonal array and added the 6th over the space or hole in the center of the 5 to make 6 (would be a variant of a dodecahedron/ icosahedron if it were a solid). The central circle is One, the Five peripheral ones are divided into Two and Three. Overlapping each other, the three become Four etc. The filled in part is simply an area where everything joins.
Those two spaces don’t function as shaded areas in the actual works; they become floating forms. In the small painting of Spiral, the first one I did in 1997, the paint is pretty flat but there is a vague pattern in that central shape that kind of implies infinity outside itself. The whole configuration is really inverted; it collapses inside an invisible circle. In the wall drawing One or two Things I know (2009), which uses the same configuration, the encompassing circle is shown in pencil. In the second configuration going from left to right on the wall, the form is breaking through a circle. It has an even number of protruding arms that turn out to not be divisible by two. The third configuration is a small group of symmetrical circles but flipped around a few times so as to be symmetrical in a sphere and not in 2 dimensions.
Brent: What made you pick up a tube of paint and panel support? I mean, were you out driving and there on the side of the road was a paint tube and a support with a little note reading, take me… if you can. And you did?
Or were other things going on at the time?
Linda: I started to feel like I wanted to make an object…ha ha ha. But that’s true. I love oil paint.
I actually started painting again in 1989, but just a few small things. I had to see how I could paint given my practice of drawing.
Brent: I’m interested in the model and its play, the mark and the sign, and how they often can work to together to produce a visual flexibility – wherein movement can be experienced as something quite restful, while, in turn, the sign becomes dynamic and alive.
Linda: Formal play has its own trajectory and reveals possibilities to the individual. The choice each time depends upon the what the individual sees or wants to see. Erwin Schrödinger’s codification of quantum wave theory is an interesting case of this: As a young man Schrödinger was seriously immersed in the study of Vedanta. Vedic thought is posed against duality. Schrödinger remade the quantum world into a real one by, generally speaking, uniting particles and waves in a functional description of the universe that had theretofore been made impossible by dualistic thinking.
And things are always moving and at rest.
I am thinking that the paintings exist as structures that I have found to have some meaning. That is, I think they reveal a truth about form and relationships of forms to the natural world, including philosophy, and to the structure of ideas. I am not modeling in the conventional sense as most science/art does. They are not models of things, maybe more like conjectures. But they must have a visible coherence for me to consider them successful, and contain all the things we have mentioned.
The way I paint is as straightforward as I can. I like applying the surface paint color, etc. The color is basically an issue of various analogies to black and white.
Brent: I’m looking at a smallish pair of paintings, square and diamond. There’s a lot going on there.
Linda: In that painting I was fascinated by the persistent apprehension that the two panels are of different sizes when they are not. Along with that support I was using a four-looped figure that I made by drawing a line around a sphere. It appears to conform to a square when seen on a flat plane, when in fact it is nothing of the kind. The panels are made to work together in any combination of pairings. Mondrian’s use of the diamond always interested me. I think it was interesting/ problematic for him because the space was not confinable. Using a rotated square or diamond is very close to using curves. The title of the painting Squaring a Circle is a petit poke at impossibilities.
Brent: For us less dressed in the peculiarities of geometry could you explain how a rotated square is very close to using curves? Does this apply also to Untitled, Oil on wood, 68 x 91″, 1999, where you add another key motif that keeps coming up in your paintings and drawings?
When you pop up on canvas there are certain restrictions.
What this means is that the support has disproportionate physical presence compared to the marks that sit on it. You can think of Mondrian’s lozenges… take the support out and you would not really get what is happening in the work, the tension is not there. With your work this can also happen, say Squaring the Circle would not work without the pronounced thickness of the panel/edge, though with other motifs and diagrammatically drawn structures it can work… you can sense the space that a piece is working in without the reliance or necessity of the support. Then, in certain cases, when you use the support it engages the motif in such a critical way that you could not think it to be any other way… and then it is… another way…
Linda: Or pop up? Well okay, you’ve totally said it – and if I have turned the tables on you in the end, serves you right for assuming what you don’t know…
My assertion that a rotated square is like using curves is not geometrically derived. It is perceptually derived. It is that I am always thinking that a “flat” condition can be a curved condition. We know that it is just a question of the scale of the curve. I’m thinking that the brain/eye automatically tries to orient a line, edge, etc. that does not appear to have a simple relationship to gravity, to a horizontal or vertical for stability purposes, for us to be able to function in space. Oblique trajectories engage space and even time (interval) in a less manageable “macro” way. Perhaps they relate to tetrahedral structures or polychora that exist in 4 dimensions. Anyway, you yourself described it in terms of geometry when you called a diamond a “rotated square”.
The drawing Equatorial Precession, ‘96, was important for me. It was in the last all- drawing show I had in 1997. It is a kind of bridge. In it I took an idea that exists in three dimensions and described it in two. It actually created a “wobble” effect in plan. The Earth’s “wobble” is what astronomers describe as created every so many years as a result of its rotation around its axis and the sun. I had to laugh. But it got me into that place where seemingly unrelated ideas and facts can join up and create meaning in a nonlinear way.
Brent: The send up on Zeno’s paradox, The Square and the Tortoise, 2001, is red, oil on panel. And the lines are white.
In Squaring the Circle and Untitled, ‘99 the lines are very evenly applied. In Tortoise they appear erased, painted over as layer in places. You have the center motif, and then a second motif worked from an orb that flies full-blown as a new center/circle. The third motif pushes further into the top right taking its position as center, another center, shifting the same way the previous center had. We could go on, but there is physically now nowhere else to go? The repeated motif has reached its corner?
The white painted line sits back in areas as each new center moves towards the top right. There is a simple diagonal move, and a sense of off balancing softened to keep in check the frontal feel. Each center has its own movement and relation to the governing square. There is counterbalance as well as swing. There is front-load washer if you could only put another dimension in. There are these little patches of what appear white and lilac/violet, which muck with the spatial tension further – sit behind, and stand up, as such.
And all these circles… held together by the structure of the square, adding the extra dimensions as the curves wash, the arcs swag, as the triangulation jot the shortest distance – the focus?
Linda: The violet and other color you see is the result of the slide (the shine of surface) that these images were taken from. Although there are many layers of color, they are not visible in such an obvious way to the eye. The surface is basically smooth and shiny but has a slight transparency, which is why you can see some of the “erased” parts.
Each set of 4 progresses (depending upon where one begins) proportionally from large to small as you describe. They change size/position by simultaneously expanding in space, as they grow smaller. They approach the right most edges of the painting as they would a horizon. That is to say that if one could go on with this progression into infinity the series of curves that is seen joining together and flattening out at the top might become a straight line.
Brent: Fours, 90×40”, oil on wood, 2003 the “canvas area” is pretty much full. You have dark circles that are layered, presumably painted one system after the next.
Together these layers work as a very dense field of oscillating circular mass moving between figure and ground, edge and back. The two sets outlined are not sets at all, actually, as they leave out just as much as they contain, though they do give the impression that they are complete, intact, with four units within each set. The painted lines that orchestrate this also function to bring the focus right up there to the front, to play off from the open color at the edge to illuminate the internal dark mass as something as shape.
Linda: This is an idea I got from looking at a Tony Smith’s series The Louisenberg. He used a 2 D circular grid based upon a square grid. He connected the circles to get a group of four circles like the form in the lower part of my painting, which is outlined in yellow. He had the idea that this kind of grid was the exemplar of modularity. I became interested in it for a different reason: my interest in counting. I saw that counting four on a flat surface could look like that, but more precisely, counting four on a “flat” tetrahedral grid looks very different – the tetrahedral grid more indicative of concrete reality – positions, patterns and the apprehension of number are dependent upon point of view.
About concrete reality: I can point to the painting Two Hexagons, which is derived from the drawing Equatorial Precession that I spoke about previously. In this case, the operation of ringing around and through the circles/spheres creates two separate and interlocking hexagonal arrays. In addition and as a result of the joining of the two, a third central hexagonal array develops which has a recognizable relationship to natural structures. Tony used to say that I was more interested in magic than painting.
Brent: Two Hexagons certainly roll. They also flicker: And the support gives the optical arrangement room. With Johnny there is not much room but a lot of space, and with a support again. In the easing back you have chosen the top right corner, any reason for the preference? I’m again reading “counterpoise” – an effortless movement of change.
You use circles. There are eight of them. Each one appears to move out and touch the edge, but only three of the small ones actually do. All the mark up is there. No mystery in its making. Each circle appears to wear two circumferences. The reason is [?] the beauty in the magic?
Linda: I was in love when I did this (for the moment) and it was simple. I looked at the three big circles and looked at the 3 small ones. They looked back at the three big circles. There are 2 squares; the small one occupies more space than the big one… You are right… The double circumferences are for color. This piece is my version of Tantra. Because of a song.
Brent: Interference, 78 x 228” 2008 comprises three separate panels.
The scaling plays whack.
The middle panel of the overall piece is the smallest though the dark area shows a progression. The dark areas’ shape also appears to shift and change depending on the context/framing. The internal markings, what are they [?], where do they come from, or what do they represent [?] also appear to shift scale but in each panel the proportion of the rendered units are exactly the same. This is a major and perplexing piece, something I couldn’t wholly appreciate before having this conversation. Interference ties in your earlier drawing – a geometry and model expressed in a highly intuitive way, along with this odd 3-dimensional rendering that reads pure but also plundered.
Linda: I really envisioned these panels as not reading from left to right but up and down – the largest white panel on top and the same progression thru the diamond to the last painting on the right-but now on the bottom. This way the movement would not end. It is part of my thinking about visual habits that we spoke about earlier in our conversation and a try at defying gravity by having the eye refer back and forth between panels.
The two panels outside the large one have been pulled from the big one where they exist inside one another as the result of interlocking planes. I felt that I had stumbled upon an intriguing transposition. The center shape in the largest panel actually rotates 90 degrees as it grows in size.
The markings are screened from actual images of crystals produced with an electron microscope: An alternate geometric reality in three dimensions in an unlocatable space. The scale of the pattern stays the same but appears smaller and even a bit flatter as the area increases. I don’t know what kind of a perceptual shift that is. Maybe a psychological one, but again has to do with the vagaries of points of view and how much information one has.
Brent: The rotation continues with Neutron Star, 72×72” 2008, which declares itself very much graphic in personality. Red, the same red as The Square and the Tortoise, perhaps, has four sets of white circles. The top left arrangement is fairly close to the internal arrangement of Interference and as each set slowly pulls apart the circles decrease in size until a new large circle appears in the top right configuration. We could perhaps start with the slowest first, the right top one, and come back down to arc back to the tightest held group of circles: Though at the top is where you start.
Each set has it’s own spin, or dance, more like it, and own sense of spatial orientation. Each carry a vibration particular to their tune, though as a set, divided top and bottom, left and right, no one domain dominates or feels less active despite the different dances and speeds. The fifth and largest circle needs to be where it is to connect and continue a unified spatial orientation within that set: Though in the spin there appears a wobble.
Altogether a tune of raveling and unraveling – adding again a different kind of motion.
Linda: The red is very different, much heavier and deeper.
A neutron star is the remnant of a supernova formed by gravitational collapse – dense, hot, white. Each of the four parts in the painting is an expression of the other. Yes, as you said, a sort of fugue. Dreaming about these things, I see them as states of mind. I wrote a piece for “White Walls”, a Chicago artist’s writings mag, a long time ago – 1985 – in which I described what it would be like to fall into a black hole… to be drawn through the event horizon… be stretched to infinite length, etc. My idea of a good time…
Brent: I was wondering how you thought about the motif, and the traceable contextualizing of it. How you consider working in an economy of means, but also one of transaction where an object is bought and sold, things are owned and collected for their uniqueness… and, in a sense, where does this begin… where does it end, before an idea or thing starts to be read simply as a copy or facsimile? Or has that been conceptually dealt with quite some time ago?
Linda: Well, LeWitt dealt with it. His early instructions for making wall drawings etc were interesting as they were possibly mutable. Unfortunately, the actual work he went on to produce was decorative to the extreme and superficial. He ushered in the era of market gluttony where artists turned out buckets full of meaningless “series” and design reiterations- products. Still going on. In contrast, Jasper Johns becomes even more of a brilliant figure. Larry Weiner really is someone whose work I admire. He totally dealt with portability and poetics at the same time. His work can be many things but not something for Walmart – (yet).
I refused this spurious series idea. Every drawing is a discovery and happens once. And even in my beginning work, every wall drawing was unique and perishable. So, what do I think of my recent wall drawing, which in fact comes from some work I have already made? Well, I realized for various reasons that I did not want to improvise from the beginning. I would need much more time than I had and I didn’t want to bring work already finished. I decided to use some of the structures I’d found in the past and link them together in a way that put them in relation to each other and in comparison. This began a new idea about the movement from inside to outside a curved boundary and a look at some strange symmetry. So in fact their proximity to each other expanded the meaning of the work. I guess one could say the ideas became an essay. The other thing that I liked was that these were really diagrams as you labeled them previously. They were just thoughts. And they will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition.