DARK is the title of British artist Frances Aviva Blane’s new show at de Queeste Art gallery in Belgium although the work, at first sight, seems anything but sombre. Instead of blacks and greys Blane has updated her palette to include oranges, yellows and blues. But these paintings are not joyful or light in any way, and the timing of the show’s opening is important.
The date of the private view is November 11 which is the centenary of Armistice Day of the First World War and the location close to Ypres, where hundreds of thousands perished. Blane acknowledges this, though she feels any painterly response from her would be inadequate and inappropriate. However the new brighter colours she is using have much to do with violence and shock.
“I wanted to make paintings whose mood alter on inspection. At first glance the bright colours yield joy, but on scrutiny the application of paint and calligraphic marks create unease. It’s interesting to take a beautiful colour like pink or yellow and make it convey something not so beautiful.”
This is undoubtedly true of “dark”, a harsh yellow bombshell of a painting with churned up paint and a gouged surface. Despite an aspect of cadmium yellows and hot colours it looks sickly and rough, appearing as an afterglow of burnt out light or fire.
Similarly in the orange painting 9/4 the beauty of shining orange is sullied by a mass of scribble and paint drips. It is reminiscent of hospital equipment reading “terminal”.
I am struck by the economy in this piece and remember Blane saying she wished to be more eloquent and use less paint. She wanted to leave “the tyranny of mess”. Largely her desire is successful and there is an agitation in the brush strokes that is never tempered, especially in painting titled No Title.
The longer I look at No Title the more I understand what she is trying to do. The few black marks on the surface look like the bare bones of Dark which is painterly and thickly encrusted. I very much like the immediacy and fluency – it feels like a bird in flight and it’s refreshing to see so much untouched linen.
I ask Blane if it was hard to make. She admits candidly, “It wasn’t hard to make but it was very hard to leave it in this state. I worry when something looks elegant that I’m doing interior design.”
Dirk and Theun Vonckx have curated an exhibition which encompass many aspects of Blane’s painting. It is striking that she switches from minimalism to heavily painted surfaces which are almost figurative. When I asked her why she has different ways of working she says she’s approaching a problem in different ways, “I don’t always want to speak in one key.”
In one room there are only monochromatic paintings and for me this is the most powerful. Story, my favourite, is the bleakest landscape possible, a vista of black, with fine lines running nowhere, scrubbed out paint and a foiled perspective. It is reminiscent of an ancient black and white photograph left outside to disintegrate.
by Jane Dale
Dark, an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Frances Aviva Blane is at De Queeste Art Gallery Abele/Watou Belgium from November 11 to December 12, 2018.