ONE of the first holy fools recorded was a nun of whom the church historian Palladius writes that she pretended to be insane and possessed by evil spirits. To explain this behaviour, Palladius quoted the apostle Paul, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (I Corinthians 3:19). The fool is a metaphor directed against worldly wisdom or religious dogma – not an invocation to turn into a gibbering idiot.
In British artist Frances Aviva Blane’s latest series of mugshots in oil and charcoal, on display in Two Faces, a show of work by Blane along with paintings by Syrian poet and artist Darin Ahmad – both from refugee-backgrounds – which opened this week in London, a foolish face floats like a summons that raises the question of authenticity. These faces challenge the viewer with eyes that have stared at stars until they feared they were a million-orbed godhead. Is this foolishness of a metaphorical or real kind?
Look closely and Blane’s art contains a motif of daring. Sometimes her faces don’t have eyes and the experience they offer is unspeakable, although the playground colours and bright lights indicate an inclination to comedy. She brings to mind music-hall artistes and tumbling clowns gagging for a laugh. Her emphasis is on an over-sensorial input as insistent as the slabs of paint that lance and layer her linen surfaces.
In a charcoal drawing, her frenetic description of a landscape shoots into nothingness across the page. Elsewhere a scribbled portrait (Split Head) is faint and fearful but divided by bold orange streaks – like the schism between outer and inner. On large sun-splashed canvasses, strange, scribbled stripes embody vast spaces and yet more experiences that cannot be articulated in literal forms. But Blane makes room for deliberation and echoes the figurative with a weird mix of hopeful fondness and open hostility.
This is a selection from an artist impressively steadfast in her vision.
by Lilian Pizzichini
Front page image: July. Frances Avivia Blane. Oil linen (60x60cm)
Two Faces – a show of the works of Frances Blane and Darin Ahmad, The German Ambassador’s Residence, 34 Belgrave Square, London, SW1 please call 020 7824 1300 for opening times