Color Field Painting: The Rediscovery of Sherron Francis

“Sherron Francis: A Retrospective”, installation view. (Courtesy of Lincoln Glenn).

The world of fine art can be cutthroat – especially for the artists who make it possible. Supermodel Heidi Klum says it about fashion, but it also applies to fine art: “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” For color field painter Sherron Francis, that was at least partially the case.

Francis ran with the abstract art heavyweights of the 1970s and endeared himself to second-generation abstract expressionists such as Dan Christensen and Larry Poons. Her work has been exhibited by André Emmerich and Tibor de Nagy, and her paintings have been included in notable collections of artist Helen Frankenthaler and critic Clement Greenberg. Press praised her ethereal abstractions, which retain a special soulful essence through their abandonment of form. Gradually, however, galleries began to ditch artists who didn’t quite qualify as blue chip, avant-garde art dominated the headlines, and Francis was under pressure to adapt to new styles or aggressively market their work to new gallery owners. Instead, she simply retired from the game, leaving Manhattan and retiring to a remote corner of Long Island, where she spent her summers. As a result, many of her artist friends lost touch, and her work — absent from art history textbooks — became a phantom presence.

Presented by Lincoln Glenn Gallery, “Sherron Francis: A Retrospective” marks a new chapter in the artist’s career. A reintroduction to Francis’ work, the exhibition presents 22 paintings created between the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of her career. This is the artist’s first solo show in almost 40 years and is exemplary of the gallery’s programming.

WHAT: Sherron Francis: A Retrospective

WHEN: September 10 – October 23, 2022

WHERE: LINCOLN GLENN, 126 Larchmont Avenue, Larchmont, New York 10538, [email protected]

Sherron Francis, Coosa, 1972. Acrylic on canvas, 65 1/2 x 44 1/2 in. (Photo: Clanci Jo Conover).

Lincoln Glenn, led by Douglas Gold and Eli Sterngass, experts in the field of American art, opened their doors in Larchmont, NY earlier this year. The gallery’s listing focuses on American art from the 19th century to the present, with a particular emphasis on reviving and exploring “the careers of artists who worked between the 1950s and 1970s who made significant contributions to art history, but whose names may be.” have been forgotten by time.” Francis is the perfect example of an artist who received critical acclaim at the height of her career but fell out of public view, making her an ideal candidate for representation at Lincoln Glenn. Many important abstractionists are finally receiving the attention they deserve for their place in art history (like Lynne Drexler and Elaine de Kooning), and Sherron Francis should be no exception.

Francis is a unique artist indeed – in the late 1970’s and 1980’s she supplemented her income as an artist by running her own commercial fishing boat. This endeavor freed her from relying on the sale of artworks as her sole source of income, and she was able to set her own hours, be her own boss, and shed the rigidity that comes with working for someone else. While many artists feel intensely strained to create specific styles so they can make sales, which can lead to a style drawer, this has never been an issue for Francis.

“Sherron Francis: Installation View. (Courtesy of Lincoln Glenn).

Although initially drawn to figurative painting, Francis loved abstraction and sought to expand its intrinsic possibilities. She first ventured into the world of abstraction because it was expensive to find models for her; She saw abstraction in many different forms on the New York art scene and inspired them to abandon figuration. Her preferred medium was water-based paint applied to unstretched canvas – she spread out a large canvas on the floor and used squeegees of different sizes to move the paint across the surface. Her goal was to “draw with color” and allow movement to guide the composition. The result was soothing, celestial forms that avoid being derivative of earlier abstractionists and embrace an individual style that is inherent in Francis’ work. “cosa‘, 1972, is one of those early abstractions whose lavender tones exude an air of calm. Her first solo exhibition was at André Emmerich’s in 1973, and she was featured at the Whitney Biennial that same year.

In the late 1970s, Francis began incorporating commercial insulating gravel into her paintings, mixing pieces with paint and applying them to a canvas. This effect created a crusty look and texture, adding an element of depth and tactility to her work. “Red tip“, 1979, shows how the gravel combines with the pigment to create a three-dimensionality and literally takes the paint off the canvas.

Sherron Francis, Red Peak, 1979. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 37 x 28 inches. (Photo: Clanci Jo Conover).

Francis was an art teacher at Ridgewood School of Art and Design and Cooper Union until 1985 and continued to exhibit her work through the ’80s and ’90s. When the artist loft she had lived in for decades, which served as a meeting place for her colleagues, was sold to New York University around the turn of the century, she took this as a sign that her time in the New York art world had come to an end. She moved permanently to her North Fork, Long Island retreat and opened an antique shop called Small Holdings Farm, which is still in operation today. Sherron Francis is someone who follows her passions and lets her heart dictate how she spends her time. Whether that means spending an afternoon fishing, experimenting with new artistic techniques, or browsing through antique wares, she’s bound to pursue something that interests her.

Clanci Jo Conover

Clanci Jo Conover is a multifaceted artist and independent curator. She has curated exhibitions in New York at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the AADLA Fine Art & Antiques Show and various Upper East Side art galleries. Since earning her Master’s degree in Art Business, she has worked as a gallery director and program manager for travel agencies, as well as a freelance writer and photographer. She has published articles in Fine Art Globe, The Cupola (scholarly journal), Voyages and Her Campus; and had photographs published in The New York Times, American Fine Art Collector, Apollo, American Art Collector, and NewTown Bee.

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