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Back to Reviews 96

Hyphae (II)

racing forms
by p.c. smith
a gallery tip sheet

Mark Francis
at Mary Boone

Jan. 4-Feb. 22, 1997

The Irish-born, London-based 34-year-old painter typically begins the paintings here with a light gray ground, 7 x 6 ft., that is veiled with soft black horizontal and vertical brush-wisps. Into this shallow, pulsing space he clumps large black dots with the abstract directness of Bauhaus figure/ground exercises. In fact, the images are based on photographs of cells and chromosomes--a Ross Bleckner twist that faintly suggests biological narratives of sex and war. Invasion (all works 1996) has two masses of dots proliferating on either side of an open channel. In Activate and Breed the dots clump into bacterial or chromosonal configurations, and in Generation they have sperm-like tails. Feathery brushwork around the dots suggests the narrow focus of a microscopic view. In fact, Francis transmutes Abstract Expressionist scale and technique into a 19th-century, Japonais feeling of delicate brushwork, subdued monochromatic color and dispersed, assymetric composition. When, as in Grid Painting, he adds additional colors, chrome yellow and brown umber, they are soft enough to read as optical afterimages.

The impulse behind these pictures is so reticent, one suspects they're intended mainly as well-mannered decor. Within this self-constraint, though, Francis creates impressive variation.