Contemporary Art

The Violent, Abstract Art of Ian Francis

Errika Gerakiti 25 January 2024 min Read

Ian Francis’ art career started with disillusionment. He weathered the selective art world of the late 1990s, carrying on with works that evoked warzones or, at times, pornography to become a contemporary artist well-loved from Bristol to London and New York City that never gives in to conventions.

Born in 1979 in Bristol, Ian Francis is a multimedia artist whose social consciousness helps envision the what-ifs of being inundated by the media. With inspiration from modern computer games and many more, Francis has established a distinctive presence in the art scenes of London and New York City, where he exhibits regularly.

Ian Francis: Ian Francis, Hunt/Chase, 2019, mixed media on canvas. Artist’s website.

Ian Francis, Hunt/Chase, 2019, mixed media on canvas. Artist’s website.

Art in the ’90s

The 1990s marked the zenith of influence from prominent art collectors like Charles Saatchi, who swept over the art scene with their preferences. By the late 1990s, Saatchi and his cohort had switched their focus to new art, namely conceptual art and video installations, in lieu of the old, conventional oil and acrylic paintings.

Due to this prevailing elitism, Francis took a career path different from that of a fine artist as he initially planned. Instead, he opted for a degree in illustration, earning his BA with honors from the University of West England in 2001. This change allowed him to carve out a marketable niche within the evolving art landscape.

Ian Francis: Ian Francis, Gymnasium Floor, 2014, mixed media on panel. Artist’s Website.

Ian Francis, Gymnasium Floor, 2014, mixed media on panel. Artist’s Website.

Ian Francis’ Art Style

Francis’ art mixes the abstract with approaches from painting and drawing. But with layers and contrast, he forfeits the textures of traditional paint and canvas to embrace multi-dimensionality and distortion. On the one hand, we have bouncy colors that accentuate the scenes and characters, and on the other, there is the void. Oftentimes, this is a background of immense darkness that surrounds its subject like a vast black abyss.

With the primary basis for these experiments still being oil painting, Francis then incorporates acrylics, charcoal, and ink. The glitchy way in which things appear attempts to reflect a mass-media-bombarded social reality. Among them, acrylic gels constitute a notable design element. Resulting in a smooth, vivid surface, the medium mimics a high-definition screen or monitor. Another mass media-related artistic device involves glossy paper. Artworks produced with the latter recall surfaces of paper magazines.

 

Ian Francis: Ian Francis, Tree Climbing/ Shaking Late at Night, 2014, mixed media on panel. Artist’s website.

Ian Francis, Tree Climbing/ Shaking Late at Night, 2014, mixed media on panel. Artist’s website.

Violence and Eroticism

Cinema and symbolism are some sources where Francis finds his inspiration. These works of popular culture help the artist develop a unique viewpoint on contemporary issues humanity faces. For example, his exhibition Artificial Winter at the Los Angeles Corey Helford Gallery showcased some of his environmental and political concerns.

The half-dressed human figures, some moving, others reclining, were arranged as group portraits for Francis to convey his message. Parts of them are intimate, others hedonistic, and some others violent. Despite the diversity, all these figures are recognizable and relatable. They represent everyday people who tend to be young and beautiful. They also remind us of themes explored in literature, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Beautiful and Damned. The same clash of beauty, sex, destruction, and death was also in the foreground of the exhibition The Chosen Form of Your Destroyer at Lazarides Gallery in London, UK.

Ian Francis: Ian Francis, Devouring Bunny, giclee print on cotton rag paper. Red Propeller Gallery.

Ian Francis, Devouring Bunny, giclee print on cotton rag paper. Red Propeller Gallery.

One to Watch

To conclude, Ian Francis is an artist to watch, as he constantly finds a fresh way of visualizing contemporary issues and mindsets. His style, reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism and marrying Symbolism with a touch of dark Surrealism, would resonate with lovers of modern and contemporary art.

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