Monday, March 2, 2009

ESSAY: Fran Bull's DARK MATTER series

By Tara Verheide

   Dark Matter - the large series of some thirty plus pieces offers ample insight into Fran Bull's astute and deviously elegant methods of metaphor, as well as her preoccupation with the dynamics of figure and ground. She herein extends it to a deeper dimension; one tacitly expressive of the dark interface between the cloak of culture and the obscurity of soul.
   The pieces are mostly square in format, and range from 12” x 12” to 30” x 30” to 50” x 55” and consist of monochromatically painted muslin fabric that has been dipped in Italian Plaster and laid over small simple forms set atop stretched canvas. While at first glance they function as spare low-relief abstractions worthy of minimalism, in their reductive quality of parts and matter of fact resistance to content and detail; they are quickly perplexed by a theatrical tension duplicitously entangled in a simultaneously gauche and glamorous play of figure and ground, ground and surface. By this strategy Bull radicalizes her stated influences of Ancient, Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque painting and sculpture from which in her own words she sees: "the human body portrayed as lying hidden beneath ...swaths of fabric...sacred garments of the divine ...whose folds tell their cryptic stories of what lies beneath, and in some cases, of what has transpired as with volcanic ash ...capable of burying whole civilizations."
   In Bull‘s hands, Greek edicts of how drapery should by movement and distortion reveal the form are revamped, and Romanesque preferences for divine costuming, Platonic Revival and low relief representation are redressed to a contemporary level of craftiness inclusive of consumer ready-mades, cultural commentary and postmodern inside-trading. Under the histrionic, exquisitely painted surfaces of satin white, shimmering rose, metallic bronze, glimmering gold, blood red, creosote black, paste peach and primer matt crenellations of fabric lay odd objects, eerily inert and disturbingly recognizable as lowly craft items whose associations with homespun kitsch subvert presuppositions of highborn art and tasteful understatement. Bull’s collusion of mundane and urbane value systems debases signification in a lubricious currency of skepticism and pleasure that operates as darkly and perniciously above the ground as it does below. Presence begets absence and the viewer seeking solace in definitive meaning finds only a retrograde sensation of ambiguity cast upon a timeless ground of inertia as cold and blind as the contents within. The result is unsettling.
    The dyadic tensions between conceptual and formal oppositions wherein material and metaphysical dissolution and resolution of figure vs. ground are affectively crucified in surface relations of ego-self, culture-soul, day-night, micro-macro, intra-extra create a tension which Carl Jung believed was prerequisite to the emergence of meaning and James Hollis claimed was the terrible embodiment of the divine. Saying one thing through two that are violently opposed is a necessary way of seeing through to reality, James Hillman noted. He conferred with Heraclitus‘ thoughts that “the real constitution of each thing is accustomed to hide itself and that to arrive at the basic structure of things we must go into their darkness.” Thus by separating one thing from another and pitting them even against themselves in a process of phenomenological “bracketing,” Bull ascertains essence through transcendental reduction while her use of an extreme metaphor is a clear sign that hard answers do not exist. And it is only Plato’s forms that remain firm beneath the covers when reality shifts as readily as the greatest concepts forever elude. Stanley Kubrick once said: “No matter how vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Ultimately it is through Bull’s lucid eye that we see Dark Matter is not so much a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

Dark Matter, the paintings and more may be seen at Fran Bull's Site: