Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Balance and Distraction" by Kirsten Francis

Kirsten Francis is a printmaker who frequently creates color reduction woodcuts (a time consuming and physically demanding process) such as this one. Learn more about her work (and better yet, buy some) at her website.

Much of Francis's images are allegorical, and this one is no exception. The thing with allegories in visual artwork is that artists can only get away with them if they have enough mastery over their medium to convince viewers to take the image by itself seriously. Francis does.

Like all of her woodcuts, this image is packed with excruciatingly delicate marks that give the image depth and movement. There are just enough carving marks left around the figures to suggest motion. Variety of textures give the various surfaces (cloth, feathers, fur, skin) each their own feel. And some of the areas of color remind me of Seurat's stippling. I believe there is a body under this woman's clothing, and muscles and bones beneath her skin. I can hear the flapping of the raven's wings in my mind. I feel the weight of that cat.

The compositional placement of all the figures and objects as well as the pose and posture of the woman are believable. I imagine the woman's grip and muscles tightening in anticipation of the bird on the pole lifting off, causing the cat to perhaps leap off the pole itself, which would then require a rapid double compensation for the changes in weight distribution. And that's only one possible sequence of events.

Of course this image is not literally about a woman on a tightrope. But that literal image must be convincing for me to take the allegory seriously. And I do take it seriously. The image is about what it feels like to balance many interrelated objectives in life. It's easy to lose our balance if we have too much going on: get passed over for a promotion, miss too many of a child's softball games, take out all our stress on a spouse, neglect health problems, etc. Making a living, maintaining healthy relationships, and achieving personal fulfillment is a tall order, but everyone is trying to do it.

If something finally goes out of balance, a fall can happen quickly: loss of a crucial job, a death in the family... But clearly the woman on the tightrope is not thinking about these possibilities. Her body shows she's moving in response all the weight changes that are out of her control and her facial expression shows calm concentration. This delicate dance takes all of her focus. She can't worry about falling and do her best to prevent it at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for writing about my work. It's amazing to read how this image I created is viewed through you eyes (makes all that hard work worthwhile.)