Draw you in – Glass talks to British artist Frances Aviva Blane about her current show Deconstruct

LONDON-based British artist Frances Aviva Blane’s show Deconstruct is currently on display at De Queeste Art Kunstkamers, Belgium alongside work by Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois with each artist each having a room to themselves in the gallery. Blane’s Deconstruct is composed of a series of watercolours and charcoal work on paper, which are, as critic Corinna Lotz comments, “not an easy on the eye option”, adding that they have “power to draw you in. Whether you like it or not.”

Frances Aviva Blane - My Summer: 33x33 cm, acrylic and charcoal on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – My Summer: 33×33 cm, acrylic and charcoal on fabriano paper

Blane is a brave artist whose confident and powerful paintings and drawings examine and confront terrains of the psyche others avoid. She now talks to Glass about her work and her latest exhibition, which we recently previewed, offering a privileged and fascinating insight into her approach and method.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 36: 33x33 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paper

In your show at De Queeste Art Kunstkamers last year you also exhibited charcoal head drawings. In what way are these different? 
These drawings are simpler, more economic. Fewer lines. Actually they were harder to make because it’s difficult to distill. It’s easier to keep adding. The writer Lilian Pizzichini said the head drawings reminded her of a rogue’s gallery, people who have been marked by life. She didn’t see them as self portraits. Rather, these faces took on their own identity. “Some of them resemble clowns – the mournfulness of Stan Laurel – the recriminations of Oliver Hardy. Another face has a raffish, complicit leer – like the sixth or seventh man in Carol Reed’s The Third Man – except Blane has given us the one who got away with it. Although no one quite gets away with it in her version of a rogue’s gallery.”

It was hard to simplify the charcoal smudges, one takes a risk, it’s a bigger statement. But otherwise the imagery is still of break down, things falling apart, a collapse of personality – the face being the metaphor. But Deconstruct is not just an exhibition of “heads” there are abstract paintings and drawings. Paintings of disintegration and black work. Heads are a small part of my work.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 31: 19x29 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paper

Which do you prefer making abstract or figurative work?
I prefer making and looking at abstract drawings and paintings. They have more mystery. I don’t like doing heads much. I painted quite violent images of heads vomiting and heads eating heads at Byam Shaw and later at the Slade. Now the imagery is still emotive but more subtle.

Frances Aviva Blane - Untitled 1: 34x34 cm, pastel on fabriano paper

Do you prefer to draw or paint?
I hate drawing. Always have. Had years of life drawing. However the discipline of learning to observe helps, whatever you do. Drawing is harder because there’s only you. My heart sinks when I draw. It’s so easy to fail. No texture, no colour. It’s very lonely. Paint is exciting because it can be hard to control, and I always push it to it’s physical limit When things get chaotic the work expands and I welcome surprise.

Frances Aviva Blane - 33x33 cm, acrylic and charcoal on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – 33×33 cm, acrylic and charcoal on fabriano paper

You must think/act quickly.
I construct from destruction, and the painting/drawing gets stronger. My subject matter is disintegration. Broken heads. Broken paint. That’s how the exhibition title Deconstruction came about.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 26: 33x33 cm, compressed charcoal on fabriano paper

Who are your favourite artists?
Too many to mention. I always like Bonnard and Vuillard, the German Expressionists, Roger Hilton and Michael Andrews. But it changes all the time.  At the moment I’m looking at Massacio and de Kooning.

Do you like your work?
Not really. It’s too familiar. I sometimes feel quite sick when I see it out of the studio.  I notice all that’s wrong. I wonder ‘Is that the best you could do? And at the time it was.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 29: 19x29 cm, compressed charcoal on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – Head 29: 19×29 cm, compressed charcoal on fabriano paper

Whose work do you hang on your walls at home?
Nothing at the moment. I’ve got a new flat and I like the white walls. There’s nothing up.  Everything is in storage. I like it.  I’ve decided I don’t want to look at other people’s problems. Especially mine.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 31: 19x29 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – Head 31: 19×29 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paper

How do you feel about exhibiting in close proximity to Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois? Can you see any connection between your works?
Firstly I feel very lucky, privileged and honoured that Dirk and Theun Vonckx, the gallerists at De Queeste Kunstkamers, selected me for this group of exhibitions  Its important to me. I was a bit worried because however confident I feel about the work in the studio, one never knows how it will stand up in a different space.  Also Louise Bourgeois and Francis Bacon are two of the most famous artists in recent years, so it’s a tough call. I see the connection between Louise Bourgeois and myself. We’re both women making work arising from trauma.

I like the fact that her drawings/prints work are very particular, almost laboured, whereas mine can appear haphazard. Otherwise her subject matter is completely different. It feels alien. Oddly I relate more to Francis Bacon’s images, they are “nearer”, more familiar. Visually he and I are opposites.

Frances Aviva Blane - Orange Head: 33x33 cm, oil on linenFrances Aviva Blane – Orange Head: 33×33 cm, oil on linen

Can that be a connection?
He trained and also worked as an interior designer so he understands aesthetics and making things look good. The imagery is savage and shocking yet  it’s elegant and beautifully crafted. The paintings are under glass, making them almost precious whereas my work looks scruffy, practically one step away from the bin. Marks from the making of the drawings/paintings are allowed to accrue, whereas Francis Bacon’s work is sleek and seamless. He was clever to contrast the violence with beautiful presentation, he’s a fabulous artist.

Frances Aviva Blane - Drawing 3: 33x34 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – Drawing 3: 33×34 cm, compressed charcoal and acrylic on fabriano paper

Do you know what you’ll do next in the studio?
No I have no idea. If I did, I probably wouldn’t do it.

Frances Aviva Blane - Head 27: 33x33 cm, compressed charcoal on fabriano paperFrances Aviva Blane – Head 27: 33×33 cm, compressed charcoal on fabriano paper

Do you like speaking about your work?
No, not at all. I think it spoils it for others, and also myself. It becomes too known, too limiting. Almost finite. I never know what to say. Someone said the worse a piece of art is, the easier it is to talk about. It should stand alone.

by Caroline Simpson

Louise Bourgeois: Prints, Francis Bacon: Prints and Frances Aviva Blane: Deconstruct will run from August 24 – September 21, 2014, at De Queeste Art, Belgium.

De Queeste Kunstkamers, Trappistenweg 54, 8978 Abele/Watou, Belgium
Email: info@dequeeste-art.be
Tel: 0032 57 33 48 72

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