A Girl Chooses to Push Her Friend in the Lake 2010
92 cm x 127 cm
Oil, acrylic, ink, leveling gel, varnish on canvas
Ian Francis creates blockbuster canvases seemingly beamed through from Earth's future. He works with mixed media, examining the most contemporary issues facing the human condition. Our selfish modern existence, defined by entertainment television, sensationalist media, video games, and a rampant sense of entitlement, collides with the ancient forces of the universe; Ian's dazzling, detailed, dreamlike narratives are the aftershock. The art is effortlessly uncomfortable while simultaneously dramatically appealing, seemingly parochial but peppered with pan-national references. Figures in intimate situations are illuminated by far-reaching vistas. Mainstream motifs play out complex, open-ended scenes inspired by the ultra-modern methods of graphic art pioneers, and the ideologue tendencies of authors JG Ballard and Michel Houellebecq.
Ian himself has said his work "is about pornography and news reports from warzones rather than sex and death". This reflects the atomised, cosseted and relentlessly hedonistic nature of modern everyday life where, for most people, the finest copulation is on screen and a clean kill is rewarded with a bonus score. Ian is more than happy to admit to being one of these souls himself, professing an obsession for internet media and trashy US teen dramas, which lends a pleasing sympathy to his operatic observations. "My work isn't about computers or the world wide web specifically, which is why you won't see those elements in my paintings – it's more about the feelings people express through them", he says.
Ian grew up in the west of England. His only goal from childhood was to become an artist, but he "never really got on with art as an academic subject [and] was always awarded a B grade for my work." At art college in the late 1990s – during the height of collector Charles Saatchi's influence – his desire to paint came up against the wistful snobbery of the creative industries. "It was a time when for work to be 'art' it strictly speaking had to be conceptual, and ideally an installation or a piece of video, which I felt was a terribly old fashioned attitude, and my desire to make representative paintings was rather sneered at." As a result he took a degree in illustration rather than fine art, and upon completing his training took part-time jobs prompted by concerns about where exactly he would "fit in" to the gallery circuit. This period though coincided with the explosion in electronic communications. Through only limited self-promotion he was soon offered exhibitions in Sydney and Los Angeles, completely bypassing the traditional artistic career model.
Ian's first exhibition at Lazarides, 2010's Exodus, was described by the respected online arts magazine Arrested Motion as "our most anticipated exhibition of the year so far". Following the show he moved to the United States but quickly returned to the UK and his native Bristol. "The second hand nature of the content means it's almost more vital to my work for me to be away from the source of its inspiration", he says. "This notion has steadily developed from something that forms a natural part of my life to the major focus of my work." 2012's 10,000 Years from Now concerned the disconnect between the trivial self-obsessive character of 21st century living and the indefatigable cosmic forces of change. The work Condominium featured relaxed metropolitans gazing from the individual balconies of their luxury live/work spaces, smiling but alone. A Wrecked Ship's Soul Ascends pictured the ghostly spirit of a tall clipper from the age of trade and exploration, and Corbusier's Dream Falls Apart as the Cliff Beneath it Collpases showed a proud modernist residence under threat from natural erosion. While Ian's subject matter is very much of its time, it captures its own everyday humanity with the same poignancy of the Dutch Renaissance masters.
While these most recent works were purely painted using oils, Ian Francis says he prefers the catch-all nature of "mixed media" as a description for his process, and refuses "to rule out using computers or photo transfer in the future". He is noted for his use of gels to create a high contrast flat finish that replicates the effect of a high definition monitor, or glossy magazine spread.