Music for the children of our time

The Edukators

The angry man of sculpture

Attack on artistic freedom in Russia

Pushing at the edges

The secret life of objects

Porcelain that challenged the world

Bill Brandt

Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands


The inspiration of Italian cinema


Pissarro in London

Of Villains and Villeins

Piazzas on the eve of destruction

Modernism resurgent

Wilkie - Painter of everyday life

Techno-gothic fusion


Gagarin Way


Vietnam behind the lines

Romney - mirroring the gentry

Caspar David Friedrich - the essential Romantic

The awesome effects of the sublime

Earth & fire

Paul Klee: The nature of creation

John Pilger's Great Eyewitness Photographers

Sarah Medway: In the Realm of the Senses

A glimpse of the Hermitage

Vermeer at the National Gallery

Paul Signac: Travels in France

The other story of British abstract art

Breaking the silence

Century City

Digitising the Hermitage

Ghosts of christmas past

The disasters of war

Picturing the people's game

Picasso as political icon

An art world Schindler

British modernism reclaimed

Brush Power

The modern bronze age

The first museum of modern art

Six women who shook the world

Frances Aviva Blane

Caro's challenge

Ellsworth Kelly at the Tate

Magnum resists the lure of the dollar

Rebel behind the American movement

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Frances Aviva Blane

Reactions to Frances Aviva Blane’s work at her two London shows have been polarised: some are strongly attracted while others are angry and repelled. The large oils and the small drawings are, in their own separate ways, highly sensational (though not sensationalist).

She sets down on paper or canvas, the most intimate and emotional aspects of a human personality, of human progress through life, without cheapening or trivialising them.

She does this by creating her own world. It is a world of marks, colours, forms, energetic movement, the traces or tracks of a human being’s existence and desires. It is a separate, personal sphere. But through her elemental approach, like other abstractionists, such as Kandinsky and Cy Twombly, she unleashes a dynamic which goes beyond the purely personal.

As Keats noted, the structure of "unheard melodies" can be more powerful than those which play to the "sensual ear". The musicians he saw on an ancient vase appealed directly to the "spirit", because they crossed the boundary between sound and visual perception through a process of abstraction in the viewer’s mind. It is this crossing over boundaries, this "loud" silence, the absence where perhaps something is expected, which gives Blane’s work its edge.

It can be argued that the powerful effect these drawings and paintings have is due to the fact that her marks are not "images" in the usual sense that people expect from an oil painting. She uses oil (and charcoal or crayon) for its physical effects and possibilities.

Absorbing her violent marks requires an effort of concentration and transference of non-verbal thought from one part of consciousness to another. There is a pain about this movement, an unease, a harshness, which those unable to enter the artist’s world will shirk from, may even find intolerable.

At first her work can appear almost simplistic and too personal. Critics have noted a childlike, naive aspect. But if you take the plunge to enter her world, the reward is great. Within Blane’s subjectivity is the richest of layering of reflections.

Andrew Lambirth writes in the exhibition catalogue, that her apparent naiveté is "a double bluff" which allows us "to access the childlike without losing mature awareness". To accomplish this break with the expected normality is an achievement in itself. It is not a trick played by the artist, but a necessity to enable us to abandon our preconceptions and assumptions, and to allow the marks their own life and vitality.

She breaks down the conventional elements (or elements of convention) into their component parts. We look anew at oil paint, at charcoal, at pencil, at the thick rag paper on which a drawing has been made.

Having exposed the elements in their naked separateness, we follow the movement of the artist’s hand. Our eye and mind retrace the movement of another human being’s mind through the marks made by his or her hand. This is essential in aesthetic experience.

The word "emotion" comes from movere, Latin for "to move". The multi-levelled movement intensifies the experience we obtain. Painter Patrick Heron, in an essay about Constable’s drawings, described the thrill derived from great figurative art. It comes, he explained, from the "immediate and total identification of marks at the surface with physical spaces and with a multitude of forms inhabiting, and defining those spaces, through and behind those very marks".

The contrast between the mark and what it represents, or may represent, becomes even more complex and emotional in abstract work. We project our own thoughts on to the marks, as well as taking in the artist’s intention. The black and grey marks in Blane’s drawings resist simplistic interpretation even more than her paintings. Precisely this, gives them their challenge. There seems to be nothing "behind" them. They are simply marks, given meaning by the passionate movement of the hand and the mind guiding the hand.

Blane’s drawings seem random and improvised. And yet a logic emerges. Some of the heavily worked drawings try to obscure the paper, to cancel out its whiteness. The black lines in themselves acquire perspective and distance. They may acquire natural features: the tracery of branches, sticks, thickets or a sombre evening landscape.

In the "white" drawings, each mark of the pencil or crayon is distinct and separate, like a musical note, leaping, floating, hovering, dancing, trailing, thick, thin or smudged. In E, all we have is the movement of fingerprints with only a few lines, as though the pencil fell on the paper.

We experience both the formless and the formed. Not only do we see the paths traced by a brush or charcoal, but the energy of the movement needed to make the mark. The movement at times seems out of control, on the edge of the possible.

A universe on the verge of destruction, a human being pushing herself to the limit: these are revealed. At St John Street, the very large Country seems to burn fiercely on the far wall. We recognise a great conflagration. There is more illusionist depth in it, than in the other canvases she has made over the past year. The eye more easily travels in and out of the forms. The colours range from deep black to bright orange.

Blane’s work is proof, if proof be needed, that communication at its most profound level does not begin with words, nor does it end with them.

Oil on canvas, 3' x 3'