Moments in motion

By Christine Clark, September 2011

Drama, intensity and heartbreak spark the paintings of Frances Baskerville.

Frances Baskerville’s paintings are dark, restless and confused. The canvasses are almost always built up and broken apart with fragments of cloth, dried glue and sometimes plaster. There are often grid formations, drawn onto the canvas originally as a guide, but then painted over and redrawn as an overlay in chalk. The hundreds of brushstrokes look rapidly applied and sketchy; nothing is smooth; the paint moves in unusual directions. The finished images are essentially unfinished, there but not there, everything in motion—the figures, the paint, the canvas, moments between bodies caught, but barely, in the midst of a river of fast-moving mud. At least this is the lasting impression. 

Baskerville, in person, is quite a contrast to her work, or so it appears at first glance. Her home is perfect and quiet; a dark, gleaming oasis on a hot summer day. There are vacuum cleaner marks on the pale rug in the living room and there are pink linen hand towels with real lace edging in the bathroom. In spite of these niceties, she radiates an almost dangerous physical presence. She is delicate and poised, but not light. Sitting beside her for a moment, drinking lattes, it feels like anything might happen, something sudden and powerful, something unexpected. 

She describes her work, saying it’s about the “human body and movement and energy—it’s about expression. The face has expression and so does the body. I’m captured by that and want to create that in my own way.”

Painting is Baskerville’s fourth career, not counting her roles as wife and mother. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Toronto, and later earned a Master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Western Ontario. She’s worked as a teacher, librarian, and public service manager for the provincial government here in BC. She says, “I was raised to work really hard, so I worked really hard…I always appreciated art, but I never saw myself as an artist until very late.”

After taking a private drawing class over a dozen years ago with an artist she met at the Moss Street Paint-In, Baskerville enrolled in the diploma program at the Victoria College of Art where she studied under well-known local art educators Elsbeth Coop, Wendy Welch, and Victor Arcega, to name just a few. 

Since graduating in 2000, Baskerville has shown extensively throughout BC and across Canada, and has won two public art commissions. The first, a large-scale mural at Royal Athletic Park, features a female soccer player. The second was a series of 13 designs chosen to decorate the windows at the Gordon Head Recreation Centre, the assigned theme for which was multiculturalism and community. Completed in 2010, Baskerville elegantly addressed the potentially awkward concept of multiculturalism by painting pictures of people engaged in various globally sourced sports and activities. For instance, lacrosse is traditionally a First Nations sport, yoga has its origins in India, and Aikido is a Japanese martial art. 

In her current series of paintings, Baskerville uses her daughter as her source material. Danielle Baskerville is a modern dancer based in Toronto; you can find examples of her work on YouTube and it’s well worth the effort: she’s amazing. The images are taken from a specific performance called Paris 1994/Gallery which featured Danielle and fellow dancer Tyler Gledhill. Interestingly, this dance, presented by the Dietrich Group, was a multidisciplinary performance, including film and spoken word, and so it seems particularly apropos for Baskerville to recreate moments from the dance in paint. 

The images are of lovers: violent, entwined, and literally fraught with drama. They are transitory moments of intense and perhaps untenable intimacy. One, of a man standing alone, in a large and empty space, is especially heartbreaking. Baskerville explains, “I’m trying to honour things when I paint them—vulnerability—there are certain kinds of vulnerable expressions I’m attracted to. I like it when things are not straightforward, when things are beautiful and horrible [at the same time].”

These paintings will be part of a two-person show, called Crescendo, with Jeanne Campbell, opening at Madrona Gallery August 27. Jeanne Campbell is an abstract painter; she and Baskerville met over a decade ago but became close after volunteering together at a VCA Alumni show several years ago. Campbell explains that “[we were drawn to one another’s work] and began to notice the rhythm of our brush strokes. Then the colours we were using and the ‘theatre’ in our subject matter. We realized that when we compared certain paintings, even though one of us is abstract and the other figurative, there was a certain flow.”

Campbell continues, “I am a pianist and have played literally hundreds of concerts. For me, the moment in time is that single focused moment, just as you are about to begin to play. The entire performance is a moment in time. It is quite electrifying. What I see in Fran’s work is that same intensity as she paints her daughter in mid-performance.”

Michael Warren, owner of Madrona Gallery, says, “We knew we wanted to represent Fran almost immediately. Her figurative work is very well composed, done in a unique aesthetic, and is very visually appealing. She captures a sense of the moment and all the energy around it.” About their upcoming show, he muses that “what Fran captures in figurative imagery, Jeanne does in abstract. To me it feels like Jeanne’s work is the music that Fran’s dancers move to.”

 

Crescendo opens August 27, continuing through September 8, at Madrona Gallery, 606 View St. See more at www.madronagallery.com.

Christine Clark is an artist and writer currently pursuing her dream of creating a public sculpture garden right here in Victoria.