New York

Richard Francisco

Betty Parsons Gallery

Richard Francisco’s work, like that of Don Johnson to some extent, indirectly plugs into the traditions of Joseph Cornell, Lucas Samaras, and H.C. Westermann, and more directly into the work of William Wiley, which by now seems almost to mean the San Francisco tradition. This doesn’t say much about Francisco’s work except to roughly describe the sort of work he does. The primary difference between Francisco’s works and the works of those artists mentioned, with the exception of Cornell, is in its subtlety and delicacy. Francisco’s works are physically delicate, minute, and lightweight. There is a kind of preciousness, not necessarily the preciousness of the art object, but of the thing that will easily break if not handled with great care.

Generally, Francisco’s works consist of tiny assemblages on a small piece of unstretched canvas tacked to the wall. The unstretched canvas, with one or more bright washes of color, serves as a ground for situations of small slabs of balsa wood, sticks, paper, and other bits of canvas sometimes held together by colored threads whose ends dangle on the surface. Within all this, there is a sense that these works mean something, or they seem as if they should mean something. They seem to contain private meanings, as if the whole thing were some sort of in joke. It is difficult not to read the minute elements of the works as symbols of some sort having certain syntactical interrelations and adding up to some as yet undecoded iconographic message. For beyond the decorative charm of these little works, to confront what they mean, or what they possibly could mean, is to confront the problem of private language. A private language consists in a symbol system whose symbols, rules, and meanings are known to only one person, the user; at that point, the need for a symbol system, except possibly as a recording device, is empty. In the problem of identifying meaning, Francisco seems to go a step beyond his predecessors whose meanings are always vague and illusive, but possible. The question for Francisco’s works is not what they mean, but why or how do we sense that they mean anything at all.

Some of the 38 works in Francisco’s show make reference to painting and sculpture. To make reference to something is, however, not necessarily to say anything about it, which seems to be the case here. In View and Holiday View, tiny slabs of wood can be read as an inversion of stretcher bars fixed onto the piece of unstretched canvas and framing daubs of paint; but much of the “painting” is obscured by translucent tracing paper fixed to the wooden strips. The paper becomes a sort of brittle physical veil through or around which we try to see; in a sense, it is between us and the work while being, of course, part of the work as well. In Painting for R.S., a small stretched canvas serves as a base for sculpture: the sculpture being a stick running through and propping a small landscape painted on a rectangular ceramic slab. Thus the standard material of painting forms a sculptural base for a sculpture in which a painting is a primary sculptural constituent. But if there is a kind of modest playing with certain not quite pressing issues, Francisco seems less concerned with “serious issues” and more with personal, if not private, mysterious little assemblages. They are something one may like rather than something generating thought or the engagement of interest.

Bruce Boice