A feature on my work written by Martha Alexander was published in the September 2012 edition of Artists & Illustrators magazine.
Dark Places by Martha Alexander
Artist Fran Richardson is always on the look out for new and unusual ideas, so her award-winning drawings are inspired by everything from saints and architects to ‘uncanny’ psychology.
Looking at her large-scale charcoal drawings of domestic interiors, your assumption might be that Fran Richardson is a stickler for disciplined realism and absolute accuracy. And though that’s true to a certain extent, what you might not appreciate is that while they are flawless in their execution, they actually portray imagined spaces. “I take ideas from different places,” she says. “I am interested in the way that perspective is disrupted. Quite often the composition will not follow the laws of perspective and it brings up the idea of looking strange or unreal. It’s all deliberately done with the intention of people looking at it and thinking, ‘that’s not quite right’.”
Viewers often comment on the photorealistic finish to the drawings and it is an observation that Fran welcomes. “The idea it that it looks real but when you look closer it looks wrong,” she explains. “It can be very subtle.”
Fran’s approach is borne out of an interest in the idea of psychological or dream spaces – in other words, imagined settings comprised of the jumbled up elements of a variety of domestic interiors. Her interest in the concept came about as part of the research for her BA in painting from the City & Guilds of London Art School. The artist has always had an interest in psychology and it was only then that she began reading about dream theory. “I found out about the link between the house and the mind,” she says, explaining how the psychologist Jung had dreamt of a house with multiple levels – cellar to attic – and how he related these levels to the subconscious. “Then I went on to read Freud who wrote about the ‘uncanny’ – when the familiar suddenly becomes strange or threatening – so those two lines of enquiry became a starting point for all the drawings in my BA show.”
Fran’s reading has naturally slowed down a great deal since she graduated from her subsequent masters course in 2006. However, given that her work is so anchored in psychological concepts, research is an integral part of her practice –even if some of it does sound slightly surreal to the point of bizarre. “A year ago I had my first solo show at Long & Ryle and the basis for that was [prominent 16th –century Spanish mystic] St Teresa of Avila, who described the spirit as like a crystal. She related the crystal to being a castle with many rooms.”
Nevertheless, such unusual and multifaceted starting points help to keep Fran’s work fresh. “Every so often something crops up – I read about it and it directs my drawing into different areas, but I don’t deliberately go out to read lots of theory.”
Her training at City & Guilds of London Art School wasn’t all purely theoretical however: “The schools is unusual in that it has a lot of focus on drawing as a basis of research and the tutors really support drawing.”
Life drawing classes were offered to students on two evenings of each week and observational drawing was likewise encouraged in the painting department. Unusually, despite studying both a BA and MA in painting, Fran’s affinity for draughtsmanship was such that her final degree show consisted entirely of drawings. That body of work has since formed the basis of the work she is producing now: “My masters and beyond was all about developing the work.”
Fran’s large-scale drawings are underpinned by collage: she collects old books and magazines, the pictures from which will often end up forming part of her completed works. “I tend to keep my inspiration in files so if I come across a book or magazine feature that might be useful, I file it away for reference so I can come back to it later,” she says. “My studio is full of works in progress, notes to myself or just white walls.”
Visiting old building to sketch is an important part of her process. Where possible she tries to get permission to take photographs, too. Fran especially likes Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. Situated in the legendary Bank of England architect’s former home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the museum now houses his collections of art and antiquities. “It’s a depository of history and a brilliant starting point,” says Fran. “Not only the objects in the building but the way [Sir John Soane] changed and altered buildings to manipulate light sources. He would have a really dark corridor and put a skylight in to bring a shaft of light down to focus on the different areas. He was playing with chiaroscuro and that’s something that’s still filtering through my work now.”
That use of tonal contrast in her drawings might be inspired by classical architecture, but it is very much down to her, given that the rooms she depicts are ultimately imaginary: “As the drawing develops, I’ll move the light source around and make it very dark, black and velvety.”
Fran was recently shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize and her pleasure at the acknowledgement goes beyond simply the prestigious nature of the prize itself. “It was really nice to be selected by Rachel Whiteread because I looked at her work a lot when I was working towards my BA dissertation and wrote about the uncanny. Her sculpture came into it – the way she subverts the domestic. I really admire her drawing, too.”
In just five years since graduating, Fran has also been awarded the drawing prize at the National Open Art Competition and a visitors’ choice award at Brighton Festival. Buoyed by her success, she now feels it’s important that artists who focus on drawing are given the recognition they deserve in open art competitions. “To be exhibited alongside painting and sculpture is a huge development if you look at the history of drawing. It was always considered to be secondary to painting and sculpture and it was seen as just something that came before them. It’s good that drawing is starting to be considered as work in its own right.”