As the twig is bent...Paintings and Collage by Francis Sills
The move in date for my Gibbes visiting artist residency started with a fortuitous gift from the florist setting up for an event in the back lobby. Upon seeing that the paintings I was bringing into the studio involved flowers and floral motifs, I was offered to come by the next day and collect any left over flora that I wanted to use as source material for more work. These gifts were to provide me with my subject matter over the next 3 weeks.
I began by using the flowers in simple still life arrangements, responding to their color and shape as prompts to explore form. The transient nature of flowers and plants has always fascinated me; their cycles of birth, growth and death compressed into a small window of time. Gradually they changed into paintings about the layering of time and spatial ambiguity.
As the flowers began to wilt and decay over the following weeks, the paintings became records of their movements. I was forced to constantly alter and change the paintings in accordance with how they appeared to me each day in the studio. In order to “freeze” the flower’s shape through time and create static visual reference points to paint from, I started to trace the shadows they cast, in silhouette, of the floral shapes on pieces of colored paper. I then began to cut those shapes out and started to incorporate them into the still life set ups in front of me, painting them from observation once again, with the forms ever multiplying and abstracting. Gradually this process morphed into cutting and gluing them onto the paper paintings I was working on, collaging them layer upon layer.
I began tacking these cut out shapes to the window in my corner studio, investigating and layering the idea of looking through a pane of glass to a space beyond. The spaces in the paintings began to collapse and merge into one another, so that there was a visual ambiguity between what was on the “inside” and what was on the “outside” of my studio. Things seen through the window, either dissolved or were clarified during each working session, sometimes shifting slightly, which forced me to alter the painting once again. As the whole visual reference point began to destabilize, with flowers slowly drooping and wilting, these “afterimage” flowers in cut paper remained static yet also spacially malleable.
“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”, an 18th century proverbial saying, reminded me of how these current paintings grew out of a suite of drawings I was doing almost 20 years earlier in graduate school. In that work, I was incorporating some of the same processes like collage, altering and repeating cut paper motifs, and ambiguously shifting spaces. This added yet another layer of reference to the notion of time passing and artistic growth. Those early influences and procedures began to shape the new paintings and became the strata which make up my work now. Those drawings, the current paper cut outs, and now decaying flowers were all composting in front of me, generating a new and multilayered series of paintings. - Francis Sills