July 2015

Recently, we had the chance to catch-up with Mark Francis and see his stunning London studio space and work. Mark chatted with us about everything from his natural fascination with fungi, to his progression into sculpture, and how conversations with mathematicians are influencing his current body of work. 

1. Your work is a healthy balance of order and chaos, where does this fascination stem from?

MF: It comes from the late 80’s early 90’s when I became fascinated by our internal landscape or workings of the body. In most cases, we take it for granted that our body just gets on with its state of equilibrium, so that we can live normally. The body is in a constant state of repair and renewal and at times disease puts a chaotic spanner in the works. Then our immune system must kick in and sort out the mess.

2. While speaking in your studio you mentioned that in your earlier years as a painter you painted abstract landscapes but felt there was nothing you could really add to the genre that hadn’t been done before. Thus, you began painting the cells and microbes that make up the landscapes. Was there an “Aha! moment” and how has this set the trajectory for your career?

MF: At that time I felt very uninspired by landscape painting. I began to look at cellular diagrams in books on botany and it struck be that was a more internal landscape too. I wouldn’t call it an Aha! moment but it did open up another language of shapes and forms that I could mutate to create my own lexicon. I need substance or a concept to make my paintings. The paintings may appear abstract but many things inform them.

3. Your newest series of paintings have a circuit/network like feel to them, referencing the theme of mapping which has become a kind of signature motif in your work. How did focusing on natural forms (i.e. fungi and astronomy) to more mechanical come about?

MF: For me the new paintings are a logical progression. I have a natural fascination with fungi and the fact that what we see is the fruiting body and below the soil surface is a slow creeping form called the mycelium, which is made up of numerous strands called hyphae. On closer inspection these networks, and others like them in nature, made me think of man made network such as maps, circuit boards, transport systems etc.

4. On a more humanistic level, do you find that world events, maybe outside of science and technology play a part in your work? Take for example gentrification, police brutality, or any number of social or political issues.

MF: I like being surrounded by sound in my studio. I select the music I listen to; otherwise I listen to talk radio and rolling news as I enjoy that connection. World events do not consciously inform the works, however concepts relating to migration, conflict and the movement of information could be applied to some paintings.

5. You said that these days you take more time staring at the paintings, maybe not working as fast as you used to. What triggered the change of pace? As a result, what are you seeing in your work that maybe you previously didn’t see?

MF: Four years ago I moved to this much larger studio that has enabled me to look at a number of works in progress simultaneously. As a consequence I can leave paintings in an unfinished state and work on something else. Now that I am able to be more contemplative I can be patient with the works and let them reveal them selves to me, rather than dismiss them too soon. This is also very different from previous paintings where I used a wet onto wet technique, which had to be completed within a time span.

6. Peeling back the layers of your work is quite enjoyable. Your work lends itself to topics and themes far beyond simple abstraction – Have these come about naturally or are they calculated?

MF: I have always been interested in both art and science, but sadly at school it seems you have to choose one or the other. At that time I was forced down the art route. Fortunately, later I could return to my interest in science and make paintings. I think my topics and themes are cyclical and continually evolving. Any calculated moves are more about discerning what to keep and what to let go – refining.

7. You have these black amoeba-like sculptures dotting the studio. Can you talk a bit the process involved in working with this medium and what kind of challenges they present?

MF: I started making the sculptures two years ago. They came about after creating a series of ink drawings. The simple black and white clarity of the drawn lines lent themselves to becoming structural/ sculptural. The materials I then used were obvious choices for me to achieve the directness I wanted – wire mesh, glass beads, painted wooden balls, and a wide assortment of electrical cables.

The sculptures began as a wire mesh sheet with a structured grid of cables and nodes or balls woven into the surface. I then crushed and moulded the gridded form into a more chaotic boulder like shape. I further worked into this form, adding more beads and balls to create a 3 dimensional accretion of materials. The sculptures have since grown in scale and complexity and I have learnt a lot about spatial depth as I walk around and look not just at but also through the sculptures. I have now started integrating these complexities of space into the paintings.

8. Today, what are some of the biggest influences that inform your work?

MF: As I have mentioned, the sculptures have been a recent break through for me. Also, in 2012 I was Artist in Residence at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and I think only now in 2015 the conversations I had then are affecting my painting imagery. Outside influences can often take time to filter through into ones practice. Currently I am an Associate Artist at the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and enjoying further conversations with mathematicians.

9. Your studio is quite removed from the hustle and bustle of London’s swanky/trendy art areas. It’s set smack-dab in a residential neighborhood. What are some of the perks of this privateness? 

MF: Houses do surround my studio and it is very quiet but it is also in Peckham, which has fast become a very trendy art area. The High Street is three minutes walk away and it is important for me to have this potential connection to the city. I would not relish working in a more rural setting just yet!

10. What do you have on the radar in terms of future plans? 

MF: As a result of my relationship with LMS I am currently working towards a contribution for an exhibition at the Science Museum in London later this year. There will also be a much more expansive realization of the residency in a UK public space.

MF July 2015