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Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022

An Array of Styles


Eric Francis lures the viewer through portraits expressing pride, wonder and serenity

As I observed the broad body of work Eric Francis assembled for his Critical Mass solo exhibition, I found myself particularly struck by a few pieces.

First, “Song of Songs,” the joyous painting that earned the best in show award in the Critical Mass group exhibition of 2020. The power of this canvas still impresses me.

“Pearl” is the undeniable centerpiece of this solo show. The lush pink of her dress and the luminescence of the giant pearls in the palms of her hands emit an undeniable expression of pride and wonder. I adore the energy this painting transmits.

By contrast, “Starlight,” with its atmospheric glow and self-inflecting figure, is cosmic, serene and somber.

We learn that Francis is willing to experiment as well, which is evident in the triptych of square canvas works, “Queen,” “Dusk Til Dawn” and “Respect.” With each portrait he attempts the complicated tension of figuration and abstraction. These works feel like they indicate a possible new direction as well.

I was also particularly impressed with “Toni,” portrayed as a maternal icon in a large-scale canvas portrait. Her aged face conveys the weight of lifetimes with wisdom, pain and stoicism. Francis has the capability to honor and cherish the feminine, without a hint of objectification. He respects his subjects with emotional content and reverence.

There is a broad, sweeping array of styles, scales and mediums throughout the show as the body of work flows from recent pieces to early works. This allows the viewer to witness his growth firsthand.

My favorite grouping finishes the exhibition, “The Dancer,” a portrait of a ballerina’s pointed feet and a series of four smaller-scale paintings of classic Air Jordans, portraying the iconic shoes as cultural talismans. It is apparent that Francis can pursue whatever direction he chooses with his work.

For my part, I would love to see him explore the direction of works like “Pearl,” “Song of Songs” and “Starlight.” However, I would be equally interested in seeing the results of other experimental directions.

I feel confident I made the right selection by choosing him as the prize winner for Critical Mass 9’s prize winner and look forward to seeing more from him in the near future.

Gabriel Shaffer is a curator, muralist, artist and art writer who lives and works in New Orleans and contributes to Juxtapoz magazine.


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