Contributed by Martin Bromirski / Frankie Gardiner lives in an old house across from a barn at the curve of a narrow road. Her yard is almost overgrown, the forest is closing in. With the lights out inside her house, near the end of an August day, I visited to see her paintings. A figure seated alone. An almost unidentifiable object. All of it is hazy, much of it green.
Frankie describes her process as tentative, with subjects appearing spontaneously, paintings simply emerging. Loosely brushed and indistinct, single figures sit or stand, and look to be in a state of wonder. Even the still lifes are unknowns. A crumpled paper plate, or a canvas hat? A tabletop with what looks like a large bowl, a vase, maybe some lemons … and between the bowl and vase, there could be an old square-rigger in full sail. It’s purposefully murky, tantalizing.
Gardiner uses small pre-stretched canvases bought from Michael’s and a local art supply store, and water-based paint. She might occasionally start with a set-up or a photograph, or an image from a book, but most paintings emerge unassisted from the process. “The paint,” she says, “actually suggests things.” Indeed, it’s easy to decipher images in the paint, even if it isn’t always clear what they are. We talked about the existence of the spirit realm, and the possibility of nature spirits.
Further guidance, of course, is discoverable on social media and in art galleries. Katherine Bradford and Farrell Brickhouse have generated excitement about storytelling, which of course involves images. Regarding the abstract/representational spectrum, Gardiner notes: “It’s hard to do storytelling when it’s abstract” although “when it gets literal I don’t like it that much.” Even so, her relatively unambiguous work – a gouache-on-paper series – may pack the most punch, with magenta puddles of peonies erupting from blue glass vases.
Gardiner reminds me most of artists wedded to solitude, mood, and mystery – in particular, Edwin Dickinson. His muted tonal “premier coups” were similarly painted in a matter of hours, and, like Gardiner, he allowed their creation to be guided in the moment, “out of control.” From that perspective, her show demonstrates that relinquishing control is underrated.
“Frankie Gardiner: So So Hot (Dream of Walking on Blue Blue Water),” curated by Katherine French. Catamount Arts Galleries, St. Johnsbury, VT. Through November 1, 2019.