Artist Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Gift to Self
The Wearable Art of Meredith Franck
It was not my intention to buy myself a gift. I already own a Meredith Franck original, purchased many years ago. I simply wanted to interview her and write about her newest designs, influenced by her interest in abstract art. But there’s something magical about walking down the shadowy path beside her house, through the tiny backyard filled with plants and comfy cushioned seating areas, and into the cottage that is her showroom. All (well, most) budget concerns are left on the street. This is a place for draping myself in luscious fabrics, donning fashions flattering to any figure, and telling myself I deserve a little self-indulgence.
If the art-critical eye were to “read” Franck’s work the way one reads a painting, the observations might include: large geometric shapes balanced by smaller shapes and patterns; bold, but limited, color palettes with high value contrast; textural contrast, from soft and smooth to rough or crisp; asymmetry in the distribution of shapes or patterns or at the often uneven hemline; the use of “found fabric,” not unlike a collage artist’s use of found objects; and the use of “surprises,” such as a flap of contrasting fabric that takes the piece to a kinetic or sculptural dimension.
Sometimes a painting is so beautiful it moves me to tears, while Franck’s work moves me to grab it off the hanger and wrap myself in it. I am far from an ideal model at only 5’3”, yet I feel elegant, even taller, as the jeans and turtleneck I wear into the cottage are transformed with the addition of Franck’s jackets and vests.
Franck has been making clothing since she was 11 years old, when, for her birthday, she received a sewing machine. Inspired by her mother, who sewed most of her children’s clothes, Franck soon learned to make her own bell-bottom pants. Later she made clothes for her own children, winning the admiration and envy of other parents.
In 1998, Franck began showing her work at the Lanny Bernard gallery in Park City, her first connection with the art world. Later, she would sell her designs through the boutique in Grand America Hotel, Patrick Moore Gallery and the Bill Loya boutique, all in Salt Lake City. Her work is now carried by Paletti on Highland Drive.
Not only does Franck’s work read like abstract art, it also results from a similar intuitive process. On her large cutting table, she may start by cutting a kimono sleeve. Then some intuitive flash may move her to add a contrasting cuff. And so it goes, with each choice a response to the decision before. “A creative flow takes over me,” she says. Like a painter who enjoys the materiality of the paint and surface, Franck responds to the tactile excitement of the different materials she combines.
At one time Franck dyed her own silks using a process that could take weeks or months. But today she is more likely to use fabrics purchased from other artists or vintage fabrics bought in eBay auctions.
As for designs, she never uses commercial patterns, but makes her own, focusing on clean lines and simple shapes that allow the colors, patterns, and textures to take center stage.
Most recently, she found inspiration and energy in the works of abstract painters – from the masters to contemporary Utah artists. She’s become a regular participant in the Facebook group Abstract Artists of Utah. “Because the artists are local, I can go to a show and support them,” she says.
And it seems the support is mutual. I’m not the only Salt Lake artist who enjoys wearing art as much as hanging it on my wall. Abstract painter Josanne Glass is also a Meredith Franck collector. “I am drawn to color and texture within clean design – in clothing and in art,” says Glass. “I have always liked the more avant-garde in terms of clothing, even when working in corporate roles. Meredith’s work is very much like my paintings – clean design, blocks of color. The complexity is within the blocks. Balance and deliberate imbalance. Perhaps that was part of the initial attraction.”
Since meeting Franck, Glass has painted several works directly influenced by her pieces. The use of stripes, for example, is inspired by the sleeves on some of Franck’s jackets. [see images of Glass paintings]
Though Franck has enjoyed her sales relationships with galleries and boutiques, she treasures the more intimate relationship of direct sales. “It connects me to the people. I enjoy imagining my piece on the person at the event she is going to,” she says. “I don’t think I would be happy mass-producing anything. I would lose something. I am now on piece #653. It’s not hard to track. I know who bought each piece and it makes it very personal to me.”
Franck’s career as a teacher of psycho-education classes for Salt Lake County’s criminal justice division has given her the freedom to pursue art as a passion rather than a living. But there is no doubt how she will spend her time in retirement.
To indulge yourself or to buy a one-of-a-kind wearable art gift for someone special, visit Paletti on Highland Drive, or the Museum of Fine Art’s holiday boutique (Dec. 6), or call and make an appointment to visit Franck’s magical cottage (801-835-3677). You can also visit her web site: www.meredithfranckoriginals.com.
Exhibition Review: Park City
Sculptor Joe Norman at Gallery MAR
Sculptor Joe Norman returns to Utah this month with an exhibit of works at Park City's Gallery MAR that marks a shift from practical to theoretical concerns.
Norman first came to our attention in 2009, when he was selected for that year's iteration of the 35x35 exhibition, Artists of Utah's showcase of the state's young talent. As Norman explained in a video interview we recorded at the time, he had studied engineering and taught science and math in secondary schools before deciding to devote himself full-time to becoming a sculptor. And a motorcyle mechanic. Both ventures fueled his enthusiasm for junkyards, where he would reclaim just about anything for his projects.
"Reclaimed items have an emotional residue," he says. "That’s why I use them: things are ideas and maybe they still have value before we throw them away. There’s a truth in bicycle chain and bullet casings."
Norman's sculptures have always had a practical, and frequently a political, bent. Out of old boats, airplane parts and about anything he can find in the scrap yard, he creates furniture, especially tables, where people come together and create community. He has used the same materials to comment on the environment, war and other issues that fire up his spirit.
In his most recent work, we see a shift toward more theoretical concerns. For instance, the pieces in his Perforated Basin Series are explorations of form, the nature of sculpture, and what it is about material, or its lack, that creates a surface. After completing a residency in the Great Basin of Nevada, Norman became interested in the work of Michael Heizer. The artist's "Perforated Object" in Reno inspired Norman to create related works, using the scraps from the manufacture of ice-climbing equipement. At Gallery MAR, his "Perforated Sail I & II" are made from panels that are what is left over after parts to crampons, ice screws and pitons have been cut out of the original sheet. These and other works in the series have a simple grace about them, combining the curves of Brancusi with the positive-negative forms of a Ruth Asawa.
Working with this particular type of recycled material led, Norman says, to some academic questions. "For example, how many holes can you put into it and still feel like there is a surface there? How much can you bend it and still call it a ‘suface’? Do the planes of a basin have to even meet for it to be interpreted as a enclosed object?" The formal concerns, he says, are a nice break from some of the political subjects that have engaged him in the past.
Norman recently moved to Loveland, Colo., drawn by the growing sculpture community in the town north of Denver that hosts huge sculpture festivals and boasts two bronze foundries, and where Artspace (the national rather than the Utah organization) will develop an entire city block, including 30 studios for artists.
He's found the city's growing art community is something he can feed off of. Another body of work on exhibit at Gallery MAR was inspired by Loveland artist David Young, whose "approximations of the unknown" uses spheres to represent things we don't fully know or understand. "Think about models of tiny molecules and far-away planets in science textbooks, all represented by spheres," Norman says. The idea stuck and Norman has been using small steel balls as building blocks "to explore ideas and people in my life I don’t understand but ‘approximate’ with the spheres."
These sculptures frequently take the shape of hands, which in turn become visual synecdoches for various individuals or occupations: the engineeer, the architect, the rancher. They are all traditionally male occupations, and Norman says he uses them to trace his own male lineage, a way to "explore what our fathers mean to us, what to keep in our lives and what to jettison from those generations."
The final group of works on exhibit in Park City is a series of abstractions based on animal bones and skulls. Borrowing techniques from custom hot-rod designers he reimagines the carcasses that festoon the western landscape: a jawbone, a massive hip bone and the ubiquitous bison skull are on exhibit at Gallery MAR.
Our local art community may miss having Norman as one of their own, but this current exhibit suggests the move to Colorado has been good for the artist's creative energies.