Mark Humphrey Gallery 95 Main St., Southampton, New York (631) 283-3113
Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Pat Rogers
Aug 18, 2009 2:08 PM
Dynamic tension. It’s used in storytelling to create drama and interest. Tension born of suspense keeps moviegoers and readers in their seats wondering what’s going to happen next.
Artist Christopher French is a master of tension. In his paintings, drama arises from visual patterns that are rhythmic yet random, predictable yet ever changing in the way the array of colors is perceived. When different colors catch the eye, they create new visual relationships for the viewer each time the painting is considered.
Conflict also arises from the clashing impulses to stare deeply into the compositions or to approach and touch the works instead. This is because much of Mr. French’s art is made on paper lined with Braille. Sometimes chapters of books provide the jumping off point for his colorful and patterned art. Other times, the canvas is graph paper designed for the blind.
Difficult to experience in the same way when viewed online or in photographs, his paintings will be on view in a solo show opening on Saturday at Mark Humphrey Gallery in Southampton. The exhibition, “Christopher French: Paintings,” will remain on view through September 13 in the Side Gallery.
The seemingly random patterns of raised dots add additional layers of meaning. Series of paintings have been created using Braille pages of plays by William Shakespeare and by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and novels by Lewis Carroll.
Additional meanings have also been derived from popular films (such as “The House of Sand and Fog,” based on the novel written by Andre Dubus III) and other artists’ works. This includes “The Raft of the Medusa” drawings and painting by Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997), which translated into Mr. French’s “Burn Notice” series.
That said, Mr. French is primarily a colorist. The palettes for his abstract pieces are mostly culled from details in the landscape around him. Color choices vary according to his residence or studio locations: Mr. French has lived in Texas, Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and now Water Mill.
In all cases, Mr. French likes to work in series. His T-Top paintings break away from the Braille underpinnings to create textural landscapes. These paintings have dueling surfaces created by juxtaposing a cut-out icon with defined edges against a field of subdued gray that sinks below the color-drenched icons, based on the letter “T” found in the New York Times masthead.
The paintings in all of his series are formulated to created systematic patterns using predetermined colors that spiral into randomness. Colors are calculated to create random patterns. In this way, Mr. French’s art is both highly choreographed and left to chance, he explained.
Mr. French’s exhibition at Mark Humphrey Gallery is also a little of both. The show marks the reunion of two close college friends and a symbolic welcome to the community.
Mark Humphrey attended art school with Mr. French’s wife, Terrie Sultan—the new director of the Parrish Art Museum. The college friends parted ways after graduating from Syracuse University and Mr. Humphrey became aware of Ms. Sultan’s arrival in Southampton only after a visitor pointed to an artwork hanging in the gallery made by Ms. Sultan’s brother, Donald Sultan.
Armed with the newfound knowledge of the family connection and his own college memories, Mr. Humphrey contacted Ms. Sultan. He spied Mr. French’s art at the couple’s home while attending a social function there. Connecting with Mr. French’s prowess as an abstract colorist and his ability to constantly surprise, he offered Mr. French a solo show. The exhibition will include some 14 paintings made on Braille paper, canvas, panel and paper.
“I’m very excited about the show,” Mr. Humphrey said. “It’s just a great way to welcome Terrie to the community and to introduce Chris’s work to the area.”
“Christopher French: Paintings” will open on Saturday with a reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Mark Humphrey Gallery, 95 Main Street, Southampton. The show continues through September 13. For information, visit www.markhumphreygallery.com or call 283-3113.
Mr. French’s art is in collections held by the National Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C., among others. He has exhibited in galleries in Texas, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and other states. His art and more information can be found at web.mac.com/christopherfrench.
Back to press