05 April - 7 July 2019
Rounded, raw clay vessels on high plinths occupy the imposing ground floor windows of a Georgian townhouse. On another aspect, a solitary moon vase rests on a low pedestal, beside a shard of lichen-mottled bark: Francis Gallery is currently hosting its inaugural show, Modern Archive, at its new, permanent location at 3 Fountain Buildings, Bath. With a respectful attitude towards the Georgian site, gallery director Rosa Park and designer Fred Rigby has collaborated on an extensive renovation of the space. Ornamental cornicing and dados have been restored, and the floor has been stripped back to its original boards. Inspired by Korean aesthetics, with a nod to Bath’s quintessentially English heritage, the gallery’s collection is interspersed with both Korean and English antiques. Natural objects from the surrounding Somerset countryside – magnolia cones, piles of jade green moss, and sculptural bark – also accompany the artworks, providing further context.
By the entrance, a work in paper curves back on itself within a deep frame, a subtle line and dot faintly perceptible on its soft white surface. Created by multidisciplinary artist Romy Northover, the paper was moistened with water, formed into the shape of a lantern, and embossed with a piece of string. The frame, which has been painted and sanded in incremental layers, has a luminous quality akin to porcelain. On a nearby wall, a group of line drawings from Northover’s series Horizons, ushers the visitor further into the space. Simple and elemental, their bold horizontal lines of black ink, applied with a pipette, are a poetic interpretation of horizons. In a red bole frame, water gilded with 23.5ct gold leaf, a single ink dot seeps deep into the hanji paper below an invisible horizon, like a lonely reflection of the moon.
A family of vases, urns and pots on a floating bench are the work of New York and Seoul based studio potter Yoon-Young Hur. Part of a series titled Archive, they are based on traditional forms from the full scope of Korea’s ceramic history – from ancient earthenware, to Joseon dynasty porcelain. In the window, a branch of fluffy wild clematis bends in a wide arc from the elongated neck of a vase, as if reaching to touch the adjacent piece, which swells smoothly from its base into rounded shoulders. Through the windows, the radiant, blond stone of the city, which inspired the colour palette of the stoneware, provides a harmonious backdrop.
In a series of fine art photographic prints, subtle shades of colour blur in hazy, dreamlike compositions. Landscapes stretch and transform, resembling the distorted images of memory, or the half-perceived passing of daily life beyond the gallery’s windows. Created by photographer Matthew Johnson, the series, titled Above Ground, was captured in elapsed exposure from train windows, on journeys across the United States and the United Kingdom. The photos vary in degrees of abstraction. Amorphous shapes give way to more tangible images such as a bridge or a train, glimpsed as if seen through mist, while lines of blurred colour resemble brush strokes on a canvas.
The layered scent of a candle by Perfumer H drifts from an antique English torchère in the gallery’s restful back room. Curved furnishings – part of the Francis Gallery x Fred Rigby furniture collection – including a sofa upholstered in bouclé wool, and a desk made from naturally ebonised oak, depart from the unflinching, clean lines of a modern art gallery. External to the Modern Archive show, works from Francis’s roster of artists nestle comfortably in this relaxed setting. A low, curvilinear sculpture in white marble jesmonite by Mari-Ruth Oda rests on a vintage travertine coffee table; black and white compositions by Matthew Johnson inhabit a dimmer stretch of wall, between two, tall sash windows, while a painting by Spencer Fung leans against the wall, atop a mantelpiece of an undulating fireplace. The ashen, gestural brush strokes by Fung reflect the tones of a neighbouring smoky quartz crystal.
Shadows gather in the quiet corners of the gallery, pooling among the floral and dentil cornicing. On the gallery’s final wall, a triptych from Horizons, displayed vertically, guides the eye downward to another group of Hur’s ceramics. A moon vase with a glazed, glaucous surface gleams softly; another – the top rounded, the bottom tapering and concave – seems to be cast of one part light, one part shadow. Northover’s line drawings share this essential contrast: a dichotomy of ink and space. Johnson’s photography presents one of image and abstraction. All are timeless, ancient forms adapted to our time: a modern archive.