Rounded, raw clay vessels on high plinths occupy the imposing ground floor windows of a Georgian townhouse. 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 in the city of Bath, UK. With a respectful approach to the Grade II listed building, gallery director Rosa Park and designer Fred Rigby have collaborated on an extensive renovation of the space. Ornamental cornicing and dados have been restored, and the floor has been stripped back to the original boards. Drawing influence from Korean aesthetics, and 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.
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 multi-disciplinary 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 Horizon, 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 23.5 carat 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, the pieces 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, grey-gold stone of the city, which inspired the colour palette of the stoneware, provides a harmonious backdrop.
Adjacent, in a series of photographic prints, subtle shades of colour blur in hazy, dreamlike compositions. Landscapes stretch and transform, resembling distorted images of memory, or the half-perceived passing of 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 though 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 typical art gallery. In addition to the Modern Archiveshow, 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 stretch of wall between two sash windows, while a painting by Spencer Fung leans against an adjacent wall, atop the mantelpiece of an undulating fireplace – the ashen, gestural brush strokes reflecting the tones of a neighbouring smoky quartz crystal.
Shadows gather in the corners of the gallery ceiling, pooling among the floral and dentil cornicing. On the gallery’s final wall, a triptych from Horizon, displayed vertically, guides the eye downward to another group of Hur’s ceramics. A moon vase – 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 a duality of image and abstraction. All are timeless, traditional forms, adapted to our time: a modern archive.
Words: Ollie Horne
Photos: Rory Gardiner