Works
Biography

A reappraisal is long overdue for the second-generation abstract expressionists. Artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Dan Christensen, and Sam Francis are already well-known names. However, Sherron Francis, a female artist from the Midwestern United States, exhibited alongside many of these stars, yet has not been the recipient of a major exhibition in nearly 40 years. 

Francis was born in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Illinois in 1940. She studied fine art at the University of Oklahoma from 1958 to 1960 before transferring to the Kansas City Art Institute for better educational opportunities. At the time, Francis remained loyal to figurative art. Philip Pearlstein, a contemporary artist and visiting professor once remarked at the confidence of Francis’ draftsman abilities.

In the early 1960s, art dealers and gallerists from New York would visit the Institute to recruit artists by offering scholarships, but they only offered these scholarships to men. Francis was forced to plead with deans to allow a scholarship for women so that she could continue her studies. She ultimately graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1963. In Missouri, Francis met Dan Christensen (Class of 1964), an artist friend, who would play a key role in her career throughout the next two decades. Francis then received her MFA from the University of Indiana, where she was housemates with Mernet Larsen, before assuming a teaching position at Eastern Michigan University. 

In 1968, with only $300 on hand, Francis moved to 16 Waverly Place in Soho. At the time, the neighborhood boasted some of the biggest names in abstract expressionism. She quickly became friends with Peter Reginato, Walter Darby Bannard, Michael Steiner, Peter Young, Larry Zox, and Larry Poons, who all lived and worked in the neighborhood. In fact, Francis introduced Larry Poons to his now wife, Paula, a friend and student of Sherron’s. Francis helped to found The Bowery Gallery in 1969 and received her first solo exhibition there in 1970 for her figurative works. After this exhibition, Francis decided to switch to abstraction.

By 1971, Christensen, who was exhibiting with Andre Emmerich, introduced Francis to the legendary gallerist. There was no better gallery to be showcasing abstract expressionism and color field painting during this decade for an artist. For example, in 1972, Emmerich held solo exhibitions by art titans, such as Hans Hofmann, Al Held, Esteban Vicente, David Hockney, and Morris Louis. In 1973 alone, Emmerich gave one-person exhibitions to Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Hans Hofmann, Jack Bush and a new discovery: 32-year-old Sherron Francis. The January 27 - February 14 exhibition for Francis was a great success with Peter Schjeldahl commenting in the New York Times:  

“Francis has…sidestepped the danger of seeming hopelessly derivative of such artists as Mark Rothko, Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler —by, it seems to me, the use of a single canny formal device. All her canvases are tall, vertical rectangles. What this shape achieves is a physical presence that supports the paintings' fragile play of color and texture. Bearing roughly the proportions of the human body, but bigger in size, her pictures confront the viewer with a satisfying firmness, inviting delectation.” 

 

Francis’s career now took off with the stain paintings. In a 1974 article in Arts Magazine, Whee Kim writes, “She has asserted the credibility of her own answer to the problem of the outer edge of a canvas by limiting her investigations to a singular central image. In her variations on this theme, an intuitive sense of color and touch is given restricted free-play.” Schjeldahl added, “Her paintings, stained and brushed to a suavely grainy texture, each float an area of warm, soft color in a somewhat less‐intensely colored field. The areas are amorphous in shape and closely related, by hue, to the surrounding fields. Her colors run to luxurious brown‐golds, dreamy bluegreens and dusty pinks, though each canvas is alive with a variety of evanescent hues and tints. The goal of her art is to be at once as gorgeous and as delicate as possible: she intends to ravish.” In 1973, Francis exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and then received a second solo exhibition at Emmerich the following year. Corporate collections and private enthusiasts, including Helen Frankenthaler, rushed to purchase her paintings. More than sixty of her paintings sold in one year at Emmerich’s gallery. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Francis exhibited at other leading American galleries, including Janie C. Lee Gallery in Houston, Barbara Kornblatt Gallery in Baltimore, Douglas Drake in Kansas City, Rubiner Gallery in Detroit, and Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York.

Francis always marched to the beat to her own drum. Although she admired the works of Jules Olitski, Jack Bush, and Kenneth Noland, Francis never felt that her work and lifestyle were influenced by others. When her friends summered in the Hamptons, Francis opted instead to spend time in the North Fork, then a relatively undeveloped area. She liked it because she did not want to recreate her New York neighborhood on Long Island “Out East”. In Aquebogue, she even worked as a commercial fisherwoman on her own boat named Bay Queen, and enjoyed setting her own hours.

In the late 1970s, Francis became more interested in utilizing new acrylic and gel mediums that were becoming available. She moved away from her floating rectangular compositions and became freer in her brushstrokes adding thick layers of acrylic impasto. In the 1978 traveling group show “Recent Works by New York Artists,” her work is described in the Roanoke (Virginia) Times as “clean, smooth curves of pure color against a densely mottled, deeply stained background texture.” By 1980, she was also creating clay works and exhibiting them alongside Kikuo Saito and Betty Woodman. In 1983, art historian Jack Flam selected one of Francis’s paintings in his 16 work “Artists Choose Artists II” exhibition, which consisted of works by Carl Andre, Jim Dine, Brice Marden, Richard Serra, and Frank Stella.

Francis taught at several institutions including the Ridgewood School of Art and Design from 1972 to 1985 and Cooper Union from 1978 to 1985. Paul Genader, a student of Francis’s, remarked, “I was exploring widely with no clear sense of direction, only an instinct nudging me forward up several different paths simultaneously. Sherron provided me with a fingerpost pointing a route at a critical juncture so I could recognize a turn which was necessary. And that made all the difference.”

 

The landscape in downtown New York began to shift in the mid-1980s. Greater gentrification, increasing rents and changing landlords forced many of the artists out of the downtown New York neighborhoods. When her landlord sold the building on Waverly Place, Sherron moved to the North Fork permanently. Her move effectively severed ties with not just New York City, but also the art world. Francis gradually lost interest in painting and her reputation went into eclipse. This sets the stage for rediscovery in 2022.

 

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Indiana University, Bloomington, In, 1966

Bowery Gallery, NYC, 1970

Andre Emmerich Gallery, NYC, 1974, 1973

Janie C. Lee Gallery, Houston, TX, 1974

B. Kornblatt Gallery, Baltimore, MD, 1977

Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NYC, 1978, 1980     

Bell Gallery, List Art Ctr, Brown Univ, Prov RI 1979

Watson/de Nagy & Co., Houston, TX, 1980, 1984        

Douglas Drake Gallery, Kansas City, MO, 1981       

Clayworks Studio Workshop, NYC, 1982   
Rubiner Gallery, Detroit, Michigan, 1985              

 

Selected Group Exhibitions:

Studio Gallery, Geneva, Illinois, 1963, 1964

Evansville Museum, "Invitational Exhibition", Evansville, Indiana, 1964

Speed Museum, "Invitational Exhibition", Louisville, Kentucky, 1964

Speed Museum, "Louisville Art Center Annual", Louisville, Kentucky, 1964

Evansville Museum, "Midstates Exhibition", Evansville, Indiana, 1965, 1966

Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1964, 1965, 1966

University of North Dakota, "North Dakota Annual", Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1966
Western Michigan University, "8th National Print & Drawing Biennial", Kalamazoo, Mi, 1968

Bowery Gallery, New York, 1969

The ART Gallery, State University of New York, Albany, 1970

Eastern Michigan University, "Five Man Invitational", Ypsilanti, Michigan, 1970

Galleria 11 Fante Di Spade, Rome, Italy, 1972

Andre Emmerich Gallery, "New Talent Show", NYC 1972

Whitney Museum of American, Whitney Biennial Exihibition", NYC, 1973

Louise Ferrari Gallery, Houston, Texas, 1973

New Gallery, Cleveland, Ohio, 1973

Janie C. Lee Gallery, Houston, Texas, 1973, 1975

Gallerie Andre Emmerich, Zurich, Switzerland, 1973, 1975

Museum of Fine Arts, "Three Young American Painters", Houston, Texas, 1974

Dootson/Calderhead Gallery, Seattle, Washington, 1975

Museum of Fine Arts, "Modern Painting: 1900 to the Present", Houston, Texas, 1975

Edmonton Art Gallery, "New Abstract Art", Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1977

American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters, NYC., 1978

Traveling Exhibition, "Clayworks", Squires Art Gallery, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1981
Douglas Drake Gallery, "Abstract Paintings", Kansas City, MO, 1981
Watson/de Nagy & Co., "New Work New York"  Houston, Texas, 1981
Clayworks Studio Workshop, "Visiting Artists", NYC, 1981
Traveling Exhibition, "Broken Surface",  Virginia State, Bennington College, Tibor de Nagy, 1981

Martin Gerard Gallery, "Clayworks", Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1981, 1982

Garth Clark Gallery, "Painters in Clay", Los Angeles, California, 1982

Rubiner Gallery, "Selected Paintings of Contemporary Abstractionists", Detroit, Michigan, 1982

C.D.S. Gallery, "Artists Choose Artists", NYC, 1983
Watson/de Nagy & Co., "Clayworks", Houston, Texas, 1984

Douglas Drake Gallery, "Toot",  Kansas City, MO, 1985

Douglas Drake Gallery, "Wood", NYC, 1989

Douglas Drake Gallery, "Small Paintings: Big Issues", NYC, 1993

Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina, 2001

Clement Greenberg: "A Critics Collection", Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2001

Art Museum of South Texas, "Modernism of the 1970's", Corpus Christi, Texas, 2008


Bibliography:
V. Raynor, The New York Times Sunday, July 4, 1993 W.C. Sec.
H. Harrison, The New York Times, Sunday, August 4, 1992 L.I. Sec.
H. Harrison, The New York Times, Sunday, August 4, 1991, L.I. Sec.
D. Hoffmann, The Kansas City Star, Sunday, April 28, 1985
C. Abatt, Birmingham Eccentric, January 17, 1985
M. Miro, Detroit Free Press, January 18, 1985
V. Tatransky, "The New Avant-Garde",  Art International, Vo. XXVII-2, April-June, 1984, p.31
V. Tatransky, "Artists Choose Artists", Arts Magazine, September 1983, p 41
Jack D. Flam Artists Choose Artists II, (Book) 1983
V. Tatransky,  "Sherron Francis", Arts Magazine, September 1982 p. 39
V. Tatransky,  "Group Show", Arts Magazine, May 1981, p. 35 Art World, February 15, 1980, p. 9
Roanoke Times and World News, Sunday, September 17, 1978
B. Gold, "Art Notes", The Sun, Sunday, May 15, 1977
L. Johnson, The Sun, May 15, 1977
P. Frank, Art News, November 1974
K. Whee, "A Personal Definition of Pictorial Space", Arts Magazine, November, 1974
"New York Letter", Art International, November 15, 1974, p. 57
A. Holmes, "Two Young Americans Follow Gallery's Stars", Houston Chronicle, October 3, 1974
P. Schjeldahl, "Abstract Painting - The Crisis of Success", The NY Times, Sunday, Feb 4, 1973, p. 23

Education:

College - Undergraduate: University of Oaklahoma 1958-1960

Bachelor of Fine Arts: Kansas City Art Institute 1960-1963

Master of Fine Arts: Indiana University 1963-1966

Scholarships And Awards:
Mortarboard Award, University of Oklahoma, 1959

Tuition Scholarships, Kansas City Art Institute, 1961-1963

Teaching Assistantship, Indiana University, 1964-1966

M.F.A. with Honors, Indiana University, 1966

Purchase Award, 8th National Print and Drawing Biennial, Western Michigan University, 1968

Purchase Award, 59th Annual Indiana Artists Exhibition John Herron Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana 1966

National Endowment for the Arts, Invitational Residency, Claywork Studio Workshop NYC,  1985

 

Teaching Experience
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1964-1966 

Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, 1966-1968

Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut, Guest Lecturer, 1974

Ridgewood School of Art and Design, Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1972-1985

The Cooper Union School of Art, New York City, New York 1978-1985

Metropolitan State College, Denver, Colorado, Visiting Artist, 1987

Selected Public Collections:
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Denver Museum, Denver, Colorado
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY
Museum of Southern Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas
Power Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sidney, Australia
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan

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