Artist Francine Markoe asks good questions. Speaking with her at a recent exhibition of her paintings at Peninsula Gallery in San Mateo, she said that she hopes that those who see her art sense her love of natural environments: deserts, mountains, oceans, vast skies, even the cosmos. Markoe’s mind is electric, but her medium is mixed: acrylic, flat rock, shells, sand, plaster, even the lowly barnacle. Moreover, she is interested in examining why she does what she does in her in both her art and her life, and, more importantly, how she makes deep decisions on what it is to live a “good life.”
An eye-catching luminescence in most of Markoe’s paintings defies gravity. Blasts of rock, water, earth and sand create a feeling of impending destruction.
Flux, Markoe explains, rules the earth: its crusts, mantle, tectonic plates, quakes, tsunamis, eruptions, and their seething core. Oh no, these are not “pretty” paintings of land, ocean, and interplanetary scapes. They depict an unusual partnership of weightiness and weightlessness. It is as though the heavy accretions of textured surfaces were intended to challenge common sense and everyday observations of nature when she mercilessly plunders her palette for indigo, ochre, titanium, silver and gold.
Francine Markoe’s paintings are eco-centric to be sure; there is no trace of the human form in them. She defamiliarizes the familiar in hopes that viewers develop a deeper visual vocabulary of eco-aesthetics. Timeless in their own right her paintings are mental journeys to distant shores, hillsides, and planets. Her rocks and sand are but ‘stepping-stones’ for viewers to use in imagining the nonactual in the actual. Here Markoe seems to be asking the question: What is possible? Her paintings are vital and can produce an ecstatic delight in what reminds us of our personal potential for good and bad.
Markoe’s work brings to mind several paintings of the German artist Anselm Keifer (b. 1945), for example, his “Bohemia Lies by the Sea,” 1996 (oil, emulsion, shellac, charcoal, and powdered paint on burlap.)
Another example is Keifer’s “Heavy Cloud” (lead and shellac on photograph, mounted on board; see below), in which he uses shellac to represent heavy water which is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Both paintings can be viewed online at the museum’s website.
We viewers usually think of heavy water as the essential ingredient used in the making of nuclear weapons, but some know that it is also a cheaper way to produce electricity. Likewise, most viewers know that lead is dangerous, but some know that it is also used to seal in poisonous radiation. Nevertheless, radiation leaks happen and the dripping shellac represents that sort of pollution.
There is in both artists’ works a creative dynamic tension. Though Markoe’s work is decidedly more optimistic, there are persistent reminders of impending destruction (rock, sand, and shells), while Keifer’s paintings are bleak and dysphoric. But both artists are faithful to the human propensity for finding the silver lining in a dark cloud.
Markoe and I spoke at the Peninsula Gallery in San Mateo, CA, which is known for its quality custom framing and award-winning designs. (The gallery, in operation since 1962, and is located at 1618 South El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA. (Visit its website at .)
To see more of Francine Markoe’s paintings visit these galleries:
Peninsula Gallery, San Mateo, CA (until November 15, 2013); Panache Gallery, Mendocino, CA; Homescapes, Carmel, CA); Bronze, Silver and Fold Gallery, Cambria, CA; Ratcliff Gallery, Sedona, AZ.
Be sure to check out Francine Markoe’s paintings online.
Photos: Courtesy of Francine Markoe