Frances Lerner: from calming to alarming
Published 4:14 p.m., Friday, September 28, 2012
Picture space, no matter the medium, is otherworldly by
nature. It purports to dissolve the
membrane between this world and some adjacent dimension. In our image-drowned
age, only art
as strange and apparently subdued as that of Bay Area painter Frances
Lerner may remind us
Lerner's small works at Jack Fischer's, many measuring a
square foot or less, steal a march on
the imagination by their intimacy, their ambiguities and low-key palette.
Lerner paints images of simple dioramas that she stages in her studio
using dolls and makeshift
props. This basis in observation seems to give her images a traction they
might not have
otherwise. But she leaves so much scantily defined that we cannot guess
whether the scenes she
depicts formed narratives in her mind or mere armatures for imagery.
Despite its uncharacteristically bright palette, "Saddled
Head" (2010/12) typifies Lerner's work in
the uncertain scale and identity of what it describes, and its accordingly
Small Lerner pictures lacking figures, such as the two titled "Benches,"
bring to mind the smoky
light and soft congestion of some of Giorgio Morandi's landscapes and
Lerner seems to do deliberately, anyway pretty consistently, what many
do inadvertently: lull a viewer into a state of bemused unconcern.
I would count this hypnotic effect pernicious in a culture
already hooked on stupor, but Lerner's
best work has estranging effects deep enough to make us, upon reawakening,
reality with fresh disquiet.
Frances Lerner: Minor Characters and Sympathetic Criminals:
Paintings. Through Oct.
20. Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 956-1178.
Kenneth Baker is The San Francisco Chronicle's art critic.