Frances Cannon at North End Studio

by Darshana Bolt

Frances Cannon is on the verge of mastering her craft as a relief printer at an age when she is still not allowed to order a drink in an American bar. A seasoned woodcut and block printer, Cannon has been making prints since the age of five, and her lines demonstrate the virtuosity that comes with constancy and true dedication. Even her more usual subjects, such as a still life, prove whimsical and slightly off-kilter—in Charcuterie (linoleum carving), a spread of perfectly bulbous garlic, a book lying open to Chapter IV, hanging pans, a window, and a large knife are all overshadowed by an enormously meaty cut ham. The arrangement is more haphazard than that of a traditional still life, which only makes it more lively. The ham has a lot of personality and seems almost malevolent. Most of Cannon’s work is a welcome relief from the sinister and the saccharine alike, as she creates visual puns from the patterns in her palette—which is always black-and-white.

Two prints that play with line and pattern especially are Sunday Morning in Print (ink painting) and Sadie (linoleum carving). Sunday Morning in Print is a feast of stripes, as a man in his black-and-white striped pyjamas (the whole scene insists upon the British spelling) reclines upon a black-and-white striped couch below black-and-white striped curtains reading the paper. In Sadie, a girl in a black-and-white checked shirt moves pieces on a black-and-white checked chessboard. Like many of Cannon’s compositions, this one features a figure sitting in a chair behind a table, with open books spread before her. Pieces where the fabric of human and setting overlap seem to be a playful, chameleon-like commentary on Cannon’s medium. Strong forms emerge from stark contrasts.

A simple image of a man sitting on a box playing the fiddle, Strings in Florence, is an intaglio etching, and therefore has smaller, softer lines than many of Cannon’s other pieces. The man’s Lincoln-like face shows the carved features that go so well with the hard edges of printmaking, though the intaglio method makes for a soft, inky background. Otis (linoleum carving) is a piano with a mustachioed face over the front. It is beautifully ornate, strongly cut, and surreal. He has a furrowed brow, closed eyes, and curling white mustachios that sweep out over the keys. Perhaps he is the soul of the old piano.

Dorian Grey (linoleum carving) is a masquerade scene, replete with elegant women with upswept hair and a stout man in a top hat who wears another astonishingly pronounced, curly mustache above his cravat. A fine-featured young man sits below a mirror, lounging on a divan between two masked pairs of people conversing. He is the only one not wearing a mask over his eyes.

Discourse in Central Park (ink painting) is an overlay of text and profiles. Some profiles seem like they could be wearing masks and look historical. Curling lines of busts and profiles overlap and interlace with cryptic calligraphic text. Another ink painting, The Fig Philosopher consists of an old, bearded man gesturing with two disembodied pairs of hands to the right of 29 square panels that depict different scenes. The words labeling the different sections mimic encyclopedia entries with snippets like “Fig. 2” (a pomegranate cut in half), “Fig. 3 drupe” (a cut peach), “Fig. 8 birth” (a bisected apple with seeds), “death Fig. 21”, and isolated, iconic images like a chicken, a small girl, a piano, a fish, a well-dressed couple, “Wasp 7” (wasps), a beet and a pair of legs turned upwards, a honeycomb, a typewriter, and a woman with a teacup. The honeycombs and woman-with-teacup motif show up in two other pieces that have a quiet grace and steady humor. The honeycomb patterns in Sprawl (ink painting) look like hexagonal diagrams of cellular and molecular structures, and mimic the pattern of the accompanying suburban structures, and Teacup (linoleum carving) depicts another pleasing moment at table, as a woman’s sturdy hands hold a small vessel.

Please take the time to explore the miasma of fanciful images that flow from Frances Cannon’s fingertips whenever the opportunity should arrive, for this young artist is as prolific as she is preternaturally talented. We should expect many more shows of her work to come.

Frances Cannon’s work was on display at the North End Studio in December 2010.