Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Size One Doesn't Fit All

By Cory Dugan

MAY 18, 1998:  Pattern and color. Race and gender. These are the concerns and subjects of Lurlynn Franklin’s paintings, not necessarily in that (or any other) order. Franklin’s current show at Cooper Street Gallery has a casual atmosphere; most of the mixed-media paintings – all on paper – are smallish and unframed, tacked directly to the walls. The exhibit is oddly intimate, more like a studio than a gallery.

The inital, overall impression is of pattern and color and line, of simple figures arranged in a dance-like circle around the walls. One easy comparison – not as completely incongruous as it sounds – is fashion design and illustration: quick colorful sketches meant to convey volume and form within an economy of shapes and marks. They are not, of course, that shallow.

Franklin’s paintings have in the past – at least, those seen by this writer – been somewhat aggressive, both in bold color and biting commentary, often assigning exaggerated sexuality and/or African features to their usually female subjects. Those paintings shouted and preached and accused. With good cause. Good cause can often excuse the sacrifice of artistic judgment to passion. When does art become editorial cartoon? Or vice versa?

Franklin’s artistic judgment is, by and large, off the altar in this exhibit. This work doesn’t shout or preach; it argues, it cajoles, it reasons, it confesses, it even flirts.

Pattern is the recurring and cohesive compositional element in Franklin’s work. Collaged paper elements include floral prints and marbled textures; painted figures are clothed in stripes and textures and big, concentric polka dots. In the dominant series – most titled either Size One or Size Three – female figures (painted in groups or singly) are depicted mannequin-like, armless, slender and shapeless (as befits their dress size), devoid of facial features, their skirts and blouses hanging as flat, patterned shapes. These are strong, simple images, at once abstract and totemic. Corresponding male figures, less numerous and likewise mannequin-like, are titled Muscles. The commentary on gender and body image in these pieces, left implied in the titles and not as obvious in the actual imagery, is an extra bonus, a witty option, more incisive for its subtlety.


Lurlynn Franklin, 1, 2 ,3, mixed media on paper, 1998.
A series of smaller pieces, titled Good Girl, uses a comparably simple figure painted on scraps of patterned paper. These images of little girls, by design or due to subject, are more doll-like than the adult images. Franklin’s rendering here is more direct and child-like; the figures’ heads are similarly featureless but an added jagged line transforms them from mannequins into broken eggs. In these miniatures, this odd image works – at once charming and disturbing, innocent yet dark. In several larger works that deal with familial issues, the jagged line is repeated not only in the egg-like faces but also as a “tear” in the composition, between family members – father and son, mother and daughter. In these larger pieces, however, the image is less successful, mostly on a visual level. Enlarged, it seems forced and cartoonish, awkward when removed from a child’s small scale.

Franklin’s style varies widely in this exhibit, from the aforementioned abstracted figures to a more expressionist representation, a grouping of which is exhibited in the smaller gallery and deals more directly with racial issues and stereotypes. Works such as Rednecks Wearing Tuxedos, Beef Stew and Biscuits, and Dashiki Made in Japan are clever visual satires weakened slightly by unresolved composition and sketchy execution. Much stronger are Church Lady I and Church Lady II, two nearly straightforward portraits which play pattern and lush painterliness against one another to outstanding effect; these are deceptively dense and rich paintings, evocative in image and confidently crafted.

Lurlynn Franklin is a shrewd young painter, quick with imagery, keen with color and form. She also has an obviously sharp (and sometimes wicked) wit, coupled with a healthy abundance of opinion. The work in this exhibit seems a bit transitional, a little impatient and unsure of its final direction, testing several waters at once, dancing from abstracted form to representation to retro-Afro-Pop. The dance is nimble and the idea of a restrictive “artistic style” should be archaic; still, the lack of visual cohesion is sometimes a distraction from Franklin’s underlying message. Lurlynn Franklin has a lot to say, things we need to hear. When she finds the true vehicle for her voice, we’ll have no choice but to listen.


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