Mark Francis (b.1962) is one of the ‘Young British Artists’ (YBAs) who came to prominence in the early 1990s, and his work is held in many public and private collections, including the Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Saatchi Collection, London. This exhibition at MK Gallery was his first major solo exhibition in a public gallery in the U.K.
The exhibition featured a surprising and intriguing mixture of exhibits; Francis’s abstract paintings were shown alongside antiquarian prints of birds eggs, shells, insects, fungi, medical dissections, diseases and natural history. In addition there were maps, models of fungi and medical ephemera drawn from Francis’s extensive personal collection. This was the first time that Francis’s paintings and private collections had been brought together, affording a unique opportunity to consider the influences and contexts for his abstract work.
Paintings made during the preceding seven years were shown in the Long Gallery, the largest of MK Gallery’s three exhibiting spaces. The walls of the Middle Gallery were densely packed in imitation of the artist’s London sitting room with framed prints and other selected items which evoked the order in which Francis normally displayed his collections. The Cube Gallery featured four entirely new, previously unseen paintings, which suggested a new direction in the artist’s work.
Speaking of his collecting Francis said: Collecting has been a hobby since childhood, from football cards to model soldiers. For me it feels like some kind of impulsive ordering. By this I mean gathering information which seems to be intuitive but might not have a structured order at the time. It’s only through the accumulation of objects / prints that some sort of understanding and placement takes place. In my case the interest is natural history, medical images and astronomy, amongst other things. The way that I have presented the framed prints at home and at MK Gallery is to place them side by side so that they make some kind of grid-like amorphous form. Each print tends to lose its own identity and you start to look at the constructed surface as a whole. This tends to echo elements within my paintings such as the “Compression” or “Growth” series.