Sometimes it’s the world you don’t really see when you’re scurrying along. The painting can be a sketchy suggestion of an actual place—like “Iceland #2.” Colors swim on
the canvas like koi in a pond while shapes shimmy and make suggestions. It’s that visual dissimilarity you experience—things seen but not seen. But give it a minute and it comes together in a reality you know and understand.
Or like “DC View,” it can be the studied overview of the Capital, perhaps seen as you take off or descend—a huge chessboard of boxy structures advancing in a never-ending assault on the horizon.
Some of Mike’s cityscapes, like “Erv’s View,” can look like a giant cave with an enclosing sky while the skyscrapers, the emblems of enterprise, rise out of the floor like stalagmites jutting skyward, reaching ever closer to the heavens.
Mike grew up around here. He took classes at the Corcoran and earned a BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He received a MFA at George Washington University. He has taught art at virtually every college in the region and “under the auspices” of institutions from all over the world. He taught at GW for 20 years, and now teaches at the Art League.
The paintings of Mike Francis encompass the world and the world of painting. But they do more than that. They reach into the canvas or paper and grip the idea of the place and the changes that fly by moment by moment. Not monuments. Moments. It can be a panorama or an inconspicuous fragment of something unnoticed by others. It can be rooted in our temporary sense of reality and then soar into the timeless spaces—the skies that encompass human vision at its loftiest.
Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
In the grand city paintings of Mike Francis—New York, Baltimore, Washington— you can see the changes, feel the changes…taste them…smell them. There is a built-in nostalgia. You can point to buildings no longer there—replaced by new ones that will shortly be old. Even the rivers seem to age and sometimes groan with the demands of ferries and barges, oily runoff and oily developers.
But the skies! They smile—sing… Or bear down—touch the ground—sit on the city with weight, pressing it flat, encasing it in time. In his happy paintings, the clouds are like the bodies and souls of another era—like Esther Williams and Tarzan doing the sidestroke together through eternity. Or maybe they’re the free-drifting ideas of creation itself.
You would think all painters would glory in the vast and splendorous heavens above. But skim through a book of the all-time masterpieces and you won’t find much until the cumulus melodramatic wonders of John Constable. No clear blue skies in a Constable.
And then… JMW Turner! It’s like God conducting a symphony. Kettledrums and cymbals, bassoons and trumpets…and strings: violins and cellos that float above the thunder.
Then sleep and dream in the moonlight of Albert Pinkham Ryder, enveloped by night skies that light up like lanterns and glow the goldest gold.
And finally, Charles Burchfield, and conversations among the firmaments and fields, stars and streams—where the Milky Way reaches down to the Sphinx and crickets become clouds in the poetry of place.
Yes, we and our cities are changing—changes you can feel, touch and taste. Especially now. But look up. It is there throughout our eternity: the cumulus wonders of Constable, the rumbling tumbling soaring symphonies of Turner, the golden dreams of Ryder and the ringing laughing poetry of Burchfield. And the free drifting ideas of creation itself where Mike Francis is taking a ride.
At the Galleries
921 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
– June 12
This is the annual Regional Juried Exhibition. The Hill Center Gallery may not be open in May, but a wonderful work from each artist can be seen at: https://www.hillcenterdc.org/artist/2020-regional-juried-exhibition.
American Painting Fine Art
5125 MacArthur Blvd. NW #17
– May 31
“Bountiful Treasures” is the extended members show. It can be accessed at, classicamericanpainting.com.
2118 – 8th Street, N.W.
– May 31
(Open by Appointment)
Barbara Pliskin paints fantasies. In her “Sun Series,” forms roll through the emptiness of space or become reflections through a transparency. Always intense and always on the move. barbarapliskin.com
Capitol Hill Art League
545 7th St, SE
“Beginnings” is an online art exhibit featuring CHAL members/artists
Karen Zens, Karen Cohen, Mary Elizabeth Gosselink, Nan Raphael, Tara Hamilton, Anne Albright, Rindy O’Brien, and Ann Pickett. To view the exhibit: https://www.caphillartleague.org
A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim can be reached at [email protected]