Kenneth Baker reviews Sherie’ Franssen’s exhibition "Satisfaction is Nothing" San Francisco Chronicle

Visceral art that pushes out of the comfort zone

November 2006

by Kenneth Baker

Portland painter Sherie' Franssen borrowed a line from Philip Guston (1913-1980) to title her first San Francisco show at Dolby Chadwick: "Satisfaction is nothing."

"Frustration is one of the great things in art," Guston said, "satisfaction is nothing." He was admonishing fellow painters more than viewers, but for years viewers of his late work found it frustratingly hard to decipher, especially considering that he had reverted from abstraction to imagery.

Franssen's best pictures, especially "Blood Muscle Meat" (2006) produce a sensation of delicious bafflement similar to what we sometimes experience in confronting late Gustons. Delicious because of the profusion of color and brushwork, and baffling because the pictures open up spaces that invite us into disorientation.

Not resolving things in a painting entails the risk that it will feel undercooked or abandoned, and the more challenging risk to the painter of staying relaxed. We see too seldom in contemporary art the combination of drive and relaxed touch, of assurance and open form that pervades "Blood Muscle Meat," "The Great Highway" and at least passages of several other pictures on view. That sort of fluency makes a more-than-optical connection to the viewer's body.

We can discern in "Blood Muscle Meat" and "Three Sweethearts" the makings of figures and flora in a landscape. But they never coalesce, and so produce, along with dreamy pleasure, an electrifying feeling of following the painter into the creative anxiety zone.

Franssen mentions a well-known Goya painting of two men fighting with clubs as a source for "Blood Muscle Meat." Her picture certainly stirs thoughts of conflict, borne on a torrent of brushwork. But Francis Bacon may come to mind in this case more readily than Goya. The visceral quality of Franssen's art, like that of Bacon's, intimates a nontopical response to the times on her part in which we may find our feelings mirrored.

Those who know the work of contemporary painter Cecily Brown may find Franssen's paintings, especially "An Unfinished Woman" and "I Had a King," uncomfortably reminiscent of it. Then again, both painters practice a style so demanding as to discourage imitators.

Parazette at Lind: Near the opposite extreme from Franssen's work on the spectrum of pictorial possibilities stands the work of Houston painter Aaron Parazette, showing for the second time in San Francisco at Gregory Lind.

Parazette paints words, a move with a history that stretches at least from the Cubists and Stuart Davis (1894-1964) to Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), On Kawara and Joe Amrhein. Parazette is young enough to look back at the '60s and see convergence among tendencies of the time -- Pop, minimalism and conceptual art -- that appeared radically disparate then.

A picture such as "Grind" playfully echoes the edge-conscious '60s abstractions of Frank Stella and Jo Baer while evoking the vernacular tradition of sign painting and the cross-fertilization of painting and graphic design that culminated in Pop art.

Like all the other paintings in the Lind show, "Grind" also celebrates the slang of the surfer subculture to which Parazette once belonged. More than that, by literally requiring reading, "Grind" and other pieces here heighten our awareness of how our attention travels in sorting them out. This initial distancing enhances the pleasure of noticing the fine details of color and pattern in Parazette's work.

Even to those who enjoy it, though, Parazette's work displays a contorted quality, less in form than in an increasingly desperate sense that painting must win recognition of its relevance by some sort of conceptual strategy.

The Reilly buzz: I predict great things for Andrew A. Reilly. His work at Jack Fischer has a cool, unsparing humor that seems just the right instrument for diagnosing what ails us as a culture. The variety of work on view also suggests the needed dexterity.

At a distance, an untitled UltraChrome print looks like a band of compressed colored lines. Up close -- very close -- they come clear as text.

"B2k.," the top line begins, "wmd. 2pac. 420. 187. 911. 9/11. 411. *69. lol. txt. xoxo." And so on, line after line, the lines overlapping and forming a colored blur of semiotically distinct particles, each barbed with public and private associations.

Only one work I know really compares: a Saul Steinberg cartoon in which a man looks at a Braque painting that sets off an avalanche of free association, contained in a billowing thought balloon. In Reilly's pieces, though -- there are several -- it is as if our minds are being read.

Other works on view consist of business cards, something most of us carry, blazoned with characterizations such as "a small man cheated out of his dreams" and "a self-congratulatory alpha male" paired with "a nurturing saint with low self-esteem."

The dialectic of resentment and redemption implicit in several of Reilly's pieces finds its funniest expression in the video, which has nothing to offer everyone.