frances lerner


Frances Lerner: from calming to alarming
Kenneth Baker
Published 4:14 p.m., Friday, September 28, 2012

Picture space, no matter the medium, is otherworldly by nature. It purports to dissolve the
membrane between this world and some adjacent dimension. In our image-drowned age, only art
as strange and apparently subdued as that of Bay Area painter Frances Lerner may remind us
of this.

Lerner's small works at Jack Fischer's, many measuring a square foot or less, steal a march on
the imagination by their intimacy, their ambiguities and low-key palette.
Lerner paints images of simple dioramas that she stages in her studio using dolls and makeshift
props. This basis in observation seems to give her images a traction they might not have
otherwise. But she leaves so much scantily defined that we cannot guess whether the scenes she
depicts formed narratives in her mind or mere armatures for imagery.

Despite its uncharacteristically bright palette, "Saddled Head" (2010/12) typifies Lerner's work in
the uncertain scale and identity of what it describes, and its accordingly odd title.
Small Lerner pictures lacking figures, such as the two titled "Benches," bring to mind the smoky
light and soft congestion of some of Giorgio Morandi's landscapes and still lifes.
Lerner seems to do deliberately, anyway pretty consistently, what many representational painters
do inadvertently: lull a viewer into a state of bemused unconcern.

I would count this hypnotic effect pernicious in a culture already hooked on stupor, but Lerner's
best work has estranging effects deep enough to make us, upon reawakening, see mundane
reality with fresh disquiet.

Frances Lerner: Minor Characters and Sympathetic Criminals: Paintings. Through Oct.
20. Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 956-1178.

Kenneth Baker is The San Francisco Chronicle's art critic.