Psychology and art meet in Petersfield artist Fran Richardson’s haunting monochrome charcoal drawings

Great British Life: Artist Fran RichardsonArtist Fran Richardson (Image: Archant)

Freud and Whistler – titans of their respective professions – are names which rarely gravitate to the same magazine article let alone the same sentence, despite Surrealists once being influenced by psychoanalysis. But that doesn’t prevent psychoanalytical concepts coexisting alongside mark-making, a collaboration which this month’s subject cultivates into a spirit of hauntingly hypnotic drawings.

Fran Richardson’s longstanding interest in psychology is as evident in her drawings as her use of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shade. “Freud’s theory of the uncanny boils down to a situation where something familiar becomes strange or threatening,” she says. “The book was loaded with information enabling me to give an edge to what should be homely and comforting, creating instead a psychological space.”

Fran’s ability to create such distinct drawings can be attributed to two specific skills. Firstly, her chosen medium possesses qualities which enable the creator to capture subjects in infinite detail and with a three dimensionality beyond the expectations of any other monochrome representations.

“Charcoal is the most direct and malleable medium I can work with,” she says. “To begin with I tested every brand because they vary in tone depending on how much clay is present. The more compressed the charcoal, the better it is for dark areas, that charcoal being crumbly due to the low amount of clay. I use charcoal pencils for detail. A purist would choose sandpaper for sharpening but I have several electric sharpeners which give a true, sharp point with minimal effort.”

Great British Life: Chateau de Chaalis, 2012, charcoal on paper, 150 x 107 cm by Fran RichardsonChateau de Chaalis, 2012, charcoal on paper, 150 x 107 cm by Fran Richardson (Image: Archant)

Fran draws onto Fabriano paper, whose 50 per cent textured cotton content holds onto the charcoal, pieces of which are stored in small dishes marked according to their malleability so that once the imprint has been rubbed off, they remain identifiable. Sponges enable manipulation of marks along with rubbers, foam and brushes to take away the dust. It is the closeness, the connection with this form of dry art drawing material that appeals so much to the 46 year-old. Oil paint, in comparison, is “beautiful and lovely to work with but the brush is a mediator, getting in the way of working so you’re not using your hands as much as you arguably could.”

The second aptitude that this Petersfield creative possesses and which informs such distinct drawings is the processes involved in producing masterful compositions which result from a combination of modern technology and magazine photographs dating back decades.

“I inherited 30 years’ worth of Interiors magazines,” says Fran. “I also collect books, including guidebooks, from charity shops on stately homes and castles. My primary concern is the effect of light on different surfaces, how it falls on fabrics and the interest the object holds. I take an element of different images, for instance a curtain or clock, then, using Photoshop, put them together to create my composition. I print out a black and white image on which I base my drawing although I don’t necessarily stick to that and develop tonal contrast as I’m working. At that point each image is about formal considerations – form, line, shape. I constantly turn the drawing round in order to break it down to an abstract series of shapes rather than looking at the whole image.”

The process is an intense one. Switching off her phone in order to avoid interruptions, Fran’s consciousness commutes to a different level, a kind of meditative state, which is so extreme, afterwards it takes a while to reacclimatise to normality.

In a “totally cluttered” converted dining room, her hub after walking her cockapoo, Rosie, each morning around the local countryside, she reveals that she previously enjoyed a career in public relations yet now appreciates the isolation of her creative environment.

As a result, look out for her solo exhibition at Petersfield’s Gallery No 30 whenever the country’s lockdown permits. “What has drawn me personally to Fran’s work is how mesmerising it is,” says gallery owner, Fifi Crowley. “I am a big fan of opulent yet unfused masterpieces. Essentially, Fran’s work is made out of different shades of grey as never seen before. Truly, seeing is believing in this case.”

Fran Richardson’s drawings are captivating, portraying a technically skilful and reflective individual. But maybe we haven’t yet seen the best. “I want to carry on with the work I’m making, to be comfortable with my practice and subject matter,” she says. “For me it’s all about refining my technique. The picture in your head is better than what you make; you never quite catch up with yourself.”

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