Dimensions: 210 x 210
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For an artist, a vantage point is a stationary spot from which a linear perspective can be plotted; this single point allows the landscape, figures and buildings being rendered to fall into place and to make sense spatially. Malcolm Franklin’s unique vantage points are not these classic perspectival dots - his works are abstract, so significantly, his pieces do not require traditional linear perspective. Instead, Malcolm’s artistic vantage points appear in the form of diverse media, connecting themes and inspirational locations.
Perhaps the initial impact of this exhibition can be felt in the wide range of media. Geometric sculptures rise from their plinths in shining marble and granite; textured prints take the form of deceptively simple woodcuts or of complex carborundum and linocut reliefs with ironstone dust; Malcolm’s drawings carry the same depth and texture as his sculptures and prints but with the lightness of two-dimensional works on paper.
The sculptures are all tied to interrelated strands that influence Malcolm’s artistic production, but we can see parallels in his drawings and prints as well. These visual tropes or strands are boats, bridges, buildings and agricultural tools – all structures that abound in the beautiful towns, coasts and fields of Italy. This is key because while he was born and raised in England, Malcolm dramatically changed his geographical and national vantage point by moving to Italy in 2018.
So, what influence does Italy have on Malcolm’s practice? He was only able to visit the country for the first time in 2007, finally seeing works that he had long taken inspiration from and admired. ‘Importantly, art in Italy is deeply ingrained in the culture, and people from all walks of life have some understanding of it. Abstract art, which is my greatest passion, is not considered strange here’. Italy holds a mythical status in the origin stories of many artists – painters and sculptors alike – with the discovery of Michelangelo’s stone pathos or Leonardo’s sfumato lines enthralling many a young creative. While he studied the Renaissance in school, and he admires the great sculptors of this period (Donatello, Pisano and Cellini), for Malcolm it was really the Neo-Classicism, Futurism and Arte Povera movements that made a difference to his artistic trajectory. While these movements are starkly opposed to one another aesthetically, we can see elements of all three in Malcolm’s work. His attention to the smooth, haptic sensibility of marble and other stones echoes the sensitive, evocative sculpted lines of Antonio Canova. The rolling and roiling forms of works like Erytheia remind us of the focus on vitality, movement and the primacy of the mechanical that appeared in pre-World War I Italian Futurism. And his muted colour palettes and attention to the modest shapes of farm implements suggest the ‘everyday’ approach of Arte Povera artists.
My personal favourites of Malcolm’s new works, which take on some of these Arte Povera ideals, are his sculpture Plough and his drawings from the series Interpretation: Plough. This combination of three- and two-dimensional works acts essentially as an installation within the gallery. With the mixed media in the drawings (charcoal, pastel, dust and pigment from sculptural materials), Malcolm manages to make the forms feel both liquid and impenetrable like iron or stone. The pliable bell shapes in the Interpretation: Plough drawings suggest not only the toughness of a tool used to turn rows of hard land, but the dripping pigment of the forms also alludes to the cushion of damp earth beneath our feet: simultaneously hard and soft. The Plough sculpture’s pierced rectangular forms give the wood, stone and steel piece a buoyancy that makes it feel light enough to sit alongside the drawings. On his relationship with agricultural tools: ‘I tend to look at old tools, maybe because they’re hand crafted. I grew up in a farming family and there were tools and machinery everywhere. As a child I was never fascinated by how they might be put together or how they work, like an engineer, say, I just registered all these things as interesting shapes’.
As evident in the two groups of Plough works, the interplay of two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms is a key element of this exhibition. Malcolm uses techniques other than linear perspective to create space in his work. According to the artist: ‘Spatial relationships are at the core of what I do. With sculpture, the third dimension exists as a reality. With works in a two-dimensional plane, one has to consider space in a different way. Depth can be made even on a flat shape by using tone / shading. This is apparent in the drawn interpretations for the Plough and Tenement sketches. I also create space by placing one shape in relation to another, thus bringing into play ideas of negative and positive space, the space between objects and the space around them. This is very much like an actual sculpture’. These are ideas that modern sculptors have been grappling with throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And in addition to the Italian artistic influences mentioned previously, it is important to remember that Malcolm’s art also carries on the work of British Modernists: his pierced forms reflecting Barbara Hepworth’s and his rumination on tools and force in stone resembling in part Jacob Epstein’s important Rock Drill. Just walking into a room filled with Malcolm’s artworks is to allow layers of cultural and art history to wash over you. The interplay between media, materials, themes and styles means that we can all view this exhibition from our own vantage point, interpreting the works through the messages and histories that perhaps mean the most to us.
Christine Slobogin, July 2021