Larry Francis is a Philadelphia artist, both in the sense of living in the city, and in taking the city as his subject.
His scenes of Philadelphia’s parks, streets, buildings and people are vibrant with a kind of immediacy that testifies to his practice of working on location as much as possible, even in some of his larger compositions.
Francis works both in oil (images above, top six) and in gouache (images above, remainder). He prefers oil for his large works, and uses to advantage the characteristics of gouache that make it ideal for conveying precise details in small scale paintings and sketches.
I had the pleasure of taking a plein air painting course with Francis recently through the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he has been teaching for a number of years, and where he and I both studied at around the same time. Though I didn’t know him at the time, I enjoyed comparing notes with him on teachers that we both studied with and admired.
In taking a class with Francis recently, I had the opportunity not only to pick up some instruction on working with gouache — a medium with which I have been particularly fascinated and in which he is wonderfully adept — I also gained some insight into his working process as a painter.
I found it fascinating that he often finds subjects not only in scenes that might have appealed to Impressionist or early 20th century realist painters, but in “ordinary” houses and streets that many painters (myself included) would be more likely to pass by without seeing in them potential subject matter for a painting.
Francis captures these with an unwavering eye and is seldom daunted by architectural or botanical complexity. I was surprised to see him working out his lines of architecture and perspective directly by eye, without recourse to drawing instruments except perhaps the occasional edge of another sketchbook.
He works methodically, often returning to the same location for weeks at a time, capturing the light in a sequence of short sessions, rotating to another painting in the same location as the light changes and returning on subsequent days to look for similar light.
There are two nicely done mini-documentaries on Francis and his process by Philadelphia filmmaker John Thornton, available on YouTube: Larry Francis: Painting Philadelphia and Larry Francis on the Art of Painting.
Larry Francis’s work is currently on display in a solo show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, that has an opening tonight, June 3, 2016 from 5-7pm, and runs until June 30, 2016.
See also my previous post on Larry Francis (2009).