Ian Francis’ Quietly Stunning “Artificial Winter” Is a Wake up Call That Tiptoes Between Fantasy and Reality

Lately, it feels like we value honesty above all else. During a moment in history when disaster and tragedy seep continually into our everyday lives, turning our Twitter feeds into emotional minefields, a collective desire to speak up and speak loud has arisen, to unburden ourselves of long-buried secrets, to speak truth to power, to call out society’s tendencies towards narcissism, abuse, and violence. We are living in a warped reality that often feels like a bad dream we can’t wake up from, but we are fighting through it the only way we know how: by sharing stories, by offering support, by making art. U.K. artist Ian Francis’ new solo exhibition “Artificial Winter,” which opens this Saturday October 28th at DTLA’s Corey Helford Gallery, feels like a strikingly accurate representation of our current warped reality, capturing both the emotional chaos and the vulnerable strength emerging from its depths.

“Artificial Winter” marks Francis’ return to Los Angeles ten years after his first solo show here, and this darkly gorgeous exhibition was worth the wait, crashing into you like a jolt of lighting to the senses. His rich and colorful canvases probe the murky area between dreaming and waking, using charcoal, acrylic, oil, and ink to create emotionally textured portraits that are visually arresting and socially conscious. Part photo-realism, part abstract art, his surreal pieces confront our consuming relationship with technology and call out our media-inundated existence, questioning how social media and technology has affected the way we perceive ourselves, especially in light of “the pervasive feeling of a world falling apart.”

The pieces in “Artificial Winter,” which implies “a degree of control that’s impossible to have over nature, that can’t exist in the real world,” acknowledge the chaotic state of the world and the effect it has had on the human condition. They juxtapose delicate brushstrokes and details with raw swaths of movement and color that almost feel unfinished, using their interplay to comment on the fragile nature of our social media reality.

Drenched with vivid color and unusual texture, the simplicity of the scenes feels intimate and familiar, yet you can’t quite shake the specter of sex, violence, and death that haunts them, the very things that continually fuel our media obsession. Faint hints of skeletons and flashes of flickering neon hint ominously at the bizarre, while the titles of the pieces (“Vacation Resort Conversation Exit,” “Two Mannequins Wash Up On The Shoreline”) ground them in our contemporary world, leaving the works suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy, between the familiar and the unknown.

As the demand for transparency and authenticity reaches a fever pitch, it becomes critically important for us examine our relationship with technology and how we perceive and navigate the world around us. “Artificial Winter” does just that, with a quietly stunning seriousness. Francis’ exhibition tiptoes between photorealism and abstraction, between real and surreal, between who we are and who we pretend to be, evoking a vivid and hypnotic dream world that functions as a much-needed wake up call.

“Artificial Winter” runs from October 28th through November 25th at Corey Helford Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. The address is 571 S Anderson St, Los Angeles, CA 90033.

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