The subjects of Francis Wishart's monotypes come from his surroundings. He shares his time between Provence and New Brunswick and these two different but harmonious sources emerge in his work. His monotypes seem to capture scenes from a dream. Details blend together and yet distinctions are not lost between the elements that trick us into uncertainty about the subject of the work. The focus seems to shift and what at first appeared so important drifts into the background. The balance of colour and movement play with the viewer; the image shimmers always just out of reach. It may be the light in Southern France that inspires this diaphonous sense of form, it may be the way the land dissolves through the trees into the skies of New Brunswick that informs it.
Whatever the source, Wishart's work has been very well received around the world. Born in 1951 to artists Anne Dunn and Michael Wishart in London, England, Francis studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. After that he moved to Paris where he worked and advanced his technique with master printers at l'Atelier Lacourière et Frelaut. Wishart has had important exhibitions in London and Paris including several at the Royal Academy of Art and La Courriere as well as many exhibitions throughout Australia, Europe and North America. His work is included in important public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliothèque National, the British Embassy in Paris and the UK Government art collection.
Still passionately committed to monotype this most serious artist has other important interests. In France he maintains a vineyard, the organic grapes of which are made into wine by local vintners. Throughout the world Wishart is a highly active and dedicated conservationist. Having worked with David Suzuki, Wishart has also produced a film for the National Film Board. Awareness and engagement with the world around him characterises Francis Wishart and his art.
Monotype is a painting applied to the paper by way of a plate and a press. But, unlike any of the intaglio printing methods, the monotype plate has no permanent marks and therefore there is only ever one version of each image (in intaglio there can be many – 50 or more depending on various factors).
The artist paints an image directly onto the plate (in Francis' case, a zinc plate). Using an oil-based printer's ink that dries slowly, the artist can make smudges, blur colours, emphasize elements and work with the colour and composition on the surface. The plate is then put through a press and printed on paper. This process is very close to painting with the extra complicated step of creating a mirror image of the painting on the plate.
Artists, who might otherwise paint directly onto paper or canvas, choose this technique since the mirror effect and the slight uncertainty of the method introduce an element of chance and play into the artwork's creation. There are many errors and accidents, thus each successful monotype is the survivor of a gauntlet of artistic challenge and rigour. The great monotype artist is one who can control and predict the accident and engage with its possibilities.
The resulting image is different from any other media – there is a flattening of space and a refulgent ghostliness that can turn perfectly banal scenes into surreal experiments in light. Monotypes capture fleeting fragility with bold colours and they tolerate, even need, deep consideration– they are not for those seeking instant gratification from their art. A good monotype will develop slowly under your gaze, each new look at the work will reveal something new as silently as sunlight slipping through the trees.
Francis Wishart discusses the subject matter of his exhibition "Self Portrait" with Nikki Thériault, explains his painting process and tells us why he loves making monotypes.