Like the Arvada Center, which opened two Month of Printmaking-related exhibits before the official March start of Mo'Print, I jumped the gun when I reviewed those centerpiece shows last week. Since then, many others have opened, including Kevin Frances: Man in the Moon at Leon Gallery, a nonprofit space on East 17th Avenue. New York-based Frances came to the attention of Eric Nord and Eric Dallimore, who together run Leon, when superstar emerging artist Diego Rodriguez Warner recommended him; he'd gone to school with Frances at the Rhode Island School of Design.
This is a very unusual show, anchored by Japanese-style woodblock prints, but also including an installation of miniatures as well as photos, all of which are intimately interconnected.
Frances begins by making miniature pieces of furniture and ordinary objects, as well as small architectural elements, such as doors and sections of wall, all of it dollhouse scale and incredibly realistic. He then sets up little vignettes using these tiny sculptures, and photographs them using dramatic and theatrical lighting. These photos are used as preparatory studies for the woodblock prints. The show lays out all three types of work by Frances, and by looking at them together, viewers can follow his process.
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The little installation elements are really neat, and the photos are great, especially in the way that Frances catches the artificial yet natural-looking light. But the stunning prints are the greatest achievement. Done with multiple woodblocks, inked in different colors, at first glance they click into an almost photographic realism, their textural and expressive qualities only visible when more closely examined. That’s the case with “In the Headlights,” a woodblock print that shows what looks like a wrecked room, with a partially burnt chair, a dead plant on top of it, set on a white floor dotted with black, surrounded by ruined walls. The illusion of the projected light of the title is the gigantic plant shadows cast on the back wall. Even more realistic, and using most of the same elements with another big projected shadow at the back, is “You know, I didn’t like it, so I broke it.”
Leon is definitely on board with this year's Mo’Print. In addition to mounting this intriguing Frances show, it's hosting (with is Press) the one-day-only Denver Small Press Fest, essentially an artisanal press flea market, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at MSU Denver’s Center for Visual Art. Find out more at denversmallpressfest.com.
Kevin Frances: Man in the Moon, through March 28 at Leon Gallery, 1112 17th Avenue, 303-832-1599, leongallery.com.