Fran Norton arrived at Fine Art via graphics, film, photography and 8 years in the music business but it was during her Postgraduate studies at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London that she finally managed to embrace the open mindedness required for successful studio practice. Her interests there were body related and medical photography but it was, “when I started drawing that I felt that my work was really beginning to take off”. The combination of fine strands of hair with shellac varnish in her drawings of 2010 onwards unapologetically suggest bodily fluids and lead, with a certain logic, into the use of sheep’s tongues as printing plates, blood fused with ink. Her work has a history of references, intentional or not, to the body. In her 2007 piece ‘Unfilled” made from graphite on polymer clay, the object is organic and disturbingly suggestive of unidentified body parts.
The tongue prints came out of her interest in behaviour, particularly with the processes of licking within the context of maternal grooming. In French the word for window-shopping is lèche-vitrine, literally licking windows, with all the connotations of drooling over objects of desire. For Norton the concept of licking and tongues, became so invasive of her mind-space, that she was impelled to invest in sheep’s’ tongues, in the absence of any human ones to examine in such detail. She became aware of what powerful muscular organs they were and that the part used for taste, sensation and licking is literally just the tip of this large structure. The prints that she made, rolling ink initially onto the top surface and then the sides of organs that had been torn, ripped quite brutally from the body of a dead animal was an extraordinarily physical experience. The marks created by the printmaking process had a clear relationship to her earlier work and she worked further into the prints with a bradawl returning them to the stable of drawing from which they had come. So although she almost succumbed to the seduction of printmaking she remained committed to drawing. Despite the visceral nature of the subject and method there is an extraordinary delicacy, which is imparted by the tortuous marks of the bradawl, itself an instrument associated with holes, gouging and piercing. Visually, the pockmarked upper surface of the tongues related to the bursting bubble type marks of her bradawl drawings. The later prints, where she has rolled cow tongues from side to side arrive at further references to human backs and garments. The phallic references in these images are inescapable although it seems almost trite to draw attention to them.
There is a clear trajectory from the delicate bradawl lines which she had been making in earlier drawings, to the added marks in the sheep’s tongues prints. “A dialogue began to be played out between the visceral prints and the aesthetic qualities of the marks drawn through them into the paper surface.”
In her embossed paper works, it almost appears as if bubbles have burst on contact and left little craters, whereas the drawing is actually made using a much more grounded, physically exacting process, very different from their apparent airy lightness of touch. So what does her process say about her intention when its physicality produces something so evanescent. As she explains, “Literally drawing in, into and on the physical environment, my mark-making develops the interrelation of sculpture, found object and artist with the material world.”
In her new work, repetitive drawing is continuing as she pursues ideas of interior space examining the poetic in domestic life. How error is developed through repetition is an important area of this exploration. Working in books, she is unpeeling the layers of pages, cutting and tearing, to reveal an idea of the merged spaces where she lives, works and draws. Hence the physical space, the space accorded to her ideas and the marks that she makes on the surface of the paper, all become part of the same thing.
© Fiona Robinson 2012 (Artist and writer)