‘While you could say that language is Frances Stark’s primary medium, Frances herself is Stark’s primary subject matter. Taken individually, most of her works are self-portraits of some kind; put together, they fan out into full-blown autobio-graphy, featuring not just the central protagonist (in her various roles, professional, intellectual or domestic) but also a supporting cast of favourite authors, friends and collaborators, gallerists and curators, musicians, cats and kids. Invariably riddled with self-doubt and well-articulated anxiety, their cumulative effect is an oscillating image of what it means to be a practising artist (or, for that matter, a woman or person) today.
‘Born in Newport Beach, California, in 1967, Stark studied at San Francisco State University before attending the Art Centre College of Design. She says she had been obsessed with language from an early age so it isn’t surprising to find that many of her influences are literary and that she has published a series of collected writings. She wrote recently: “I am envious of those who can deliver nuggets in tightly wrapped packages. The economy of Emily Dickinson is a huge inspiration.”
‘Stark’s practice – whether it is drawn, written, painted or filmed – is about the laborious process of making art, detailing its frustrations with a wry humour. It is possibly best summed up in the collage Still Life with IBM Cards and Violin (1999), a parody of a Picasso cubist collage, in which she sends up the limitations of being an artist, unable to compete visually with the emotional impact of music. This issue has also led her to use soundtracks from Throbbing Gristle to accompany home videos that are as banal as the rock band is outlandish.
‘A see-sawing between conceptual inquiry into the nature of an art work and its production, and attention to the mass of details that constitute daily life, is at the heart of Stark’s practice and is well demonstrated in the show’s dense, a-chronological hang. Avoiding the easy elegance that a sparse and spacious installation of her largely white, often delicate, mostly paper-based works would offer, the artist has opted instead for the concentrated effect of many works, hung close together. The blank expanses of her earlier works begin, over time, to accommodate more text, imagery and pictorial elements until we reach recent collages such as Foyer Furnishing (2006), in which large Mylar and paper cut-outs form a two-dimensional interior with dresser, mirror and handbag. The role of language modulates from subject matter to means of representation; a favoured effect is to compose words or sentences vertically, stacking carbon-copied typed-out letters while repeating them horizontally, drawing lines from letters to form undulating landscapes or endless horizons while scrambling the viewer’s usual means of deciphering both text and image. Much peering, squinting and head-cocking are required to make out the tiny, faint, dislocated, rotated and repeated words in her works. In every case, however, the textual elements act like a thought bubble, as a cerebral way out of the two-dimensional picture plane.
‘Stark’s well-articulated personal anxiety encompasses George Orwell’s statement that “each life viewed from the inside is a series of small defeats”. In her quiet yet persistent inquiry into the human condition, she delivers, with devastating candour, the poignancy of human failure.’ — collaged
All of this and nothing: Frances Stark
One Question: Frances Stark
FS: CalArts, School of Art visiting artist lecture (excerpt)
In conversation: Frances Stark, Dave Hullfish Bailey, Jimmy Raskin
Frances Stark Website
Audio: ‘Trapped in the VIP and/or In Mr. Martin’s Inoperable Cadillac’
FS @ Marc Foxx Gallery, LA
FS @ Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NYC
Frances Stark @ greengrassi, London
‘On Frances Stark’ @ Art in America
‘Structures That Fit My Opening and Other Parts Considered in Relation to Their Whole’
‘Frances Stark’s Best Thing’ @ T Magazine
‘THE LETTER WRITER, FRANCES STARK’
‘Frances Stark: Artist uses her personal life’
Video: ‘Frances Stark in Her Studio’
Buy books by and about Frances Stark
Banal household tasks and high-minded ruminations are twinned in your work. To this end, what did you do today? And also, what are you reading?
Today I avoided the studio, the excuse being that some long-overdue personal paperwork that is overflowing out of my handbag needed attention. I have recently dipped into In Praise of Folly by Erasmus; an old Richard Hamilton catalogue; also On Being Ill, by Virginia Woolf; and an interview with Malcolm McLaren. And I’ve been voraciously reading about all things related to the upcoming US presidential election. It’s an ugly addiction at this point. But I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of a recent eBay purchase, A Happy Death, by Albert Camus. I am hoping this book that I loved 25 years ago (gasp) will be just the thing to wean me off the politics.
You once wrote about someone who, when he asked Dorothy Parker if he could see her manuscript, was presented with a box containing a pile of unanswered letters and unpaid bills. In the collages that present the detritus of your daily life, how do you decide what goes in and what stays out?
I’ve used mostly studio and art-related promotional printed matter that I receive in the mail. My use of printed matter that comes through my mailbox isn’t interesting because it’s mine, but because there are a lot of other people who receive that same stuff. It ends up being just material, like paint.
You show your work in galleries as well as publish books. Can you talk about how preparing for each is different?
I haven’t published that many books, but I am often shocked at how increasingly intuitive the process is for making work for exhibitions, and that seems to also be the case for the books. Only writing is just very, very different in the sense that I can’t hire an assistant to help me move or glue down some unwieldy scrap.
You’ve quoted Thomas Bernhard’s novel Old Masters, in which the main character, Reger, is chastised for being neither a philosopher nor an author but accused of having “sneaked” into both. What do you think one gains by straddling two disciplines, as you do with art and writing?
Because I am a complete pessimist, it’s hard for me to admit I do gain anything besides anxiety and perpetual self-doubt. At the same time, I am not so naive to acknowledge that without my writing, my artwork might not have an audience, and vice versa. I see my own straddling as very specific to the support structures of the artworld and not nearly as impressive or significant as the kind of cross-discipline straddling (and waffling) that occurs in Bernhard’s characters. But I identify with the process of deferral at play in these characters who are never able to complete that pure text on music, or philosophy, or whatever, and this is not about a kind of interdisciplinary utopia, but psychological despair and human failure. In fact, that Dorothy Parker reference above is a perfect metaphor for my own straddling technique.
My Best Thing, 2011
‘My Best Thing is an animated film projection by the American artist Frances Stark. Its narrative is based on a series of online communications between the artist and two Italian male strangers which took place during the run-up to her inclusion in the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2011. Stark met the Italians through internet chat sites, and they communicated with instant messaging and webcams. Stark used the free software Xtranormal to make the animation in which her character and that of the male strangers are presented as crude Playmobil-like ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ figures wearing fig-leaf underwear. The figures appear against a bright green monochrome ground and speak with electronic voices. Stark’s words are voiced in a soft American accent, and the two Italians’ in a crude and amusing computerised ‘Italian’ accent. The film was produced in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs.
‘In the first sequences of the animation, Stark’s character and the first Italian stranger, called Marcello, engage in ‘cam-sex’ but remain distanced from one another on either side of the screen. There are no animated representations of sex-acts, nor of sex-organs, simply graphic dialogue about these acts and body-parts. These virtual sexual encounters are the basis for a relationship and a discussion of several interrelated subjects, most notably Stark’s taste in dancehall music; the meaning and authenticity of virtual relationships initiated through web-sex; the nature of artistic anxiety, creativity and pedagogy; and the increasingly tense political situation in Italy. The animations are punctuated by a pop video by the reggae-dancehall artist Beenie Man, an excerpt from Federico Fellini’s film 8 1/2 of 1963 and by short video documentation of a riot in Greece during the economic crises of early 2011. These clips are sent as attachments and links between Stark and Marcello during the course of their online conversations. The pair begins to discuss collaborating on a film but the plan is interrupted after Marcello is injured by police in a political riot. Stark loses contact with him and begins communicating with a second Italian, the son of an avantgarde filmmaker.
‘The cam-sex between Stark and the second stranger is followed by discussions about the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) and Jacques Rancière (born 1940); reflections on Stark’s communications with Marcello; conversations about the novels and suicide of David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) and Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989); and discussions about Stark’s preparations for the Venice Biennale. Stark decided to use the encounters with Marcello and the second man as the basis for her video, but one of her main concerns was how to make a work based on this narrative that would be able to hold viewers’ attention, with so much other work available to see at the Biennale. Stark’s solution to this problem was to split the animation into eleven episodes: each episode begins with a summary of the previous instalment.’ — The Tate
Frances Stark transcribes Gaga’s ‘Telephone’, 2010
Bobby Jesus’s Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention is Free, 2013
‘Continuing her “brazen pursuit of unlikely alliances,” the work centers on a text projection based on conversations with Bobby, a self-described resident of “planet ’hood” who has become her studio apprentice and friend.’ — Carnegie Museum of Art
Nothing is enough, 2012
‘The film Nothing Is Enough by artist and writer Frances Stark consists of documented text fragments from Stark’s online chat with a young Italian man, ranging from contemplative, self-reflective discussions to cybersex. Lacking any visual imagery, the film is set to a moody improvised piano piece played by another man Stark met in virtual reality. In a very personal way, Stark turns virtual conversation and chat room exchanges into art.’ — IDFA
‘Notes Towards the Eroticism of Pedagogy’
‘Always the Same, Always Different’
‘At the Rim of the Fucking Paradigm’
‘A Craft Too Small’
‘I’m taking this opportunity to feel some holes in addition to filling them: On Raymond Pettibon’
‘The Architect & the Housewife’
Drawings, paintings, collage, sculpture
from Ian F. Svenonius’s “Censorship Now”, 2017
Gesso, sumi ink, oil and acrylic on canvas
Behold Man!, 2013
Inkjet prints, paint
Trojan Bin, 2014
Sumi ink on Arches paper with collage, vacuum sealed on aluminum and wood
Collage, latex paint, tape, and graphite pencil on panel
Pull After “Push”, 2010
Paint, printed matter, linen tape, and stickers on panel
Why should you not be able to assemble yourself and write?, 2008
Rice paper, paper and ink on gessoed canvas on panel
Music Stand, 2008
Vinyl paint and paper on gessoed canvas
Chorus Line, 2008
Paper collage, graphite on paper
After “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”, 2011
Mixed media on canvas
The Inchoate Incarnate: Bespoke Costume for the Artist, 2009
Wearable fabric costume (silk organza), dress form (resin, expandable foam)
The Inchoate Incarnate: Summon Me and I’ll Probably Come, 2009
Wearable fabric costume (linen)
Bird and Bricks, 2008
Collage on paper
Structure That F(its my opening), 2006
Gouache on paper with silk on panel
Printed matter, Chinese paper and linen tape
Casein, spray paint, collage and linen tape on canvas board
Birds Harmonizing on an Upended Table, 2001
Carbon, casein, and collage on canvas board with nails
Om (On Kerouac), 1997
Carbon and watercolor on paper
Bees, Birds, 1996
Carbon on vellum, linen tape
Untitled (Tropic of Cancer), 1993
Two paperback books with drawing paper and carbon in between each page
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, I don’t. Ha ha. The quiet here is astounding. I can hear all the damage to my hearing from years of going to piercing loud rock concerts. It’s the best part of going out. ** JM, Hey, Josiah! Glad the world’s scrunching is getting you there writing-wise. Nice, big congrats about your partnering! Probably lucky to the start with the trial by fire of isolating together. Official without officialdom is the best. I can’t even imagine having the concentration and discipline to do academic work without pressurising classes. We’re locked in officially until the 15th, but, let’s face it, the 30th is next, and that’ll never stick either. So weird. Yeah, you wouldn’t have any luck Snapchatting him. I disguise all the personal, identifying info. If anyone tries to actually hook up with any of the slaves/escorts, the trek to do so would rival the plot of ‘Lord of the Rings’. I did think yesterday’s post was unusually literary. And that wasn’t my doing, or no more so than with every other slave batch. Anyway, enjoy the love and sex and writing and everything else, man, and I hope to see you again soon. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Well, that’s probably because they were slaves. Or self-styled slaves at the very least. I don’t have Netflix, but … Everyone, Anyone out there have Netflix suggestions for _Black_Acrylic? If so, please fire away. ** Bill, Oh, that’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that about their outfits, but you’re so right. I knew that batch had a special flavor but not exactly why that was. Back to the classics, such as … ? ** Sypha, I don’t know why doing it your way makes so much sense, but it does. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick. Haven’t dived into the film yet due to required work, but I obvs will. Sure, if you want to put together that bundled post, I’m obviously very game. The slaves are being turned into intensive hot house flowers by confinement, but it’s the commenting masters who are really losing their decorum and going psycho/overboard. ** Bernard, And I believes him. Amazing words and thoughts about Fornes. And the film is so smart and so thoughtful. Really remarkable. My first Fornes was an early production she did of ‘Fefu’ that was configured as a walk-through, environmental thing covering every room in a house in Pasadena. I understand that that production was one of — if not even the — first plays to be realised in that immersive way. I have read something about ‘Dana H’, strangely enough. And that it’s incredible too. Damn re: the cancellation, but yeah. Gisele has had so many upcoming performances axed. And her company is now in dangerous territory financially because of that. It’ll be fine ultimately, but the new piece she’s been working on for a year might not even be able to happen at all now because there are no funds to finish it, at the moment. May our respective solitudes be mutedly thrills-packed today. ** Steve Erickson, Some escorts are switching to cam only work. Some are upping or lowering their prices for the usual. Some are going nuts. Great you finally scored the Tumor. So good and so unexpected and yet so him, right? Boy, is he talented, etc. ** Misanthrope, Oh, fuck, man. You don’t want to double check with your doctor that it is in fact a kidney stone? That would make sense, i.e. that agents are antsy for new clients right now, and good news, if so. Hit it. But still do expect a frustrating as hell trip before you find one. ** Kyler, Hi, K. I’m glad my blog has finally left your sleep alone. I hear it works well with a fresh mind and a nice cuppa. Hang in there. ** Right. Almost every actual gallery in the world that’s worth its salt is closed now, but not my wannabe gallery! So, enjoy the rare treat, and do peruse the works of one of my very, very favorite artists Frances Stark. And see you tomorrow.