A new body of work shows the artist in search of peaceful moments in a chaotic world
Every six weeks, Kat Francis spends three hours at OSU Wexner Medical Center's CarePoint East getting an intravenous infusion of Remicade, a protein-blocking medication used to treat her Crohn's disease, a chronic illness of the digestive system that can cause pain and cramping, nausea, fatigue, unexplained weight loss and more.
While she's receiving the treatment, Francis draws. “The techs and nurses all call me their art girl,” Francis said. “I've been going there for a year and a half now, so they all know me.”
She was encouraged to spend the time drawing by her teacher, mentor and “art dad” Gordon Lee. “He told me, ‘Don't waste that time at the infusion center,'” Francis said in an interview at a German Village coffee shop.
“I post the drawings to social media and people see the IV and stuff, and people say they're sorry or sad, and I try to tell them that this is actually me better. This is my medicine, [and] I want this to be encouraging, not sad,” she said. “I post hopefully for awareness [of the disease] and to be encouraging. That's part of the inspiration for this show idea.”
Francis' exhibition “Finding Peace in a Busy Place,” which opens at Blockfort with a Saturday, Feb. 3 reception, is a chronicle, of sorts, of the artist's attempts to not only keep an eye out for and honor moments of peace in a hectic world, but also to nurture and even cultivate them.
“I'm not a supporter of Trump, and I see all this political and social tension with everybody. Everybody is just angry at each other, even when they have best intentions. … Everybody's on edge,” Francis said. “[Being forced into] these pauses at the infusion center, I've had to try to find those positives. Once I started to reframe my mind to find those peaceful moments, I thought, ‘I need to make art about this.'”
A collage artist who also spent a decade doing special effects on big-budget films like “Captain America” and “The Avengers,” Francis decided to add the element of motion to her work for this exhibition, which includes drawing, painting, sculpture and collage, often all at once. Research into automata and kinetic art led to the creation of gears and levers that give several pieces in “Finding Peace” a simple, machine-like quality that, to some, might not fit the title.
“For some people an empty landscape might be what evokes peace. Most people think of peace that way — of calm — while my work is very ornate and busy,” Francis said. “But you can feel calm among the decorative. [I made a piece about] some of my friends who do graffiti and stickers, and going out in the middle of the night to paint might not seem peaceful, but that's their moment of bliss, their calm. So it's really about uniqueness. … Finding peace isn't the same for everybody. [For] some people, sitting in a quiet room would make them feel crazy.”
And while Francis surely intends to advocate for finding peace, these works are less about offering it specifically and more about giving viewers a chance to pause and consider Francis' search for peace as depicted, directly or metaphorically, and to become aware of how they might find their own.
“I feel like a storyteller,” she said. “[The work] is more the story of what I hope and what the work should encourage.”
Last week, with most of the work for “Finding Peace” completed and installation ready to begin, Gordon Lee died. He had previously battled cancer and received a new diagnosis in December. Francis said doctors had thought Lee would have about a year.
“Without Gordon, this show simply would not be,” Francis said in a follow-up interview. “He gave me the courage to use my voice and the motivation to create the work I do now. He taught me how to find peace, and was a true example of finding peace and gratitude through all of life's busy moments.”
Indeed, Francis had made a Lee-inspired piece for the show, which she said now takes on new meaning following his unexpected passing. She began the work the day after having lunch with Lee, at which he shared the news of his latest diagnosis.
“I went home and created it not only to show Gordon how much he inspires me, but also to deal with being upset over this news,” Francis said. “With Gordon passing so quickly, I am presenting this work now, with him no longer with us. When I had this piece sitting in my studio it made me feel happy and seemed very sweet. When I installed it this past weekend at Blockfort, I am now dealing with loss and grief.”
All the more need for finding peace.