Cooper Creek, Elk Mountains
Kansas City always has been a westward-looking town. In this issue’s Artist Pages, Kansas City artist Scott Francis brings home a vision of tantalizing mountain and coastal scenes in locations from Aspen to Santa Barbara. Several of the featured works, made between 2020 and 2022, were among two dozen recent watercolor paintings he exhibited at GEORGE, a lifestyle store in Crestwood, at the end of 2022.
Francis’ visual approach to wide-open Western spaces calls to mind two peripatetic East Coast artists of a century ago, John Marin and Marsden Hartley, who similarly responded to the dynamism of the American landscape with abstracted compositions, volumetric shapes, and sensitivity to atmospheric light and color. As Francis freely admitted, “I’m drawn to drama in nature. It becomes a stage set; there are huge elements of land, sea, mountains and sky in play.”
“Cooper Creek, Elk Mountains” reveals the artist’s draftsmanship with visible charcoal underdrawing of a creek slashing across the foreground. The sheer immensity of the mountain scene crowds the painting to its edges with green-black conifers, sloping diagonals and dusky peaks receding in the distance. Francis is captivated by the wildness here. The piece communicates the spontaneity of a plein air work — vigorous sketchy forms, swaths of quickly modulated color.
The artist displays a bolder, more expressive mode in “Apricot Tree Santa Fe.” The central image is of a large tree hung with cloudlike boughs. Francis convincingly shapes the mass of the tree with layered patches of opaque green, yellow and orange. Cobalt blue sky pierces through the stout trunk and branches rendered in a few economic black strokes.
Francis explained that his practice combines working in both studio and outdoor settings. “There is a distinct quality of immediacy with plein air that can’t be duplicated and is really violated by not responding in front of nature,” he said.
Still farther west, Francis explored the central California coast in several works. “Montecito View Toward the Channel Islands” is pure plein air painting, no underdrawing, just pigment on paper. Naturalistic colors and botanical forms blossom in the foreground with the placid Pacific and offshore islands drawing the eye out into the distance.
Sculptural tree forms, outlined in charcoal, dominate the straightforward “Monterey Cypress and Umbrella Pine #2.” A path leading to a gate is a rare trace of human presence in these landscapes. One expects a whale to breach at any moment from the rolling waves in the middle ground.
In “View Toward the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara,” Francis utilizes more gestural mark making in pencil and brush to abstract the gold-green coastal scene while lending it more solidity and structure. In contrast, the eponymous islands appear mirage-like across the horizon line separated by a cake-icing sea.
Francis clearly has an eye for unspoiled views, which are getting harder and harder to find. The artist appears to have digested one of Andy Warhol’s deepest aphorisms, that “Land really is the best art.”
Photos by E.G. Schempf