Jennie Franklin: Well Done, Good Draw at Bury Art Gallery & Sculpture Centre
I’ve never met Manchester-based artist Jennie Franklin. But I feel like I have. Her drawings – filled with humour, honesty and life – have a loosely diary-like quality. Encountering them on display within her current solo exhibition, ‘Well done, Good Draw’ at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre, carries the sense of being granted access into someone else’s mind.
The best way I can describe Franklin’s work is reflective of the nature of thought. Each drawing fizzes with a moving flow of images, colours, shapes and words that rise up, sink back, bump into and precipitate one another. Fragments connect through an unwritten logic; crystallising then unravelling across the page, refusing to be too firmly grasped. Clusters of concentrated detail form in places, the minute pencil work often so tight and densely packed that clarity becomes impossible. Then the scale shifts abruptly (the point of focus resolved, perhaps, or simply punctured) and the composition opens out into calmer fields of stark white paper, or large circles and triangles rendered in satisfying blocks of colour.
Amidst these undulating and unregulated rhythms, a cast of familiar children’s television characters, onomatopoeic phrases and brand logos repeatedly appear; their persistence reminding me of the medley of songs (earworms) that never quite leave my own head. Rather than background noise, however, these motifs hold a far greater significance. Franklin has autism and draws constantly as a way of processing her emotions over the course of each day. Rupert the Bear and Bill Badger, Sooty, Barney the Dinosaur, Mr Blobby and others are generally called upon in happier pieces, rendered in brightly coloured felt-tip and surrounded by words such as ‘POP’, ‘BOOM’, ‘ZAP’ and ‘BUZZ’ that convey a sense of excitement and energy. In other works, a figure of Franklin is sometimes shown crying.
[Between joy and sadness, humour frequently plays a central role, too. An indisputable highlight of the exhibition is Naughty Pingu (2018), in which the loveable stop-motion penguin that brought delight to so many children (and, undoubtedly, parents) of the 90s is found weeing on the floor – as he does in Franklin’s favourite YouTube clip of the programme.]
Franklin doesn’t tend to discuss her work, but James Pollitt – one of the Art Tutors at Venture Arts (the studio where Franklin is based) – explained that she typically likes to borrow and quote from the surrounding environment, or from places she’s recently visited. Presumably made following a trip to the supermarket, Hop Hop and Away (2018), for instance, features multiple luminous ALDI signs, as well as an abundance of chocolate bunnies, illustrated caterpillars and butterflies, scraps of marketing straplines (‘dairy fine’), and text lifted from food packaging (‘5 pack bunny filled’). For many artists, such references might translate into a rather predictable anti-capitalist critique of the deluge of advertising, branding and seasonal promotions that we are exposed to on a daily basis. But here there’s an immediate sense of interest in and appreciation for the hyper-visuality of the 21st century.
Franklin is also an avid collector of paper leaflets and flyers, and often mines these as a further source of imagery. Collecting is a common human compulsion, and hoarding bits of paper, letters and other printed material particularly so. Back in central Manchester later that afternoon, by chance I happened to overhear a conversation between two women pondering the psychology behind their own leaflet-amassing behaviour, one remarking, “Maybe it’s just because they’re free and so beautiful.” In my own bag sat needlessly several of the same double-sided cards with visitor information relating to the exhibition, which I had been seduced into taking by the small colour reproduction of one of the larger works, Pop Pop Pop (2018), on the front.
‘Well Done, Good Draw’ is hung around the walls of Tina’s Tea Room (the museum’s in-house café), where work by ‘local and emerging’ artists is regularly displayed. It was frustratingly hard at times to manoeuvre past the chairs and tables and to wait patiently while visitors finished their pots of tea in order to gain proximity to Franklin’s drawings, the incredible detail of which demands close looking. Yet, the presentation works well in other respects; the non-gallery setting complimenting the thematic emphasis on everyday life. Maurizio Nannucci’s permeant neon installation, Languages and Horizons (2005), which wraps around the alcove of the circular balcony in the centre of the impressive Edwardian space, likewise provides a pleasing counterpart to the only non-paper-based work in the show, which consists simply of the word ‘Jennie’ shining brightly in LED lights.
Franklin clearly likes to leave her mark; her uniquely stylised signature, which features a large and generously looping ‘J’, appearing numerous times across almost all of the pieces included in ‘Well Done, Good Draw’. This refreshingly affirmative quality (equally reflected in the exhibition’s title) is uplifting to encounter. Her world appears writ large across the neatly framed sheets of heavy white cartridge paper. It feels incredibly generous to be invited in in this way – to be presented with another person’s view and experience of life so welcomingly. I found myself leaving with a notable desire to immediately purchase my own pack of felt-tips; the pure pleasure of drawing rendered so clearly palpable. It’s not often that an exhibition has that effect on my untrained hand.
‘Well Done, Good Draw’ runs at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre until 28 April
Franklin’s work has recently been selected through an open call to appear in ‘Micro’ (19 April-11 May) at AIR Gallery in Altrincham; an exhibition which promises, in slightly audacious terms on the gallery’s website, to feature ‘over 100 small works by rising stars in contemporary art from across the globe.’ Franklin’s contribution will take the form of four very small pencil drawings on paper stickers – a format she arrived at in collaboration with Pollitt, which helps enable her to complete several pieces in one sitting (an important factor in Franklin’s process) and to order and curate her work with greater ease.
Venture Arts is a progressive visual arts charity based in Hulme, Manchester. It works alongside learning-disabled artists to create and show exciting new collaborative visual art work using a range of art mediums including illustration, photography, moving image, animation, textile art, ceramics and art as environment. The organisation’s vision is to see learning-disabled people play a valued and valuable role within arts and culture as artists, critics, audiences, advocates and workers. To this effect, it delivers over 1,000 visual arts workshops per year working with over 200 people and runs work schemes that help learning-disabled people to work and volunteer in cultural and educational environments. Venture Arts showcases the work of its artists locally, nationally and internationally.