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Betwixt the sheets

Encaustic artist Heidi Franscioni explores a new medium with 'Father's Dreams'

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Bed sheets are for dreams; bed sheets are for death. Bed sheets are for tossing, rumpling, wrinkling, loving, crying, and staining.

They are a cocoon, a nest, and a shroud. And it was in their cotton folds that artist Heidi Franscioni, formerly of Paso Robles, found inspiration. Franscioni’s exhibit, “Father’s Dreams”—which employs an abundance of the almost-sheer, thoroughly utilitarian fabric—is a clear departure from the heavier, more solid encaustic wax paintings with which she has long been associated. The new series, currently on view at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, feels far more delicate, even breakable, by contrast.

- PET SCAN STUDIES :  Franscioni’s new body of work often employs sheets as canvasses, which are illuminated from behind with LED lights. (Pictured are Pet Scan Study I, Pet Scan Study II, and Pet Scan Study III.) -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PET SCAN STUDIES : Franscioni’s new body of work often employs sheets as canvasses, which are illuminated from behind with LED lights. (Pictured are Pet Scan Study I, Pet Scan Study II, and Pet Scan Study III.)
- THE BIG PICTURE :  Artist Heidi Franscioni, formerly of Paso Robles, returns to SLO County with “Father’s Dreams” at SLOMA. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE BIG PICTURE : Artist Heidi Franscioni, formerly of Paso Robles, returns to SLO County with “Father’s Dreams” at SLOMA.

Several pieces are comprised of old sheets, which have been printed with a process known as encaustic monotype, then stretched over a hollow wooden frame. The works have been subtly illuminated from within, and what appear at first to be specks of glitter turn out to be tiny holes in the fabric, letting through miniature beams of light.

A large-scale piece called Stage IV easily dominates the room. It’s a black and white photograph of two ghostly, naked figures in a sitting room, reproduced on wood and painted over with a subtle layer of wax. The figures—a man and a woman, both of them slightly translucent—look away from one another. He is seated by the fireplace, gazing with a look of dejection at the floor; she slumps against the mantel, her back to the viewer.

But where a fireplace would be there is a video screen, embedded into the wood. On it plays a black and white film of a woman draped in a sheet, clutching a speckled hen and gazing up at the sky. The video appears at first to be a still photograph: The woman hardly moves at all, yet the trees around her are whispering with the wind, and two dogs routinely enter the frame, sniffing around curiously. Just above her head is an old-fashioned outdoor drying rack, the kind that resembles an inverted umbrella, or even an antenna.

A still from the scene repeats itself several times throughout “Father’s Dreams,” in some places very faintly.

- MIND HER BEESWAX :  A closer look at works like Pet Scan Study III, pictured, reveals several layers of imagery, including a still from a video used elsewhere in the exhibit. This and other works were created using a process called encaustic monotype—a method that involves painting with hot wax on a metal plate and then transferring the image to another surface. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDI FRANSCIONI
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDI FRANSCIONI
  • MIND HER BEESWAX : A closer look at works like Pet Scan Study III, pictured, reveals several layers of imagery, including a still from a video used elsewhere in the exhibit. This and other works were created using a process called encaustic monotype—a method that involves painting with hot wax on a metal plate and then transferring the image to another surface.
- PLAYING WITH DEAD THINGS :  An unusual sculpture from Franscioni’s exhibit, “Father’s Dreams,” features desiccated creatures wrapped in finery. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDI FRANSCIONI
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDI FRANSCIONI
  • PLAYING WITH DEAD THINGS : An unusual sculpture from Franscioni’s exhibit, “Father’s Dreams,” features desiccated creatures wrapped in finery.

Then there are two odd little sculptures, the first a cage filled with desiccated animals—one with a pearl in its open mouth—and the other a mobile containing a tiny, dead bird, its body stuck through with a fancy pin. Both seem to toy, perhaps, with the bizarre human notion of lavishing earthly riches on the dead.

Franscioni’s previous series, titled “The Nest and Sacred Spaces,” explored themes of fertility, security, and sacredness. The nest in that body of work was a predominant motif, and hints of it turn up occasionally in “Father’s Dreams.”

But this work, Franscioni says, is about “that place where life meets death, bliss meets loss, and joy meets sadness.” This melancholy, transitional theme in her art arose from a transitional period in her life, she says. Confronted by a close family member’s sudden, serious illness shortly after having fallen in love—deeply enough, I might add, to warrant moving to Bakersfield—she created an unusual, heady mixture of emotions that served as the basis for an entirely new body of work.

- ARTISTIC APPARITIONS:  Heidi Franscioni’s “Father’s Dreams” hangs through May 28 at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Visit sloma.org or call 543-8562 for more information. -
  • ARTISTIC APPARITIONS: Heidi Franscioni’s “Father’s Dreams” hangs through May 28 at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Visit sloma.org or call 543-8562 for more information.

The hospital—where death and new life are equally commonplace, where the bells that ring out to signal a new birth fall bitterly upon the ears of the terminally ill—is by nature a place of contrasts. Even more so for someone experiencing both the happiness of new love and the sorrow of impending loss.

Uniting these clashing experiences, however, was the persistent importance of bed sheets. Sheets serve as canvasses throughout “Father’s Dreams,” but what they represent, I’m not sure. Intimacy, dreams, birth, death? Or maybe just another empty space upon which to paint all of our earthly fears and fancies.

Shh. Arts Editor Anna Weltner is sleeping. Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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