Space to Breathe: Lisa Franko in the Studio

March 26, 2014 by

DSC_1169By the end of her five-week Art-in-Education Workspace Residency, Lisa Franko had filled a wall in our etching studio with airy monoprints that bring intaglio and chine collé together in playful and dynamic compositions. Organic, lapidarian forms combine and recombine like changing dance partners, defining and redefining space. Her shapes almost, but don’t quite, touch.

“I think about these pieces almost like characters in conversation, about how they relate to each other through interactions and in isolation,” says Lisa, a recent BFA graduate from Ohio with a second bachelor’s in art education. “I’ve recently rediscovered the experimentation and play that printmaking allows in my process.”DSC_1430DSC_1395In previous work, Lisa incorporated found paper, silk screen, gouache, and graphite and used a basic, repeated triangle form to layer, and build mountainy, rock-like “masses.” During a residency last summer at Chautauqua School of Art, she began cutting zinc plates with a jigsaw to try printing similar masses as etchings–but the shards and fragments of zinc left behind after she cut the shapes began to interest her more than the plates she thought she’d be working with. At WSW, she’s created a suite of 25 new copper shards, which range from the tiny and gem-like to the more mountainous, recalling her older work.

“I became interested in using plates that represented severed pieces or negative space, and in thinking about the negative space in my own compositions,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about the word ‘vestige.’ The idea that these are just left behind, abstract forms is what I like about them.”

DSC_1407In work that’s all about remnants, scrapped vintage floral wallpaper that Lisa finds in thrift stores is given second life. After her repetitive markmaking and aquatints are etched, Lisa carefully lays torn pieces of the wallpaper glue side up on her plates. She runs the plates through the press with as much pressure possible, impressing a deep, haptic deboss in her heavyweight paper. The wallpaper blends almost seamlessly into the paper, adding a delicate pop of color and texture layered behind her printed linework.

Lisa’s organic shapes and textures rotate and recombine deftly, jumping easily between prints. But the serendipitous quality of Lisa’s work belies the controlled, methodical nature of her composing process. She obsessively arranges and rearranges pieces before they reach the press bed, making ever so slight adjustments up until the moment the plates go through the press. Every move is intentional, but in the end a successful composition has to make sense on a gut level.

DSC_1437“I work extremely meticulously, but on a formal level I feel that a lot the moves I make are simply intuitive,” she says. “Or maybe I use the word intuitive because I don’t know where else my compositional choices come from. I just know: either it’s right or it’s not. My goal coming into this residency was to give up a little bit of that control. I wanted to embrace more play and spontaneity without losing the tight formal quality of my previous work.”

Lisa’s new work does have a gestural looseness that is absent from her pre-residency prints. Having memorized the idiosyncrasies of the zinc triangles she previously used, she is still developing fluency with her new shapes, and her play comes through. With stripped-down compositions and a new emphasis on scale and whitespace, Lisa leaves room for her shapes to breathe. Irregular, hand-drawn ink circles rest on the paper’s surface, altering how emptiness is defined and adding precariousness to the conversations and balancing acts in which her forms engage.

DSC_1317But one curving, intentionally semi-representational shape that has found its way into her lexicon, and Lisa is baffled by it. “Can really you come back from abstraction?” she asks with a laugh. As she works to integrate the form into her cast of abstract, gem-like characters, Lisa pauses and surveys her wall of prints. The careful consideration so present in her material process reveals itself again.

“I’ve had moments in this residency when I’ve I wanted to make something totally new and just produce and produce and produce a ton of work,” says Lisa. “But my work evolves really slowly. I know that I need to let myself really move through all of it. I put a lot of myself into each piece I make, and I hope that comes through. I hope it feels honest.”

Lisa Franko is an emerging, Ohio-based, artist with a BFA in visual art and a BA in art education from the University of Toledo. She has taught art to elementary and high school students in Toledo and has assisted in the print shop at the Chautauqua School of Art. If she could choose any women artists to sit down to coffee with, she would pick Kiki Smith and Agnes Martin. See more of Lisa’s work at and check out more images of her residency here.