Fran Bull presents the night life of humanity
in her new work “STATIONS, a cycle of 14
sculptural paintings.” These are monumental,
dimensional, figurative works. On them,
figures emerge from the picture plane and reach for
each other — and the viewer. Collectively the paintings
do not present a linear narrative, but each tells a story.
And each describes something that happens in bed.
The Brandon-based artist’s use of the word “stations”
is loaded with import. Stations are places to stop
and anticipate, to arrive and to depart; places where
things may happen and strangers watch strangers. But
Bull’s tableaux are private activities. Each of her stations
is the size of a queen bed, its figures human size
and swathed in bedclothes. They read, laugh, sleep
and dream. Lovers approach each other. The stories
are intimate, but a viewer can’t help but look.
In her artist statement, Bull, who is also a poet,
Night is intimate,
Night is full of secrets.
Bed is sacrosanct.
Bed is a place for betrayals and for the sealing of
Bed is the holiest altar, the most profane rack.
Bed is a stage set for a play improvised by fools.
My people, the ones you see here,
I don’t know from where.
They formed under my hands.
They asked for eyes and hair and teeth.
Bull apparently gave her “people” what they asked
for, then draped linens over them and provided some
of them with infants who join them in bed, or an ancestor
hovering at a shoulder. In STATION 4, titled “but
then a journey begins in my head,” a sleeping figure
dreams of his childhood, and Bull paints his hobbyhorse
click to enlarge
Each station is titled with a line of poetry, that sets
a context for the viewer. Bull wrote many of the poems
associated in this way with the exhibit. In addition, she
drew inspiration from other poets — James Agee, Rumi,
Shakespeare, Derek Walcott, Pablo Neruda — and sometimes
incorporated their words in her titles. For example,
STATION 7, “what is your substance and whereof are
you made,” uses Shakespeare’s words to describe an exhausted
gargoyle who has abandoned his post holding up
a roof and landed in a bed, wings unfurled, surrounded by
a feast of fruit and vegetables.
Over two years, Bull created the individuals in the
stations. In an interview, she talks about the surprise and
edginess of creating dimensional work that emerges from
a fl at surface. She refers to the delight of opening a pop-up
book and the unsettling experience of seeing an image
jumping the predictable barrier of the picture plane.
Bull posits that, since childhood, she has created
images that scare her a little, and in “STATIONS,” she
exploits that margin between wonder and fear.
It’s not just the dimensional quality that is
unsettling here; it’s the figures themselves. They
are peculiar; their eyes bulge, their fingers reach,
their toes are long. Some show their teeth. Still,
they seem friendly enough: They
laugh, talk and carry on. Some
appear to be singing. Draped in
cloth, covered with plaster and
paint, Bull’s figures bid the viewer
to come closer but also to keep
some distance; they’re sociable, but like strangers from
Asked about her artistic influences, Bull acknowledges
a fascination with ancient sculpture and Renaissance
painting, particularly the representation of drapery and
clothing. “The Renaissance masters certainly had a bead
on the fashions of the gods and saints, which they had to
have borrowed from the Romans and Greeks,” she says.
“I love the Vesuvius castings, too — horrific and beautiful
at the same time. Egyptian mummies carry a powerful
charge in a similar way.”
A Greek bust at the Metropolitan Museum of Art inspired
the hairdo on one of Bull’s figures. The sculptural
vocabulary she uses reveals the influences of antiquity
and the Renaissance, even in its rough and contemporary
The stations carry a powerful charge, each presenting
a fantastical event captured in time: a childbirth, a
gargoyle’s adventure, a choir of songsters that includes
a lion, a woman in bed with a fl ute, and a reading man.
Bull’s white-wrapped figures
are rather like castings from
Mount Vesuvius’ eruption. Like dreams, they are eerie
and nonsensical. They have volcanic energy but are frozen
in still frames.
The scope of “STATIONS” has brought about an unprecedented
collaboration in Rutland. Three galleries are
involved in showing Bull’s sculptural paintings: They’re on
view at the Castleton Downtown Gallery and the Chaffee
Downtown, and Don Ross’ photographs of the works can
be seen at the Christine Price Gallery of Castleton College
until mid-October. His view of the project is striking —
Bull’s cycle seen in detail through another artist’s lens.
Rutland’s Paramount Theatre is involved, as well.
While the galleries each held opening receptions last
Friday, Bull will give an artist talk at the theater on
Wednesday, October 15, discussing the development of
“STATIONS” and her previous work.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Bedtime Stories"