// Frances Richardson Portrait

Text by Jeremy Cooper for the exhibition In Between the Lines: Recent British Drawings at Trinity Contemporary

Richardson was born Leeds in 1965, the younger of two sisters, and now lives and works in Clapham, South London. She went to art school in Norwich, later followed by an MA in sculpture at the Royal College. Drawing is my life-line, Richardson feels, and notes that the sculptures on which she is at present also working are to her a form of three-dimensional drawing. She speaks of the vital significance of tiny differences in character of paper and in the graphite-strength of pencil, emphasising the physicality of drawing, and, in retrospect, detects a strong influence from childhood, when she used to accompany her father on forays to collect old maps, the graphic character of which she still likes a great deal. She would also watch her father, a geologist, go through the process of mapping coal fields, hear him speak of a hidden landscape and look at microscopic slithers of rock. On retirement he set up a small antique shop in Harrogate, and Richardson has inherited from him an ability intently to look at things, seeking hidden information. He died in 2005, his company missed.

Her solo-show venues include Gasworks in London, the Daniel Weinberg Gallery in Los Angeles, The Scene Gallery in New York and the Corn Exchange Gallery in Edinburgh. Cliff Lauson, a curator at Tate Modern, wrote in Vitamin D: Using an array of pencils with varying hardness, Richardson builds her compositions up from thousands of minute negative (-) and positive (+) signs, the most minimal of mark-making gestures Incorporating the influence of philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Giorgio Agamben, Richardsons work stands at the limit of contentless abstraction without jeopardising the subjective elements of emotion, communication and imagination. Agamben wrote about the significance of gesture and its intimate connection to language, arguing in one of his essays that drawing is the speechless dwelling in language.

Richardson was in the same form as Damien Hirst at school in Leeds from the age of nine to thirteen, moving on with him to secondary school from the age of thirteen to eighteen, and then, together still, on a years foundation course at Leeds Art School. Hirst and she have hardly met since this Leeds period – although they both lived in London through the 1990s, when Richardson made her own public intervention by alerting the Hon Robert Loder CBE to a vacant building in Vauxhall, which he went on in 1994 to open as the charitable artist-led organisation Gasworks, of which Loder is Chairman of the Trustees. During this time Richardson travelled, living and working in Nigeria, Australia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Luxembourg and America. A principled believer in political and artistic internationalism, Richardson wonders at her retreat these days from the politically active earlier years. She is aware too of the startlingly different paths followed by herself and Hirst, and wonders if this reflects the success of the work or of the system by which it is promoted. Richardson is conscious of being a roaming satellite to the art-throng, working long hours in solitude in her Clapham Common flat, on sets of patterned drawings in which she sees herself able to offer a slice of what I feel it is to be.

After beginning with number-drawings, when Richardson moved on to the use of plus and minus signs she promptly found her own voice, and has developed this way of working ever since. Some of her drawings are exploratory designs for larger scale architectural pieces, but the majority have been created in sets of variations on a single theme, such as the moon, or playing cards, or currencies. The largest pieces are usually drawn onto many-times gessoed panels of birch-ply, on the delicately textured surface of which the graduated pencil marks seem almost to move, as if floating on the swell of the sea, whilst gaining an unexpected clarity when viewed from a distance. Some of the bigger drawings on paper have the physical feel, in their execution, of spots of heat expanding, shaping the unplanned patterns, a form of internal mapping. Richardson has often tried to introduce colour to her drawings, but always returns to her sheaf of lead pencils.

For ten years Richardson used hand-made paper, beginning with linear compositions, the action of drawing feeling like a kind of walk, this form moving rapidly on to a long period of topographical coverage of the surface. Recently she has been working on a new series of drawings on satin finish paper, some of which are very large, exploring the edges and moving away from the Platonic perfection of the enclosed form. Despite the absence of identifiable form, these are emotionally moving works, many of them imbued with a spirit of contained melancholy. Avis Newman, a London-based American artist for whom drawing has always been a central activity, noted in selecting the Tate show The Stage of Drawing [2004] that she has always felt that the gestural acts of drawing are essentially melancholic.

Richardsons early use of unbleached paper, with its imprecise shape and tactile surface, invites organic expression, using the + and signs which she adopted as her chosen motif in 1997 [and continues, to date, to explore in all her drawings]. At this same time she took to titling her drawings by number, a practice which also continues today. The artist experienced the application of graphite to hand-made paper as a kind of sculptural accumulation, and proposed that the positive and negative symbols suggest the idea of magnetic forces, balance, electrical pulses and infinity. Although Richardson travelled extensively in the 1990s, the connectedness of 15399Q to aboriginal motif is, at most, unconscious. The origins of her drawn forms are almost always emotional rather than physical and seldom publicly named one related drawing of this period is, however, described by Richardson as a veil of tears.

Elaborating on her fascination with the physicist R. Feynmans theories of quantum electrodynamics, the artist wrote in February 2008 to Jeremy Cooper: Drawing is the presentation of the moment of being in space and time: a pulse that tends towards nothing and everything. It is also a gestural act: a point of touch, an action that marks the intangible physical reality of being in a moment and a suspension and presentation of this moment to the viewer. The artists preference these days is to use smooth-surfaced white paper, allowing her to explore the full subtlety of her mark-making. Since moving from hand-made paper to satin finish sheets, Richardsons pencil marks feel to her more like a force-field floating in space, the new forms finding their widest public expression to date in the substantial circle series exhibited at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery in Los Angeles in 2007. Words fail to capture the quality of these drawings, which need to be physically witnessed to work It is like breathing on skin, Richardson says.

Jeremy Cooper 2009

// Frances Richardson / vita

1965 born in Leeds / UK
1984-87 Norwich School of Art BA (Hons)
1990-91 Mastership in traditional Yoruba carving under Segun Faleye
2004-06 Royal College of Art, MA Fine Art Sculpture

Currently lives and works in London, England.


2015 Sculpture at Bermondsey Square, London/ UK
2014 Loss of Object and bondage to it, Lubomirov-Easton, London/ UK
2011 Ideas in the Making: drawing structure, Trinity Contemporary, London/ UK
2008 Playing Against Reason, The Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh/ UK
2007 Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
INTERNUS, The Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh/ UK
The Scene Gallery, New York/ USA
2002 SOLD OUT, Vauxhall St Peters Heritage Centre, London/ UK
Recent Drawings, The Scene Gallery, New York/ USA
2001 Sign & Deliver, Victoria & Albert Museum, London/ UK


2017 The Summer Show 2017: This one’s for you!, DM Contemporary, New York City, NY/ USA
The Summer Show Part I, Cyril Gerber Fine Art, Glasgow/ UK
The Collective, Workplace Gallery, Gateshead/ UK
2015 Bread And Jam Iii: The Shapes We’Re In, Bread and Jam, London/ UK
Collaborators 4, ROOM, London/ UK
Wish You Were Here, MAC Birmingham – Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham/ UK
Drawing Biennial 2015, The Drawing Room, London/ UK
2014 The Postcard is a Public Work of Art, X Marks the Bökship, London Folkstone Biennial/ UK
2013 The Opinion Makers, Enclave Gallery, London/ UK
2012 Walking the Line IV, Galerie Martin Kudlek, Cologne/ D
BITE Artists Prints, Mall Galleries, London/ UK
Jerwood Drawing Prize, Jerwood Space, London/ UK
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London/ UK
Pencil and Paper, Poppy Sebire, London/ UK
The Artists’ Postcard Show, Spike Island, Bristol/ UK
Unknown Fields: recent British Drawing, Young Gallery, Salisbury/ UK
2011 Drawing 2011 – Biennial Fundraiser Exhibition, Drawing Room, London/ UK
It’s a Fine Line / Obsession and Will, DM Contemporary, New York/ USA
Walking The Line III, Kudlek van der Grinten Gallerie, Cologne/ D
Matt Roberts Salon, Matt Roberts Arts, London/ UK
LONDON/BERLIN, fruehsorge contemporary drawings, Berlin/ D
Pulse Miami, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
2010 On Becoming A Gallery, Angus Hughes, London/ UK
Wall to Wall, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
Modern Times: responding to chaos, De La Warr Pavilion Pulse NY (dm Contemporary)/ USA
2009 In Between the Lines, Trinity Contemporary, London/ UK
Sketch Show, Jealous Gallery, London/ UK
Next, Chicago (dm Contemporary)/ USA
Salon du dessin contemporain, Paris (Kudlek van der Grinten Gallerie)/ F
Drawing 2009 – Biennial Fundraiser Exhibition, Drawing Room, London/ UK
2008 Another Dammed Drawing Show, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
4th Anniversary Exhibition, dm Contemporary, New York/ USA
ARTfutures, London/ UK
Present, H P Garcia Gallery, New York/ USA
Walking The Line, Kudlek van der Grinten Gallerie, Cologne / D
Life’s a Gas, Beverly Knowles Gallery, London / UK
Suffragette City, The Spare Room, London/ UK
2007 Drawing Now, DM Contemporary, New York/ USA
Transformer, Woburn Sq Research Centre, UCL, London/ UK
ANTICIPATION, One One One, London/ UK
Three Part Harmony, The Curators Office, Washington/ USA
BLOCK PARTY: An Exhibition of Drawings, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
2006 No Man Is An Island, London/ UK
In Motion, London/ UK
BLOCK PARTY: An Exhibition of Drawings, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles/ USA
MAN Drawing Prize Exhibition, Royal College of Art, London/ UK
2005 Dyscotopiary, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London/ UK
2004 The Biggest Draw, The Millennium Gallery, Sheffield/ UK
2003 Lilo 8 & 9, Gasworks Artist Studio, London/ UK
2002 Lilo 1, Conductors Hallway, London/ UK
Lilo 4, Relief Night, Conductors Hallway, London/ UK
FLUENT, Centenary Gallery, Camberwell College of Arts, London/ UK


2011 Ideas in the Making: drawing structure, Trinity Contemporary, London 2011
2005 Vitamin D: New Perspectives on Contemporary Drawing, Phaidon NY 2005
2009 In Between the Lines, Trinity Contemporary, 2009
2006 KEY: New York Times Magazine, Fall 2006
2007 LA Times, review by Leah Ollman Friday 4th May 2007
2008 Guardian Guide, review by Robert Clark 26th July 2008


2007 Research Scholar, Kansas State University USA
2006 RCA Conran Foundation Award (1st prize)
RCA MAN Drawing Prize
2005 RCA Daler Rowney Drawing Prize
RCA Serenella Ciclitira Scholarship
2004 Arts Council England Individual Artist Award: Printmaking
2003 AA2A award
1992,97&98 Travel awards from The British Council
1990-01 Commonwealth Foundation Fellowship


Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK // Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, USA // Private Collections in Europe and USA