Alot of activity goes on in Frances Berry's studio when her friend, James "Captain" Stovall, is in Memphis. Berry works on her stream of consciousness paintings while he works on his. Or they'll work together on a painting or a mural.
"It's more of an energy thing with us," says Berry, 34. "It's almost like dance when we're working. We move independently of one another."
Berry paints on big sheets of paper. The paintings and her method of working are reminiscent of when, as a child, she drew on the back of old blueprints her grandfather, who was an engineer, brought home from the office.
"My work is just pure energy moving through me. The reason I started doing time lapse videos of me doing it is because sometimes I would step back when they were done. I'm like, 'Holy shit. Where the fuck was I, and what the fuck is this?'"
Berry constantly works when she's in her studio. "I made at least — solidly — 5,000 paintings and maybe 8,000 drawings in the past three years."
Her murals can be found at private residences and businesses, including Crosstown Arts, mind/body HAUS yoga studio, and Altown Skatepark. She recently painted a mural on the vert ramp at Society Memphis skatepark. "I did the whole skatepark in like 15 and a half hours over three days."
- Friends and frequent collaborators James “Captain” Stovall (below, left) and Frances Berry met at an artist residency in New York. Since then, the two artists have been charting their own path and making murals.
Berry feels comfortable in her skin these days. "I must say that I'm as closely, authentically 'Frances' as I've ever been, and more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. I've always, always been painfully uncomfortable, painfully self-conscious. Painfully self-conscious like to the point where it made me a little agoraphobic almost. Like, honestly, I felt like I had no confidence whatsoever."
Growing up in Columbus, Mississippi, Berry went to a small private school. She made her debut in the Southern Debutante Assembly in Greenwood, Mississippi. She was in Chi Omega sorority at the University of Alabama.
"I was engaged at 25. I called off the wedding. I tried to do that thing that I saw everybody else doing and they seemed so happy doing it. But anytime I ever got close to it, I just felt like I was dying and I'd end up in this space where I'm living one foot trying to do one thing and one foot trying to do another. I finally decided to put both feet on one side and just roll with it.
"Don't get me wrong. Look. I tell people this all the time. You want me to describe myself? I am one part self deprecating, one part silently thinking I'm a genius. And they keep each other in check.'"
But, she says, "Basically, there was some part of me that just knew that I didn't want to be like everybody else."
Berry got into the interior design program in college until she realized three weeks later it wasn't for her. "I was a photojournalism major for like five and a half hours one day. I went to one class. They asked me what an adverb was. And I was like, 'I think I'm in the wrong class.'"
After taking her first photography class during her senior year, she took photographs for the next seven years. "I took photos of everything. I went through a phase where I photographed underneath people's furniture for like a month."
Things changed after she went to graduate school at Memphis College or Art. "My first semester, I sold all my cameras. Every single one of them."
The only photos she now takes are with her phone to document things, she says. "I went from taking about 1,500 a week to not taking any."
Berry, who's won numerous photography awards, says taking pictures "quit being interesting. It was magic for the longest time, and then one day it wasn't."
She then got into projectors. "I would go to Dollar Tree and I would buy anything that was transparent, reflective, anything. I was using tin foil, Mylar balloons, fucking shower curtains."
Berry made installations, which might include 15 projectors "battling one another. I was using still projectors with moving projectors. I would have them coming at different angles.
"The space between a projector and the surface it lands on and then what happens once it does makes you very aware that light is a real thing."
Her "Memory Machine" installation in La Rochelle, France, incorporated moving images from the '50s to the '80s. It included images from the La Rochelle archives and audio crowdsourced from her Facebook friends.
After she graduated from MCA, Berry took drawing paper, went to the beach with friends during Memorial Day weekend, and began drawing. One of those drawings will be in "Flower Show" in April 2020 at Dixon Gallery and Gardens.
Berry and Stovall, who lives in Henderson, Nevada, met at a residency 18 months ago in upstate New York. "In the first three days of hanging out, we made something like 60, 70 pieces of work."
She describes their relationship as "seven-year-old playground friends."
Stovall studied advertising at the Art Institute of Philadelphia before transferring to the Art Institute of California in San Diego. He dropped out in 2017. "I knew I wasn't going to do advertising," he says. "I didn't have any interest in sitting in an office. I knew what I wanted to do, which was create."
He describes his paintings as conceptual with random, dreamlike themes.
For now, it's strictly painting and drawing for Berry. She is currently painting on leather purses designed by native Memphian Rich Fresh, who lives in Los Angeles.
"All the shit's been in me this whole time, and it's not had a way out," Berry says. "It's in me and the world convinced me I was something I wasn't."