Francine Schrock is painting murals for Schooner Estates Assisted Living Community in Auburn, and she’s still getting used to the feeling of eyes on her back as the residents watch her work.
“‘We want you to put in a cat!’ they’ll say, so I’ll add a cat,” she said. “Hearing these things becomes part of the process of painting.”
Whether or not she sees the suggestion as an aesthetic improvement or thinks the work would have been better off sans feline, Schrock has come to appreciate the often brutally honest comments that the experience of public painting invites.
“There’s something really amazing about opening yourself up to that dialogue when you’re in the process of painting,” she said. “It makes the whole experience lusher.”
Shrock’s project—painting on a 14’-by-19’ expanse of plaster in front of a crowd of collaborators—flirts with the prospect of performance art.
She hasn’t always done this kind of work. Her background as an artist is founded in a quieter breed of individually-felt inspiration and self-motivation.
Schrock grew up in Greenfield, Mass., and her environment and family informed her drive to create art.
“I’ve always been interested in art,” she said. “My grandmother taught me a lot about painting and drawing. I was this classical artist, and when I graduated high school I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After earning her BFA from the Maine College of Art in Portland, Schrock tried her hand at her own sweater-design business, using skills her grandmother had taught her.
“It came to the point, though, where I knew I’d have to mass produce, and I didn’t want to do that," said Schrock. “So I got into sales and made money. But after years of doing that, I found it unfulfilling.”
She then began work at Portland’s Greenhut Galleries. There, Schrock found herself confronted with the question of value—value assigned to others’ work and value she could place on her own pieces.
“One day I sold a painting for $20,000 and it got me thinking about marketing my own art,” she said. “Soon after that I went off on my own. I just ventured out and declared on nothing that I was an artist and this is what I was going to do.
Indeed, Schrock has amassed quite a repertoire of her own pieces to exhibit. Her body of work is effectively divided between two categories: landscapes and colorfield paintings.
Her landscapes are inspired by a sense of place—Maine and the “crazy atmospheric changes” that come with living in the state.
“It all happens so quickly, and if you miss it, good luck seeing it again,” explained Schrock.
Bold, textured and vibrant, her colorfield paintings conjure a different kind of atmosphere.
“They are the other side of the hand,” she said. “They’re more intuitive. I start with the idea of a color that I want to explore, and it’s [as if] I have a conversation with the painting. I explore different values seeing how they all work together. To me it’s not so much a logical process.”
Schrock emphasized the importance of developing a confidence around personal subjectivity. “To get in touch with that quiet and get in tune with what’s important—I think a lot of people miss out on that,” she said.
But this project of mural-making is a new sort of challenge for Schrock. If her colorfields draw their power from introspection, the murals, in contrast, demand a whole different engagement with the external.
“It’s definitely a lot more physical,” she said. “This is like yoga nine hours a day. I’m climbing on scaffolding, I’m working in that space.”
Though the work is demanding, Schrock has found meaning in the community of her new studio space.
“The big part of it for me is that connection with this elderly group of people,” she said. “They are going through this vital transition of relinquishing control. For me to come into an environment like that is something inspiring. And it’s entertaining for them.”
Schooner Estates will host a revealing of Schrock’s murals on April 12. She described the process as uniquely collaborative.
“We’ll have meetings before I come up with an idea,” she said. “I really try to bring outside opinion in.
“These people are surrounded by walls, so I try to bring the outside in and give them something else to look at besides a blank space. It’s really just giving them a chance to have ownership in the murals.”
This approach seems counter-intuitive to Schock’s quiet, meditative nature.
“I love working alone, I love my quiet time,” she said. “My life is about my art. People would come ask if they could watch me paint, I’d say no. Translating that to these large-scale paintings when I’m in public view and listening to comments from people is hard.”
Criticism, in one sense, is Schrock’s worst fear, but she suggests that it may also be her most valuable tool.
“Meditating on and not making a judgment about what others are saying is empowering,” she said. “It’s our nature to get really critical of ourselves and others. But there’s no space for that. The lesson is just to hear what people are saying.”