Can woodwork be fine art? After seeing the work of Francis Cape, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
This artist, originally trained as a woodworker in England, has brought the mastery of his craft to galleries and museums in the US, and he’s getting a lot of attention.
But his work isn’t quite what it seems. Taking paneling techniques from the Shakers and other traditional sources, Cape takes woodworking to a new level. Unlike its traditional inspirations, the only function of these cabinets is visual. The doors, even with their carefully-installed hinges, don’t open.
Cape’s removal of function casts cabinetry in a new light, opening new possibilities for the medium. Many of his installations reference history and memory, serving as mediator between the physical present and a romanticized past. His works force us to consider the spaces we inhabit, while reference meaningful architectural spaces outside of the gallery – from church confessionals to historical monuments.
Most of Cape’s work is painted, but his choice of color is anything but expected. Not-quite-garish colors that are clearly out of fashion set many pieces apart from their contemporary background. Perhaps these are a historical reference, or a way of bringing an overlooked art more clearly into the open. Either way, Cape certainly has me thinking differently about cabinetry these days.
For me, Cape’s work hits close to home. We spend a lot of time as Design Lines creating cabinetry for our clients. Of course, it almost always serves some purpose. It was an eye-opening experience to see how Cape turns this functionality on its head, transforming simple wood panels into something loaded with meaning.