Memphian To Meet: Artist Frances Berry
Ed. Note: Contributor Stacey Greenberg met up with local artist, muralist, and painter Frances Berry to learn more about her, her work, and her thoughts on Memphis. See a few other “Memphian To Meet” profiles here.
“I’m drawing or painting on something every day,” says local artist Frances Berry. “I have over 100 sketchbooks and countless napkins.”
Frances, 33 (“I made it to my Jesus birthday,” she jokes), estimates she’s created 12,000 pieces of art in the last three years. To say that she works fast would be an understatement.
She’s always been a painter at heart, but until three years ago, she pursued photography. When the iconic photo of Aylan Kurdi (the three year old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey during the humanitarian crisis in Syria) was published, she sold all of her cameras and transitioned into digital art.
“I felt like if that photo couldn’t change things, then definitely nothing I photographed would either,” she said. “I didn’t feel connected.” (Interesting story on the impact of that photo you can read here.)
In 2017, Frances did a mural at Crosstown and since then walls have become more and more available. She did 23 interior walls for various clients in a six week span and several outdoor murals. You can find her work in several public places around town, including the mural on the side of Mind Body Haus in Cooper-Young (pictured above) and inside Society Memphis Skatepark & Coffee. Fingers, mouths, and breasts are recurring themes in her work.
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“All of my work is me coping with my body in the world,” she explains. “I’ve been fixated on my hands my entire life because they don’t make me feel very feminine. I have disgusting hands. I bite my nails in my sleep. They don’t belong on my body.”
Body dysmorphia is something Frances struggles with. Born and raised in Columbus, Mississippi, Frances says, “In the South, we all cope with femininity. It’s a central part of my work and it’s deeply subconscious.”
She would like to say something with her work and points to her collaborative partner, “Captain” who visits often and most recently came to Memphis to work with her on a few murals for the Paint Memphis project on Vance, as someone who has helped that take shape.
They met in upstate New York and were both very far out of their element. “People knew us on paper and made assumptions about us – he’s a big black dude from the west coast and I’m a woman from Mississippi. People were always asking us about our art through those lenses and it’s a weird question – not something that’s equally applied to all artists.”
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Frances moved back home to Columbus for her last year of college and says it was transformative. She traveled for a year and then fully planned to move to Atlanta when her grandparents, who were living in Memphis on “the Island” (Mud Island), convinced Frances to take a look at a friend’s apartment in South Bluffs. It was in her budget, so she decided to move to Memphis instead.
At the time, she had only heard that Memphis was scary and dangerous and there was nothing to do. She admits that she hated living here at first. She worked at home with her dog and played Scrabble with her grandparents. Eventually, she started making friends and found her way to Skateland in Raleigh.
Roller skating has become an outlet for Frances and she’s a regular on Sunday nights at East End when the jam and rhythm skaters congregate. “I love it in a way that people love yoga. I lose myself in the fluidity. It’s good to have an outlet that isn’t art.” She puts on skates every day, and has been known to paint in them, but after doing 75 paintings in them for an event at Crosstown Arts she was worried it was becoming “an untenable gimmick that was taking away from both things.”
1. What’s always in your bag? Pens, pencils, markers, etc., including at least one that is missing its cap and bleeding through my bag. 87 lbs of change. Something random that I think I’ve lost. At least two pairs of sunglasses.
2. Guilty pleasure? I don’t feel guilty about anything that brings me joy.
3. Go to outfit? Canadian tuxedo (denim on denim).
4. How do you drink your coffee? Enthusiastically! Only kidding — with a splash of milk.
5. Favorite song right now? Just one? Can I do 3? “I just rage” by Spooky Mansion; “Graffiti on the high school wall” by People Under the Stairs; and “Neon” by Magdalena Bay.
Frances is really happy with the way things are going and now loves living in Memphis. “There’s a lot of hungry people here, people hustling and making things happen. That’s the coolest part about Memphis. People make you feel like family and include you in the best possible way. I feel like I belong somewhere for the first time in my life.”
Follow Frances on Instagram at @where_is_frances and see her work for sale at @where_is_frances_4_sale. You can listen to her interview on Walkabout Radio with Cecelia Lona, a local podcast from OAM Network here.
About The Author
Stacey Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Cooper Young with her two teenaged sons. She’s the Editor for the re-launched Edible Memphis and a contributor to Thrillist.com, Edible Memphis, I Love Memphis, and Memphis Travel. She’s also the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys (diningwithmonkeys.com). A lifelong Memphian, she loves the fact that she’s never met a stranger here.