MICHAEL FRANCIS makes Washington look like Big Sky Country.

People don't look up much downtown, but they will after seeing Francis' new paintings at Hull Gallery.

The Whitehurst Freeway, the downtown architectural melee, the Washington waterfront under fresh snow are all subjects of these deftly painted oils, but in the best of them Francis has looked past the rooftops, cranes and bridges to focus on the sky over the Potomac and the city's atmospheric essence.

Keeping a low horizon line, he fills one-half to two-thirds of the canvas with broadly brushed clouds--some murky gray, some pierced by sunbeams, others dotted with patches of vivid blue. Below, dollops of brilliant green remind us of trees which we too often fail to notice. The highlight of the show is a two-panel "View from 11th St. Studio," in which even a crumbling old downtown street is transformed into a display of muted light. Its focal point is a Victorian house rendered as a stack of delicious yellow brushstrokes.

A lecturer in fine arts at George Washington University, Francis has exhibited often, but this show contains his first mature work.

There are wooded country landscapes as well, but they are far less interesting. It is the urban landscapes with sky that are the highlights of this show. When these occasionally fail, it is passionless skies that do them in.

Also on view at Hull are a group of Audubon bird and animal prints. Both shows continue through Feb. 5. The gallery is at 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW; hours are Mondays, 1 to 5 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Writing on the Walls

When photographer Bill Kane moved to San Francisco, he began aiming his camera at old walls. He was fascinated by their weathering, decay and scrawlings, a visual vocabulary of life in cities. One day, as he tells it, he noticed a bit of green neon tubing. It struck him as a related--and stunning--bit of the urban vernacular. He began making large photo blow-ups of his wall images, mounting them on masonite, and attaching short lengths of colored neon tubing to their surfaces. Voila! A new medium.

Since then Kane has refined these mural-size, wall-hung works, adding meaning, complexity and integration of forms in the service of greater expression. The big surprise of his show, just opened at WPA, is how affecting these odd amalgams can be.

"Bent Blue," the first attempt, dated 1978, is the only lifeless piece in the show--no more than an enlarged photograph with neon tubing attached. By 1980, however, a mood was being evoked. In "Dore," one of a series of images based on the gritty fac,ade of his factory/studio on Dore Street, a multicolored neon X evokes an eerie sense of a building canceled by time.

In the later works on view, the neon calligraphy becomes ever bolder and more expressionistic, and by the time the luscious blue squiggle of "Fitzroy" appeared last year, rectangles of colored plexiglass and squares of brightly colored canvas were being incorporated into what can only be called classic abstract compositions, and designed to be viewed as such. The newest piece--"Red Rhythm," featuring a wall with a torn Mao poster, makes an effective stab in the direction of political statement, the artist's latest preoccupation.

Kane has done only a few outside installations, one of them the giant squiggle of green light still in place on the old back wall of Sunny's Surplus. The show will continue at 404 Seventh St. NW through Feb. 5. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.