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Art Watch : John Franzen

John Franzen is in focus for our Art Watch for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Franzen’s straight lines are repetitive, never the same, and are enchanting as they radiate a meditative quality – where artist, line and breath all come together by a repeated action that is creating a different outcome – each time, with each drawn line, through each breath.

Franzen was born in 1981, in Germany to parents who were in the medical profession. They were both nurses and held incredibly demanding jobs. Before he turned six, the young John had already lived in ten different residences. There was absolutely no social contact, nor friends, nor too many books nor toys. It is difficult to imagine a scenario such as this in contemporary times. With child welfare being a part of several countries.

But the story of the birth of artists is always unusual and intriguing. Moving to Belgium at six, he grew up in hippie communities and in extreme poverty. It was evident that his parents were barely able to make ends meet. So he was left alone for the majority of times to his own devices. Completely devoid of any stimulation save his own mind and imagination. Franzen took refuge in his own inner world, where he was acquainted with silence and the elements became his friends.

Why John Franzen?

Drawing was a form of playful expression for the child and never having experienced “playing” with other children, he kept it to himself. A rudimentary home without any cultural education in his early childhood development, without books in his house, nor artistic pieces on display. This was important as the deeper he retreated he sought an understanding to the meaning of existence.

Artistry and Franzen are actually at loggerheads. He was an artist through the intrinsic ability to draw, but he personally disliked art. Franzen never had any relation to art, never went to a museum and never had a role model.

His works involve a laborious crafting of lines – layering one upon the other and it takes on the appearance of a shroud that veils a breeze. Breathwork is what he is close to and the meditative nature of his works offer him that.

“I’ve worked with life-forces and breath and the initial sequence of every drawing, the line, but the next step will be my heartbeat and then my brainwaves. It’s a concept that focuses on life forces, and also the other side, which is death and destruction. Death is something that we don’t want to accept, but nature and the universe deals with death and destruction in the same way it does with life and growth. I am already busy creating new works about this. They are very conceptual and minimal, but still poetical.” John Franzen

This contradiction is pivotal to the understanding of Franzen’s art and especially his change of style in 2007. His father’s death affected him spiritually and he radically stopped working figuratively and went into minimal abstract works. Some of his favoured themes took root during this phase – of darkness, singularity, nothingness, and destruction.

Education and Career

At the age of 15, Franzen started a three year long, intensive German and French education at the Robert Schumann Technical Institute in eastern Belgium, which was novel for him and honed his psyche. In 2003 he continued his artistic education by entering the Art Academy in Maastricht, he received structured knowledge and important skills that fostered a hard working ethic. He graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Franzen lives and works in Maastricht, Germany, as an independent artist. The impact of spirituality in his life has been immense in coming to terms with the space within his mind and the space that he inhabits.

This incredibly talented, reticent and meticulous and hardworking artist has a quirky style – where he works out of two studios. One is bright and small, where he does his drawings and most of his delicate and meditative pieces. The other is a big, post-industrial space, where he is able to develop his biggest and roughest pieces. Both places are reflective of his understanding of the universality of his character as both a human-being and an artist, and his dualistic nature as a creator.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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