By Bonnie Gangelhoff
In 2000, Joshua Franco moved from the industrial Northeast city of Allentown, PA, to the historic art colony of Taos, NM. His goal: to become an artist. Franco, 32, jokes that if he had stayed in Pennsylvania, he would probably be a carpet cleaner today.
Instead, as this story was going to press, the young, up-and-coming painter was flying to Seoul, South Korea, for a group show at Kyung-In Museum of Fine Art that included his latest works. When Franco returns to his adopted New Mexico home, he prepares for a second group show opening in June at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
Franco’s dream of becoming an artist was born the summer he was 19 and visited his mother, herself an artist who lived in Taos. He recalls spending most of his free time perusing galleries and talking to artists. Back in Pennsylvania that fall he started classes in advertising, design, and computer graphics at a local community college. “I would fantasize about being an artist and living this bohemian lifestyle,” he says.
While at school, Franco says, he was influenced by surrealists Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. In fact, images of Kahlo pop up in his paintings on occasion. Today, however, he cites contemporary artists like Donald Roller Wilson, Santiago Perez, and Paul Sarkisian as influential. But he also credits his mother with possessing qualities that have had a profound effect on him and his art. In a tribute to her on his website, he describes her as believing in him and goes on to say she was a talented oil painter who was “endlessly inventive, unafraid of color, (and) she instilled in me early on an appreciation for beauty.”
Viewers might also describe Franco’s own work in the same fashion—endlessly inventive and unafraid of color. His narrative works overflow with vibrant, fantastical images. Dogs pilot planes. Penguins dive from the heads of elephants. A woman sews a broken heart with a needle and thread. The talented Franco seems equally adept at incorporating whimsy as well as a certain haunting surrealism into his paintings.
In short, Franco is a master storyteller who invites viewers to bring their own experiences and interpretations to his often mysterious narratives—ones that can be silly, sublime, and surreal. For example, in CHEERIOS we wonder, “Why is a skeleton lying down across a bowl of cereal?” In THE WELCOME HOME COMMITTEE we ask, “Why is a dog flying on a weird contraption in the sky?”
Sometimes the titles engage as much as the images. They provoke us to think about what we are seeing and pull us into the painting. For example, a work with an image of Frida Kahlo with a skull is titled STICKS AND STONES CAN BREAK MY BONES, BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME. Again there is mystery afoot.
Franco does concede a few clues. There are reoccurring themes, he says: “Hope, faith, forgiveness, peace, love, trials, errors, life, war, death, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and all those little day-to-day events of the unknown.”
Blue Rain Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Park Fine Art, Albuquerque, NM; www.joshuafrancoart.com.
Group show, Days of Future Passed, South Broadway Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM, June 2-July 27.
Featured in “Artist to Watch” May 2009