Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 2. 8th March 1972
Robert Franken in his studio
Robert Franken grew up in Holland. He has been in NZ for [unclear: about] years and in Wellington for 4 years.
"Age is not important, I might well be 25 years old, [unclear: but] could still be crawling in napkins."
Robert Franken studied sculpture at the royal academy in [unclear: the] Hague for a time but gave up his studies because of the conflict [unclear: between] his desire to follow his own ideas and the academic [unclear: regime] imposed upon him.
As there was a possibility that he might have had to do national [unclear: service] in Holland, he decided to leave.
"When I do something I like to do it properly, so I came the other end of the earth."
He knew no English when he arrived.
"At school I learned French and German-most art [unclear: book] were in those languages"
He has exhibited in the Rothmans Gallery in Wellington, and [unclear: galleries] in Hawkes Bay.
His work is obviously worthy of being exhibited, but there are [unclear: few] galleries in NZ sufficiently adaptable.
"New Zealand needs better galleries, with many rooms the artists work may be appropriately hung." "It is easy hang a lot of work, it is harder to hang the essence of [unclear: t] work."
And NZ newspapers,
"A person rates two columns and a picture if they grow extra large pumpkin. But if they create a work of art, [unclear: they] are lucky if they get so much as a mention. The [unclear: newspa]ers may have an article on the killings in Pakistan, but [unclear: they] give equal space to a woman who has baked a nice [unclear: cake]
He is travelling overseas in a few weeks, and will be away for [unclear: about] six months. He hopes to exhibit in Sydney, Amsterdam, [unclear: and] possibly London. He will probably return to live in N.Z. "Any place suits me fine."
"I am not this, not that, not a painter, not a sculptor. I [unclear: am] just me. I am many things. I just happen to do pen [unclear: drawing] quite a lot, but I like eating quite alot, and taking my [unclear: time] over a drink. I enjoy my meal, even if its only [unclear: cabbage] its in the way I eat it. Which is the art, I suppose-all in [unclear: the] way we live. I enjoy living. I don't really know why I [unclear: don't] collect plastic flowers - perhaps because I haven't [unclear: found] one that suits me. But I havent got anything against [unclear: plastic] I might use a bone to cut a necklace, but I am still aware that it is a bone."
"One day I hopped on a bus and bought three sections [unclear: to] Brooklyn. I heard a man get on behind me and also [unclear: buy] three sections. He sat down opposite me. I soon [unclear: became] aware that he was staring at me. I stared back at him. [unclear: After] a minute or so of this I began do draw an imaginary [unclear: picture] of him in the air. He took this for a while straight [unclear: faced] and then began to laugh nervously. He pulled the cord [unclear: and] got off the bus. He had travelled barely a section
"I collect matches. When I have enough I put them on a dish on the floor, put a rose in the middle and set fire [unclear: to] them. One night I was playing some electronic music [unclear: and] dancing around my fire. Somebody must have been [unclear: taking] a shortcut past my room, I saw them look in the window, heard them cry "witchcraft", and they fled.
The drawings (usually 30" x 36") in black ink on white paper are edged thickly with black and fixed behind glass. The artist intends the reflection of the room and of people in the picture. And he thinks that a person may appreciate a drawing more if he has to look hard to see it. He has small editions, ten copies printed of each for selling.
"You can buy my drawing, but it is really only a permanent loan. I made it, it is still a part of me."
Robert Franken has been drawing like this for three years, since in New Zealand. It may not be his ultimate style. "I know I am going to draw much better than I can now. In the past I have maybe drawn as a child learns to tie his bootlaces, but those drawings were very important at the time, and as a snapshot of time.
"Each drawing is a peak, a different view. There is never a final peak."
He has done paintings, big paintings, but not with much colour Between the black and the white of the drawings are all the colourful tones of grey. Black and white convey the finite and the emotive quality of the subject.
"When the gun is pointed at the animal or in the instant between any life and death, there is no colour, there is only black and white".
Colour would only distract from the basis of the picture. And "white is important-I am just making a cutting. The white is just as much in balance, just as important as the black."
Visually, he is perhaps still a sculptor.
"Drawing is similar to sculpture - if you make a mistake, that is it, you cant fix it up. I hardly work with a rubber. My drawings are quite sculptural, every detail stands on its own, every minute detail of the drawing is in a world of its own. People say, why dont you draw natural things? Everything I draw exists, just because I draw it.
I make small sketches on paper, I get ideas from these. In my final drawing, I have to be totally involved in the living act but at the same time detached to enable me to draw fine detail.
My drawings are too complicated to have the entire drawing in the mind. It is all there, but as a continuous film. A drawing can never be finished. What I put on paper is more like a still from a film. In my mind they are changing all the time. A drawing is a statement of an instant, a moment. Although it may take three months to draw, three months are nothing.
In my type of work I make only statements, I dont make any rules. I am not that sure."
The artist has a number of prints of his work still available. People interested in seeing them with a view to purchasing may call on him at no 12A Terrace Gardens in the mornings, or may inquire at the Salient Office.page break
"Where do I pick up my ideas? From nature, or from my own thoughts? ideas flow in when talking to people, explaining to people who have a different eye, I learn from other people, I know everything under the sun, but it has to be opened up."
"I didn't consciously pick up my style from anywhere. People refer to Grunewald, Breughel, Bosch. I have been working with a microscope, I probably get more from the microscope than from the history of art. Therefore my detail, there is always something within the viewed object; e.g. the movement of muscles, the various organisms on the body. There is an answer, but there are so many sideline answers, there is no answer."
"It is good to read the theories of other people. All the answers are in oneself. You have to discover which page, which window to open. I do not illustrate life, I illustrate my vision. I am not pleasing to some people, because I do represent some thing, but maybe not something they have experienced yet."
He likes the art of Max Ernst.
"I look at things and I leave them. Somewhere along the line they are going to affect me, but only when the relevant part of my life comes along."
He likes some of Etcher., but he finds Escher very technical, very worked out. It is important to make a reflection of oneself, but not too much of a reflection.
"Escher is more representative than I am. I draw more what affects me. I look in a microscope, you can never make anything new, really. I think I am very religious. I create my own symbols to interpret life with. Not religious in the sense of believing in a God"
He reads no Science Fiction. Most books he reads are about cults, why people behave in the way they do, the force in life, the life force. He is not interested in black or white magic, but in the symbols people have created to describe things, e.g. the sun, God.
"My symbol of the eye is not new. The eye is a symbol for awareness, a symbol for all the senses... You can see an eye in a cup of coffee, you don't know if the cup is looking at you.
There are so many things you cant explain. People talk about the weather, but they dont really know how important weather is. Your whole behaviour is underneath influenced by the weather."
"Every one of us is a magician. Every one of us makes symbols. "
"If I had a look at a chemistry book or an airport, some of the symbols I would know, others I would interpret entirely within my own way of thinking."
"Questions - You only met me one hour ago, but the questions were already in your mind. I dont know where my answers come from, the well starts boiling up."
"I know I can't drive on the right hand side of the road here, but there are so many ways I can drive on the left hand side."
Franken has written poems, in Dutch. An English paraphrase of one is roughly: "You are always married in yourself, but you must also merry something else, to overcome the divorce in yourself.'
The short stories Robert Franken writes will be incorporated with his ideas for drama, his poems and his drawings, to make an unified and certainly amazing book. His short stories are genuinely short; colloquial, and characteristically vivid.
But it may be that when he realises his ideas for films, he will have his maximum impact. He has already written stories end scenarios for a series of five films and he has begun drawings for costumes and sets.
The films will be primarily 'atmospheric', and they will be made for total audience involvement. They will offer perhaps a surrealistic atmosphere in which the audience may participate.
"I want my audience to be acting, though not quite panicing."
"A man with an oxy-acetalene burner may suddenly come up to a wall and start burning like hell, but the wall wont burn."
"I was once watching a horror movie where everybody was enjoying themselves, and some were screaming. I put a lens over one eye so that it looked twice as large as the other. I asked the man next to me for a light. He handed me his matches, looked at me, saw my huge eye, and let out a perfect scream, a real scream. The theatre became quiet, but for the giggling of a girl nervous." Most of the films will be without words. Sometimes there will be natural sounds, sometimes electronic music, end often no sounds at all. Visually they are a series of fantasy landscapes and constructions. They are peopled with grotesques and corpses, people naked or bizzarrely costumed. All this is woven into an arcane symbolic sequence to convey more of Franken't exceptional and novel ideas.