Photo by Simon Hoyle
Born in The Hague, The Netherlands, Robèrt is a sixth generation artist in his family but even amongst them I suspect his work has always been distinctive. His art CV is long enough to cause a paper shortage so I’ll just give you a link to that HERE. (And these are just the exhibitions!)
To summarise, as a child, Robèrt lived in the studios of Mesdag which were connected with the Panorama Mesdag Museum. From 1963 to ’65 he studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague and from 1965 to ’67 at the Free Academy of Arts, The Hague.
“De Winter Vlinder — The Butterfly of Winter”
Some would call works like this beautifully balanced and richly coloured piece, ‘abstract’ but that’s not a term that Robèrt accepts in relation to his (or any) art. He firmly asserts that there is no such thing as ‘abstract art’. Robèrt maintains that once it manifests on a surface as a drawing, painting, or sculpture it is no longer abstract. We can see this statement as a tautology, in which case it does not add anything to our understanding of the world. (A tautology is true by definition.) Yet, from a another perspective Robert’s statement points us to a different, more subtle understanding.
In Robèrt’s own words…
“Paintings consists of lots of marks.
Which add up to an image we recognise or not.
To me it is impossible to make an abstract painting.
Any mark we make exists because it is there.
Abstract to me, is that which I don’t recognise.
By approaching it in that way, one deals with creating possibilities.”
The two images, above and below, are from Robèrt’s current series, “Song Lines of a Forest”. (Oils on canvas.)
Robèrt is based in the Wellington region. Wellington, for my overseas readers, is New Zealand’s capital city. At it’s centre is the city square which reached its hayday in the 1980s and 90s. Robèrt’s contribution was colourful mosaics at the bottom of shallow ponds between the old Town Hall and the impressive 1980’s built Michael Fowler Centre, used primarily for concerts.
Robèrt’s ponds as I think of them, were a delight for residents and visitors alike. Sadly they no longer exist and like many parts of the capital, the buildings and other distinctive features of the Civic Square are undergoing earth-quake strengthening or assessment. Thankfully, Robèrt was able to supply us with these historic bird’s eye views of them.
Over the years, Robèrt’s media has included fabric, glass, ceramics as well as oils and ink.
“Fox Dreaming”—This large engraved glass panel is Robèrt’s most recent work. (July 2021)
Fish and birds are often distinctive inclusions in his artworks or the main subject.
An intricate, colourful fabric weaving.
Robèrt created a lovely series of engraved glass bowls a few years back, including this one.
Robèrt has traveled extensively, organising exhibitions in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China. Regrettably, I never got to attend any of his workshops but I recall the wonderful names they had, like “Walking the cracks between the floorboards”. His artworks often have similarly thought-provoking titles.
Photo by Simon Hoyle
“The Messenger” (Oil on canvas)
I’m delighted to be able to show you a couple of Robèrt’s earlier ink drawings, below. They fascinated me when I first saw them and still do decades later. There’s seldom a piece of art that will appeal to everyone’s taste but I find these pieces endlessly fascinating.
“Portrait of My Grandfather”
In Robèrt’s words…
“As an artist one tries to invent a language.
For which I have no words.
I believe in nothing.
But from that nothingness.
One creates one’s works.”
Perhaps the true measure of an artist is their ability to see things differently, to redefine reality for those of us whose insight is more limited. Decades have passed since I first encountered this unforgettable artist and his work but I’m still intrigued by what he creates and where his creations lead the open-minded viewer. For those lucky enough to own a Robèrt Franken artwork, I expect it continues to give back to the viewer no matter how many years have past. In Robèrt’s work, there’s always more to see.
“Reflections in a Pond” (From the Song Lines series)