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Johan Franzen: Each Line one Breath

Joahnna Lou 2018-04-10 13:15

John Franzen moved to Belgium with his mother at age six, and then grew up in three different hippie communes. The artist recalls he was often left at home alone, and the fear of the darkness at night made him develop an interest in drawing and form an urge to search for 'the existential meaning' of life. Since, drawing has become his way of self-expression. 


The exhibition of Each Line One Breath, organized by Parkview Contemporary Art in Hong Kong, belongs to a four-part series of Franzen’s work titled Existential Abstract. The first chapter starts with the lung as its origin and breath as its element. After entering the exhibition hall, to the left is a “Thought-Process Guide” illustrated by Franzen himself detailing his attempt to deconstruct the four primal functions of life: to breathe, feel, see, and think. Because he has tremendous interest in and has done extensive studies on cosmology, quantum physics, neuroscience, philosophy and Taoism, each chapter of the four-part series is presented in different ways. For the “see” chapter, it explores movements of eyeballs after our eyes are closed, the movements are captured using equipment and presented like that of medical records. For the chapter on “feel”, he connects heartbeat detecting machines to an ink mechanism so that a stream of ink will be splashed onto his drawing paper following each heartbeat. Between the ink and the white space on the paper is evidence of life. 


The painting process for this exhibition was unexpectedly long. Starting from the first line drawn on paper, then progressing into the second, and the third line; it all seems so simple, but without enough focus, patience, and self-discipline, it is afraid that one could get bored at about the 20th line. The drawings, viewed from afar, seem to have patterns that sometimes are loose and sometimes are dense; however, the artist never deliberately made the patterns, rather everything happened naturally. The artist’s breath, feelings at the moment, shifting emotions, thoughts about energies of life and the universe are all unconsciously poured into the strokes of his drawings. This seemingly mechanical and automatic process is controlled by the artist’s constantly changing breaths; each line is a reflection of Franzen’s inner emotions, his thinking, his way of exploring the essence of life and the universe. With such meditative art making process, and with strict scientific studies and thinking, integrating concepts that are drawn from Western and Eastern philosophies, every drawing is a very important event for the artist - cannot go back or be repeated - it is as if we can view the world behind the peacefulness. 


Vantage: How to understand the idea of “nothingness be wholeness”? 

Franzen: We cannot define nothingness, it means nothing. And when there is nothing, you actually are in harmony with the outside world, no difference, thus reaching wholeness. 

Vantage: When did you start meditating? 

Franzen: I think it started very early when I was a child. I mentioned earlier that my parents were nurses who often had to work night shifts, so I was often left alone at home. In darkness, I focused on my own breath and kept practicing. Years later I realized that was meditation. But later I made a big mistake which was reading books about meditation. [Laugh]. When I am drawing, I need to be extremely focused, working five to ten hours a day, it is also meditation. 


Vantage: Your artwork has different levels of meaning; how do you expect your audience to understand them? Or do you have any expectations from your audience at all? 

Franzen: The view of every audience is associated with their knowledge system, the city where they live, and their work background. Some people may see the artworks as quiet meditation; in Hong Kong, people may think of the stock market when they see straight lines, while some may think of geography or physics. The five art galleries that represent my artwork are located in Asia, Europe, and America. I need to think where my artwork will go and with whom I will have a dialogue with. 


Vantage: What does art mean to you? 

Franzen: I grew up alone, when I was in kindergarten I didn’t fit in. My teacher gave me two choices: either fit in with the rest of the students or stay in a classroom by myself and do whatever, but I had to do something. I chose the latter, and I told the teacher that I wanted to draw and asked for paper and crayons. The teacher pointed to the windows and said there are so many glass windows, why don’t you use them as painting boards? And I started to draw on windows, surprisingly the drawings received appreciation and attention. I became famous through my own creativity and art became a method for me to get recognized. I have always wanted to be a scientist, to study quantum physics, biology, neuroscience, and etc. Art is a way for me to present my ideas therefore allowing me to have an opportunity to get close to the meanings of life and the universe and their creation process. 

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