John H. Franklin


John Franklin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in Larchmont NY, attending Mamaroneck High School and then University of New Hampshire receiving a Bachelors of Science Degree in Botany. After leaving New Hampshire he worked in New York City making English and French period furniture before moving to Princeton, New Jersey where he worked at the Johnson Atelier Sculpture Foundry. While in Princeton a budding simultaneous interest in the work of Marcel Duchamp and contemporary painting along with a fortuitous meeting with Clemet Greenburg lead to an interest in attending California Institute of the Arts, seeking to study with conceptual artist John Baldessari, who became his mentor there, and where he received his MFA in Post Studio Art. While summering in Venice he worked for architect Frank Gehry making fish lamp furniture before moving to New York where he was studio assistant to the artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. In New York he began to exhibit his work with his first or many exhibitions at White Columns Gallery. With two years in Northampton Massachusetts and two years in Kyoto Japan teaching English and studying calligraphy, he has always continued making work, attending numerous residencies and received the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant in 2008. John now lives and works in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Ludic Receptivity / Charged Meaning: The Art of John Franklin

Essay by Dominique Nahas

An essential paradox courses through John Franklin's work. A field of ambiguity where intelligibility crosses over into unintelligibility and immerses itself fully into the not-knowable, poetically charges Franklin's work with intensity and power. Dynamically, we feel an oscillating or contrapuntal movement that occurs between meaning and means. This action of alternating revelation and obduracy, of course, occurs to various degrees in all art in which reversibility or transversality of view between object and subject occurs; this is necessarily true as all art uses distinct materials that speak of themselves hors de contexte as well as within the parameters given as artwork existing within a domain of lived experience (of the artist who makes the work) and the historical realities that shape the viewpoint and mindset of the artist. However this dual action that occurs in which the medium or materials of the work can be read as signs or symbols as well as seen, if momentarily, independently for themselves (and thus suspending the reading of metaphysical references) is put into place by Franklin because of several interdependent factors. An interplay in which form and content disengages and then re-engages in a mutually supportive way is intensified through the artist's rejection of the use of the gestural or painterly mark. His paintings are at first glance, coolly detached, cerebral, ironically distanciated as they are sober and smooth. There is no sign of the out-of-control painterly hand in these artworks; however each painting is a masterpiece of disguised anonymous handling, consisting of hours of considerate and careful painterly work. By using a remarkable quality of control in which dozens of layers of paint are applied to create unified surfaces, textures and sheens Franklin obviates essential somatic readings.

Though Franklin's paintings appear to defy any ascription to the artwork's power to convey feelings, emotions and thoughts this muted presentation can be misinterpreted, as his paintings though subtle, are indeed fully charged. The work, then, presents itself as synthetic and emptied-out upon first and second reading. This suspension of subjectivity is worth noting, as this suspension allows the materials, surfaces, textures and colors and their distribution in grids and arcs to act freely and autonomously on the eye without visually correlating to personal expressiveness. In this sense the work's seeming anonymity interjects an impassive quality to the work and bespeaks of Franklin's affinity to artifice and of stylization. Of course content is not an added-on value in abstract work such as Franklin's (with its deep indebtedness to haptic, coloristic and compositional brio) but is inherent in its formal considerations. The formal properties are related to their feeling-thought content and vice-versa. As there is no human activity or capacity that can create an art that is purely optical, the masquerade of totalizing impassivity and neutrality disintegrate quickly under the subjective spell of Franklin's unique and I might say eccentric mastery of quirky compositional devices and colorist patterns and overlay.

A quality of stillness, of interiority, attends to the carefully built quality of John Franklin's "Felt" paintings, the "Tartan" works and the "Vibra" series, all primary works from 2012 and 2013. Franklin's works on paper, with their more readily discernable references to the female body such as Flipped Brown Profiles with Green, Blue and Yellow Diamonds (2011) and Three Profiles with Black Grid (2012) activate a sense of quiet reserve, providing a dissociation effect through flatness and equilibrated patterning, sustain this felt condition. The perfection of self-referential geometric worlds and their Platonic certitudes that John Franklin seemingly presents to us in his work --- whether they refer to a container's secreted and embedded, cellular spacings of the intimately-scaled work My First Felt (2012), or whether, as in Tartan for Anna (2012), the artist's decision to use satin ribbon as spatial and interstitial demarcations also serves a dual purpose of suggesting the wiles of a participation mystique bound through the interlacing of the feminine and its desires --- is intensified and heightened by the artist's application of ornamental qua design syntax.

Ornamentation as sign pervades John Franklin's work. Yet the promise of a normalized continuity that ornamentation typically provides us through regularity and repetition, while holding firm in Franklin's world, is also undermined and disavowed. The result is a supple liveliness that permeates the artist's vision of the world. It is a ludic one at its core. Henri Bergson in Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic unpacks the formula of comic effect in this way:

" … A situation is invariably comic when it belongs simultaneously to two altogether independent series of events and is capable of being interpreted in two entirely different meanings at the same time."

John Franklin is a nuanced provocateur and a sleight-of-hand artist in the making of his work: point-counterpoint/punch-counterpunch/ front-step, back-step, two side-steps/ are the rhythms we feel in the work. They are alive to the work's inner resistances as calling forth a small comedic trance. That trance-like situation reverberates in the Vibra series. In Light Green Vibra (2008), Yellow Vibra (2012), Lavender Vibra (2008) the task is to imply shuddering energy using straight lines. Franklin accomplishes this rather nearly-impossible, and funny, task with a straight face. It's a bit like asking someone to pantomime the action of walking while staying in one position. Franklin uses an illusionistic device to trick the eye into believing that straight lines are bending. Doing this repeatedly and in sequence, in effect, gives off a mild, destabilizing vibratory effect. The artist skews the grid's recondite regularity as the quadrille's ninety-degree ur-position is destabilized through the tilting of the bars creating a prismatic organizational code. That code, that supplants the reading of regularity yet is rooted within it, de-emphasizes the grid's inherent totalizing positivist reading thus implicating, in its place, a cosmological one. In the Vibra works Franklin effectively overlays two mutually exclusive dynamics: materialization, concentration, implied immobility co-exist with de-materialization, dispersal, and implied motion.

Franklin obsessively crafts even the paintings intricate parts so that a seamless harmoniousness becomes the overall quality that is felt instantaneously even from a distance. While differing in approach and surface, in each of painting a sense of "factness" pervades, even permeates, this work, allowing a type of visibility (in the narrow, prosaic sense) to announce itself through a condition of immediacy. The artist's versatility and his carefully controlled surfaces and compositions lend themselves to an ornamental syntax and compositions and use of diverse materials such as wood, felt, silk and satin ribbons, and audiotape that takes into account a direct expression of structure and meaning. Towards that end the artist's vision prioritizes continuity as well as immediacy. Also, a contrapuntal quality that comes alive through the artist's mastery of perceptual effects induced through mindful (even shrewd) use of staccato color rhythms. Such rhythmic aspects give rise to the conditions that allow perceptual effects, maintained through durational time, to co-exist with other effects that sustain instantaneity. An oscillation between the oppositional sensations of restlessness and repose, timeliness and timelessness, therefore, become part of the viewing experience. This tension is at the root of the vitality of John Franklin's work. Controlled vitality, and the measures that are taken to induce the character of this spiritedness, lies at the heart of John Franklin's aesthetic. That aesthetic character is conditioned and framed by a taut, trim sense of contained, introverted, energy.

To deal with Franklin's paintings primarily as concrete objects or things made of substances and then, therefore is to see through what Merleau-Ponty calls "profane vision" these works rather than to perceive them as they exist in the world as sensible structures whose plasticity both receives and transmits noumenal energies to see these works as part of direct vision ex as experiencing them directly rather than indirectly would be wrong, do a disservice to the works themselves. Mikel Dufrenne puts it very nicely in his essay on Merleau-Ponty's "Eye and Mind" text: " Painting accomplishes what hyper- reflection tries to say. What the painter, through sheer patience, wants to see as well as to present for our seeing, is the very birth of seeing in contacted with its newly formed image. He wants to take this moment when ' things become things and…world becomes world' by surprise…The painter leads the noumenon back to what is properly the phenomenon, that is, to the manifestation of appearing." As Maurice Merleau-Ponty has it the world is not a fact or sum of facts but the locus of an inscription of truth.

These works are deceptive, even perversely so, hiding, as they do, their inner qualities, so to speak, in plain sight. They appear to be quick "reads" when they are anything but quick. Quite the opposite: what appears to relate to the very objectivity of "things out there" is inter-subjectivity constituted. By this I mean to say that there is a strong phenomenological aspect to these works. The individual artworks are bodies that are very much sensed through a persistent condition of reciprocal attunement that occurs between painting and beholder so as to heighten the awareness of seeing as an experiential process through which the thing "makes itself visible in us", that is, visible before our eyes. The terms of the investigation (or exploration) are clear. Those terms seem to insist that what you see is what you get. And yet this immanent quality that is sustained so effectively in John Franklin's work, strong as it is, sustains, improbably enough, a tiny slip of poetry that peeks out, vitalizes the work's slow penetration of order by tiny ruptures of disequilibrium. I think John Franklin's work, with its play of "matter-of-factness" not only invites but sustains perception. His aesthetic suggests that the more intensely you look at something that seems simple and straightforward the less you understand it. In effect, Franklin's vision, at its core, infers limit-states: unreachable extremes lying at opposite ends of a continuum of potential syntheses of interiority and the outside, closure and open-endedness. That is to say what hangs in the precarious balance in Franklin's work is the delicate thread, the shiver of impasse that connects the mundane with the supramundane. What is evident in the work and through the work is a slow incremental sedimentary releasing of suggestibilities of meaning evinced through the haptic sensuousness of the fabrics, surfaces and colors; these aesthetic choices taken by the artist are channeled through the rectitude that settles within each work. In an interview with the author John Franklin remarked: "Restraint is important to me as is the tension that exists between …totally letting go and being responsible…" It is through this restraint, paradoxically, that John Franklin mobilizes vision (that is, appearance) itself.

Franklin's seeming introverted energy puts into play a dry wit un-conceals itself through protracted viewing. The artist knows how to work one material off the other in conjunction with the coordinated effort of the composition and the colors that aid and abet (again, in a controlled way) the suggestion that the work has something off-kilter about it. Such eccentricity – this off-centeredness (a prominent out-of-the center quality) points to the paradoxical edge that Franklin's work possesses. By that I mean that as Apollonian as this work appears to be there is a Dionysian counterpart waiting in the shadow, in the wings, off stage. Felt #1 with Various Colored Circles (2012), for example, is a highly controlled, even regimented work that is highly distilled object that sends off sensations of implacability while offering a discharge of release, even joy. Order is countermanded by a quality of alterity; precision is offset by arbitrariness of size and color patterning of the circles. If I can engage in a bit of personification here: the overall effect is one of a carnival, exuberant, yet on parole. There is, for instance, something equally quietly unsettling in First Felt Necklace (2012) a small, new work that at first glance seems rather over-determinedly matter-of-fact (even prim) about its making and its formal considerations. The artist's evident and obvious troping on jewelry neckwear situates itself compositionally through illusionistic play. The diminishing-in-size holes or orbs arrange themselves in a gravity-fed universe where the three largest and heaviest blue "stones" at the lowest and most centralized point in the arc gives way to incrementally smaller holes as they make their way up the chain to the top-most high points of the arc at the left and right edges of the continuum. And yet the cogency specific phantasy-play image dismantles itself quite readily and is easily substituted into a Cheshire-cat smile and just as easily as this structured optical event invokes a natural world's substances such as water bubbles or the planetary movements around its orbit. This metaphorical shape-shifting and "as-if" substitution possibilities that are encrypted in First Felt Necklace (2012) give us a sense of how mutable Franklin's aesthetic vision actually is, how densely and poetically charged it is. In First Felt Necklace Franklin exhibits a canny understanding of the poetics of seemingly mundane form, the intricacies of phenomenological resonance, while attesting to the economy of construction that infers and responds to individual and often intimate needs. This remarkable work with its 15 cutout circles of variable width seems to be related to the scale of the human body. It forms a u-shaped smile-like uplifted arc that places itself in a metonymic position, roughly, of a necklace adorning the neck and throat of the female. The felt-surface implies of course the skin of the object or subject that is adorned by the forces of desire, attachment etc. there is without doubt, a strong sexual component to this work that arouses consideration. Here notions of privacy/public-ness, interiority/exteriority are played out simply and dramatically.

The inside/outside aspect that refers to somaticized experience plays itself out through Franklin's use of containment metaphors. Franklin uses the body-container metaphor (with its inside and outside dynamics pertaining to conditions of separation, liminality and permeability) to effectively explore issues of containment and release as well as to infer public and private spacings as part of his aesthetic project. Dwelling spaces, we might remind ourselves, are primary containers. It isn't surprising, therefore, that in several of Franklin's works, architecture or architectural motifs (windows, doors, walls, cells) become evident, if only in a subliminal way. First Felt (2012), for example, is an intimate work (it is 10 ¼ " x 8 5/8 ") that nevertheless possesses a strongly auratic, even fetishistic presence. The 25 squares that are cut out of the felt skin and then are alternately painted red and pink, while twenty small yellow round cutouts located at the intersection points in the grid allow force the eye to shift its emphasis from inner squares to the connected cruciform patterns and then back again. A screen or lattice quality is inferred here as decorative and structural insets used in Islamic architecture.

Architecture or architectural design is also sublated, ideationally, in Franklin's 2012 tartan works. Tartan for Anna, Tartan for Faye, Tartan for Tara, Tartan for Katie are fastidiously dressed for the eyes; with their use of satin ribbon and the implications of feminine finery, the erotics of this situation is nuanced but clear to the eye. There is a gloss and sheen and a bit of naughtiness, an erotic frisson, that extends across the edges of the works, as these ribbons are stretched garter-like, tightly, fastened to the backs of each painting. The reflection of the satin "zips" allows the eye to slip quickly along the glossy material in verticalized ascension or in horizontalized sliding thus offering another read of the private body's dress or undress: that of the architectural glass walls supporting the universal space of modernist architecture; equally plausible are the vaguely ecclesiastical intimations of the lead-casings of stained-glass windows as the satin ribbon serves as a device to further exemplify the dynamic of framing-and-linking that pervades each tartan composition . In each and every case the artist favors a pictorial practice and process that stresses overall unity of vision, control through repetition, inner echoes suggestive of dynamics of containment, rhythm, release --- all tethered to an overall circumspection.

To speak of the spectrum of content that is sustained through the artist's work is to speak of its formal values. I think what moves me in this work is that Franklin atypically as a painter doesn't so much paint his paintings as much as he constructs them as a sculptor would, taking into account all manner of optical, sensorial and haptic realities (rough-smooth/dark-light/matt-shiny/taut-loose/ inside-outside/front-back/front-edges/) that in turn unleash a variety of often-submerged sensations from this viewer. I am immersed in the arousal of intimate and sensually emotional truths as I gaze onto and into the surfaces of Franklin's artworks. It is noteworthy to point to how masterfully adept the artist is at selecting the right materials and how rigor and mindfulness is applied as he combines them with his colors and formats to orchestrate deeply charged and resonant effects. References to the inner and outer worlds of the various senses and how a world is revealed through touch, sight, and sound is quietly yet effectively suggested in the remarkable Felt with Pink and Gray Dots and Audiotape Binding (2012). There is a binding quality to this compact work as there is a quality of monumental encasement. The circulatory drives that infuses this work are clear: a gridded network, pink and gray/blue cut out circles emerging out of a felt surface that are held into place by the shiny audiotape, acting like the shiny bars of a cell. To use a term taken from Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, John Franklin's art work involves the viewer in metapsychological presencing: "…these images blot out the world, and they have no past. They do not stem from any earlier experience…they give us a lesson in solitude."

All rights reserved © 2013


Brian Morris Gallery, NY, NY, True Believers (catalog), Catalog essay by Geoffrey Young
Wayne Koestenbaum, Phill Knoll & John Franklin, January - February 2015 View
Greenville Museum of Art, Greenville, NC, Recent Paintings (catalog), by Tricia Fagan
John Franklin, September 2001-November 2001 View
Newark Star Ledger, Sculptural Cross Sections (Newspaper), by Eileen Watkins,
Curated by Peter Vanni at the Hunterdon Art Center, Claes Oldenburg, Isaac Witkin, Joel Shapiro, Toshiko Takaezu and Grace Knowlton paired with their assistants, April 30, 1995 View
White Columns Gallery, NY, NY, The Naming of the Colors (Catalog), by Kirby Gookin & Bill Arning
April 1993 View
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, Portland, OR, 3 Artists: Recent Work: Big Apple, Pages 12-15 (Catalog), by Jan Cavanaugh
September 1990 View
Solo Exhibition at Dennis Anderson Gallery, L.A. in Review, ARTS (Magazine) Page 122, by Susen Kandel
October 1990 View
Solo Exhibition at Dennis Anderson Gallery, Pick of the Week, Calendar Section, L.A. Weekly (Newspaper), by Peter Frank
July 24, 1990 View
Holly Solomon Gallery Group Exhibition, New York in Review, Outer Limits, ARTS (Magazine) Pages 92-93, by Robert Mahoney
December 1989 View
Koury Wingate and Loughelton Galleries, New York in Review, Solo Exhibitions, ARTS (Magazine) Page 98, by Robert Morgan
February 1989 View
Jeffrey Neale Gallery, A Romantic Distance, ARTS (Magazine) Pages 100-101, by Robert Mahoney
May 1988 View
Loughelton Gallery, 108 An East Village Review, John Franklin, by D.A. Kitrell
May/June 1987 View
Solo Exhibition at Loughelton Gallery, New York in Review, New York Times, by Roberta Smith
May 29, 1987 View
Hallwalls Gallery, Buffalo, NY, Retroactive (Catalog), by Catherine Howe
October 1986 View
White Columns Gallery, UPDATE: 85-86 (Catalog), by Bill Arning
June 1986 View
Review of Solo Exhibition in White Room, White Columns Gallery, Goings on About Town, New Yorker (Magazine),
April 7, 1986 View