Who: Francesca “Frahn” Koerner
Where: The Black Pearl (Broadway and St. Charles)
Artist’s chosen location for interview: UNO St. Claude Gallery-on the floor with her paintings all around us.
Q: What is a job title that you’ve never really understood?
A: I have no idea. I can’t even imagine that situation. Being in the creative world, I’ve always gone my own route, so I never really question what it is someone else chooses to do.
Honestly, my job title has been confusing to some. In the past, there have been those who haven’t really comprehended what I do. Occasionally people see artists as ‘not working.’ When I taught at Tulane, that was seen as ‘a job.’ The title of being a ‘college professor’ was understood. But when I renovated houses, was a landlord, raising 3 sons, making art full-time, that was not quite grasped as a ‘job.’ I definitely don’t sit around eating bonbons.
I’m a multimedia artist. I also love using other materials —photographs, puzzles, drawings, fabric, sequins, glitter, gold dust, installation and video—but I always go back to painting. I started out using oil paint, but it began to affect my health. Early on, in order to move the paint around, I would spray it with turpentine. Turpentine is flammable and very toxic. It would get into my sinuses and that’s just not a healthy thing. I had to stop using oil paint as my primary painting material. I switched to acrylic as the first layer, which still wasn’t perfect.
Then I started using gouache paint which was great at first, but it’s not water resistant. Lately I’ve been experimenting with flashe paint, but it’s not as opaque as I would like. On my current flashe painting, I’ve had to go over some areas five or more times. The painting is very detailed with geometry and a figure, so that is just too frustrating for now. I will use acrylic again with maybe an overlay of oil paint. I’m still searching, which is fine. It’s still fun.
Q: What role does reality play in your life?
A: To me, living in reality is everything. But imagination or I guess non reality comes into play for me when I am making art. It’s funny you asked that question because a few curators have asked me, ‘Why are you making these images that don’t exist in real life?’ I was so surprised by that question! My artwork often starts out as an idea or a vision in my mind’s eye. Then I will make a list of the ideas, take photos and make a ton of drawings.
Then as I’m executing the drawings into paintings, more ideas will just happen as I’m moving the paint around. I try to go with that flow. Only after I’m well into the creative process can I really start to analyze and think about what I’m doing. I’m a pretty harsh editor, so I have to be careful to let myself go and think about it later.
The title of my show ‘the scales fell from her eyes,’ has to do with living in reality and being able to see the truth. If one can see what is really going on, life becomes easier to deal with.
I’d rather deal with reality, and that really comes through in my artist statement for the show, which I know verbatim:
“the scales fell from her eyes,” an exhibition of 19 paintings, is a series that uses color and mark-making to portray deeper themes. Philosophically and formally I was influenced by the I Ching, a divination tool based on Taoism and Confucianism that dates back to the 10 th century BC. Continued study of color theory resulted with changes in my palette, the effective employment of black being one of the main developments. The thematic content for this work was influenced while reading The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. In this novel, several of the main characters uncover and triumph over long repressed memories and the unhealthy beliefs that resulted. If the scales fall from someone’s eyes, then they are able to see the truth. This phrase resonated with my own life experiences and inspired the title as well as the visual subject matter for this series.
Q: What is a tradition or habit that you have no interest in getting rid of?
A: The tradition of I Ching. That’s an old habit or tradition, and it’s part of my spiritual practice. I’ve been reading the I Ching since I was a teenager. When I was writing my thesis for my MFA at UNO, I realized that I’m actually very philosophical. I even had a chapter called ‘My Philosophy.’ The I Ching is basically Eastern philosophy, and it’s right up my alley. I love it.
And family! Family is a big tradition I would not want to let go of. I have three sons, and we all get together over the holidays and whenever we can. We used to congregate at my house all the time, but my daughter-in-law is in school again now, so the last two years we’ve been convening at my son and daughter-in-law’s. I love my sons and their significant others.
It provides balance.
Q: When do you know when something is fated?
A: I think pretty much everything is. I meditate every day, and try to live in the present moment. I walk through life trying to be open to every present situation. In that way, I believe that everything is supposed to happen and every incident or experience is a learning opportunity. Sometimes it’s a steep learning curve, and sometimes it’s easy.
I have had a lot of intense life experiences, and when I was sixteen I had a pretty big life altering occurrence followed by a giant epiphany. I felt myself transition into that mindset afterwards. As I’ve grown, I’ve also become more and more optimistic—telling myself to let go while reminding myself that the best thing is going to happen.
I just remind myself to be open, show up and don’t try to control anything. Go with the flow. It seems to be working.
Q: What are concepts that can’t be visualized?
A: I have tried to visualize the concept of the I Ching forever, and that’s a really difficult one. I think I’m getting closer, but trying to visualize philosophy is really difficult.
I hope that my paintings are a visual concept of letting things go, the themes of loving nature, being optimistic, going with the flow, doing the right thing, following one’s inner wisdom and intuition. I paint and then spray the paint with water so everything moves, flows, like a river, maybe just like in life. It’s seemingly random and in this other way it’s also fated.
Meditation has helped to fine tune some of this for me. And living by the basic concepts of don’t lie, don’t steal, always tell the truth, be a kind person, always listen, and be present, sincere…. I find those concepts pretty simple to understand and live by. Maybe those ideas are somewhat hidden, but hopefully the viewer can envision some of these beliefs in my artwork.
Frahn’s paintings are currently on exhibit at the UNO St. Claude Gallery at 2429 St. Claude Avenue. Her paintings will be on exhibit until June 5, 2016, and you can also be on the lookout for her paintings at the Contemporary Arts Center in the near future. To learn more about Frahn and her work, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram.