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Stene Projects

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John E Franzén (SWE) 1 – 2 Paintings 2011, Twilight and The Jesus Painting, installation view Stene Projects

2 – The Jesus Painting 2005-2010, 140 × 210 cm, oil on canvas

3 – The Visitors No. 1 2009-2012, 49 × 72 cm, oil on canvas

4 – The Visitors No. 3 2009-2012, 49 × 72 cm, oil on canvas

5 – The Visitors No. 5 2009-2012, 49 × 72 cm, oil on canvas

6 – The Visitors No. 6 2009-2012, 49 × 72 cm, oil on canvas


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Magnus Bons, writer and art critic based in Stockholm, Sweden

The Visitors At the very first glance, it is clear that John-E Franzén’s new suite of paintings depicts something beyond the usual. The winter landscape’s snow-covered idyll and the river’s calmly rippling water is the site chosen for some remarkable events. They are made apparent through subtly wayward – but all the more effective – addenda to the paintings’ lifelike descriptions. Precisely the contrast between the painting’s classical realism and the supernatural character of the details is the basic backbone of the works’ structure. The flying owl’s steady gaze, the crucifix in the water, the blue Cadillac in the waterfall and the gold-colored car – together, they intensify the atmosphere in John-E Franzén’s thoughtfully emerging paintings. The position of the Cadillac in The Visitors No. 3, where it lies in the middle of a channel of water, is unsteady and surprising. The car definitely looks as though it were rising up out of the river at the same time as it doesn’t really seem to be part of its surroundings – as if it weren’t even there. The car appears to be a mirage despite the vision of the hard and shiny, realistically painted chassis. The water doesn’t seem to be affected at all by the automobile as it moves down the small waterfall. If the car is lying in the river – and it certainly seems to be doing that, despite everything – why is it there? The description of the water opens an ominous connection to the appearance of the ground in John-E Franzén’s earlier painting Hell’s Angels of California, 1966-69. This unease is generated by the fact that the paintings’ two disparate environments seem to be brought together through the similarity in the depiction of the surfaces. Even if the paintings are on different levels of photographic realism, they have an intermittently vibrating shadowing in common. They utilize a comprehensive pattern effect which almost sets the surfaces in


relief against the rest of the painting. What can the unabashed beerdrinking motorcycle gang and the spread-eagle naked girls – the painting was controversial as soon as it came into being – have to do with a car in a wintry landscape in Southern Sweden? The different thematic choices in the paintings reflect John-E Franzén’s interest for the margins – for what’s happening at the edges of the main road, in the periphery of nature and in society’s back yards. For a long time, he has painted slices of what he sees around his home. The forest and fields have been depicted with a distinct feeling for nature and a highly palpable desolation and absence of humans. Another clear track has been urban milieus where abandoned car wrecks manifest as cultural memorials. With a compressed span of time and from different angles, John-E Franzén considers an existence under the radar in his paintings. John-E Franzén situates the painting’s primary theme either in the picture’s extreme mid-point or far out in its margins. In The Visitors No. 5, the owl sways in the focus of the painting, as if frozen weightless. In The Visitors No. 6, the crucifix motif on the other hand is shoved far to the side, which means that the importance of the winter landscape slides. There is a simultaneous opening and retraction of the pictorial space, and a story that moves sideways. Everything is held together by meticulous craftsmanship. John-E Franzén’s artistry is characterized in its entirety by this dichotomy, which exists both within the individual picture and between the paintings. In them, he places the group against the individual and the center against the periphery. Throughout, his recurring descriptions of group structures – the painting of the Swedish royal family included – are contrasted with intimate depictions of an almost individual form of existence. If the herd’s doings are spread out over the entire canvas, the private person retreats to the edge, leaving an open painterly space behind.


John E Franzén (b. 1942) is one of the most renowned contemporary artists in Sweden. He studied at The University College of Arts and at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm in the 60’s, where he later taught painting as professor for seven years. He is a member of the Royal Academy of Free Art since 1989. His paintings feature motorcycles, American cars, urban environments, landscapes and portraits, and are often made from photographic originals. His name is associated with striking and grand single works, because of their uncompromising nature and disregard for controversy. Some of Franzén’s paintings have instantaneously made art history, notably the portrait of the Swedish royal family, 1984-85, and The Truth about Texas Rose, 1963, a piece that embodies Swedish pop art. Franzéns most known piece, Hell’s Angels of California, 1966-69, was made upon the return from a longer stay in Los Angeles. The work was immediately acquired for Moderna Museet’s collection by Pontus Hultén. Throughout his career Franzén has maintained his affinity with California and artists like Ed Ruscha and Andrew Wyeth. Through his oeuvre, Franzén has provoked attention, debate and strong reactions. Above all his art has stretched the boundaries of traditional motifs. There is a feeling of emptiness and desolation in his pieces, where the American dream is opened to the viewer´s projections and beliefs. In recent years, his work 2 Paintings – Twilight and The Jesus Painting focuses more on spirituality and existential values in a digitalized and globalized world. The new series The Visitors is a prolonging and development of 2 Paintings. Represented: Modern Museum of Art, Stockholm, Göteborg Art Museum, Göteborg, Malmö Art Museum, Malmö, The National Public Art Council, Sweden, The National Portrait Collection, Gripsholm Castle, Gävleborg Regional Museum, Gävle, Lund University. Stene Projects +46-768-986495 info@steneprojects.com


7 – Magnolia 2004-2008, 143 ×123 cm, oil on canvas, private collection

8 – Lands End 1981-1982, 81  ×  129 cm, oil on canvas, courtesy of the Malmö Art Museum

9 – Portrait of the Royal Family 1984-1985, 265 × 225 cm, oil and tempera on canvas, courtesy of the National Portrait Collection, Gripsholms Castle

10  – Hells Angels of California, USA 1966-1969, 165 × 213 cm, oil on canvas, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm


R&D | Stene Projects, John E Franzén