Cool hunter predictions: Heath Franco - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Cool hunter predictions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Heath Franco, Your Door, 2011. Video still, HD digital video, colour, stereo sound, 16:9, 8 min 17 sec. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie pompom, Sydney

Twenty-eight-year-old Heath Franco has been a fixture of the independent Sydney art scene since completing his degree at the College of Fine Arts in 2005. But it was his breakout video work Your Door in 2010 that hit audiences like a blast of hot air after a day browsing in a generic, air-conditioned shopping mall that put him on the radar of the mainstream contemporary art world.

It was a brutal psychological portrait of suburban life which demonstrated the artist’s laser-like ability to understand the devil in the detail of human behaviour, as well as his entirely unique way of expressing it through performance personas that are simultaneously bizarre yet oddly familiar. The characters that populate Franco’s videos are performed with a Brando-like bravura, a dadaist sense of the absurd and the relentlessness of comedic genius Andy Kaufmann.

His rise to mainstream success had been greatly assisted by the mentoring he has received from Michael Dagostino, the former director of Parramatta Artists Studio where Franco was artist- in-residence from 2008 to 2011. In 2012 things took off for Franco in a big way. He was signed by a commercial gallery, Galerie Pompom, where his first solo show
Dream Home was both a critical and commercial success; he was included in the Tokyo Art Fair where Your Door was chosen for exhibition in the vernissage, a first for an Australian artist; he won the prestigious Churchie National Emerging Art Prize; and his work was collected by major public institutions.

Artbank senior curator Daniel Mudie Cunningham, who is commissioning Franco to make a work for the collection in 2013, says of the artist: “I’m fairly certain Heath Franco was catapulted to earth from a green-screen planet occupied by lunatics. That’s certainly what his well-earned rise to notoriety feels like.”

For Mudie Cunningham it is the “repetition found in the suburban milieu of banal blond-brick houses, RSL barflies and charity bin dress-ups” in Franco’s video works that gets under the skin.

He adds: “Rarely am I so convinced of a young artist’s star power and inevitable success. Viewing his work is like being punched in the face – in a good way that shakes off the apathy and reminds you why it is good to be alive.”

It’s in this life-affirming spirit that Franco’s practice should ultimately be understood. Despite the dark and confronting nature of its subject matter – ultimately a reflection of ourselves in grotesque and repetitive distortion – the artist is interested in connecting to feelings of child-like wonder when the world seemed like a scary but exciting place. As he recently told arts writer Michael Fitzgerald: “I’m not really religious at all, but to think that there’s something magical underlying everything – it is a pleasing feeling and it puts you more at ease with life, about how fucked up it is. Yeah, I like to think that there could be things like that – that there could be potentially a universe inside an atom.”

Carrie Miller

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