Art Review by Shawn Diamond
An opening reception that draws 5,000 people to an art gallery focusing on Asian art is bound to seem a bit of a surprise to the art world of Cleveland. Unless, of course, the gallery is exhibiting the works of a popular American celebrity, such as James Franco (and his brother, Tom). It would be easy to dismiss the current art show “A California Childhood” at the Verne Collection as a Hollywood actor (and his brother, Tom) attempting to capitalize on Hollywood fame and the gallery that is now run by their uncle. What makes this show worthwhile, however, is that it brings to light the art of James’ brother, Tom, an artist whose work deserves notice.
James’ art surely is what has brought the masses to the gallery, more so for his celebrity-ism than his actual artistic credibility. His works are bright, painterly, and focus on what immediately surrounds him in his life. We see a painting of his cat Max, a painting of his brothers, then another painting of a cat, Sammy. His version of “A California Childhood” shows that he is representing what he thinks childhood is about – the persons and cats that immediately surround us.
While James’ assumes the ‘paint what you know’ approach, Tom searches to portray a deeper philosophy, explaining that much of his art is based on the idea of communal interactions between both artists and subjects. Tom’s ideological stance on this subject is just as apparent in his everyday life as his art. He is a co-founder of the Firehouse Art Collective, a community for artists to work together that has spread from its original home in California to many other locations such as New York. It seems in all facets of his life he strives to include others to create more universal and powerful art.
In his work we see him urging his audience to participate and therefore become an integral gear in his machine. Objects such as Toaster Dragon are meant to be opened and discovered while the more conceptual Wishing Box asks those in the gallery to both leave a wish in the sculpture and read someone else’s. This may sound reminiscent of the popular pre-teen camp project, but by placing it in a gallery Tom urges the audience to reexamine the potential this item could have for an adult.
It is time that Tom Franco’s name stop appearing as an after-thought in the list of Franco brothers. Appearing in both dynamic found object sculptures and collage-like paintings, Tom’s art is full of vibrant colors and action. Although appearing playful and imaginative through his use of objects such as sandpaper, toys, silk screens, and found-objects (sometimes the work of other artist’s from his collective) his work is far from purely aesthetic.
Possibly the artist’s most powerful work at the show was Cuidado Goods in which two wooden hands cradle a rocket while a sun looks upon it with an expression of awe or dismay. Tom stated that rockets are powerful objects simply from the energy gained from the many things people associate them with, both disastrous and revolutionary; much the same way a religious icon works. He hopes to portray this immense energy of a symbol while not taking a particular stance on the subject.
Anyone walking through this one room gallery would immediately be struck by the amount of fun both artists retain while working their crafts. Both brothers’ placards leave their intentions somewhat blurry and obscured, placing the work of deciphering significances to the viewer. It is work that is worth the effort, especially on Tom’s behalf. This is not to say that artistic thought is completely gone from James’ work.
His painting Men Boys, the final work by James that the viewer sees when circling the room, summates the basic concept of “A California Childhood” – a return from where we are to what we were and where we came from. Tom’s creations reach a more universal importance when he takes the show’s title as a means to explore, conceptualize, and search for a community as a child does. His willingness to experiment creates fun, meaningful works that should not fall in the shadow of his brother.
“A Californnia Childhood” at on view at the The Verne Collection until August 8, 2015. The Verne Collection is located at 2207 Murray Hill, Cleveland, Ohio, 44106.
Shawn Diamond is a graduate student in the art history program at Kent State University. His focus is on late modern and contemporary art. You can contact Shawn at firstname.lastname@example.org.