03 Oct Featured: Frank van Reenen’s Wicked Imagination
Frank van Reenen’s solo show On a Day opened at NIROXprojects in Maboneng last night. It’s his first solo show in Joburg for a long time, and comprises candy-pop coloured canvases and black and gold sculptures. Frank’s work is an extension of himself – namely his imagination, which is characterised by a wicked wit and absurd sense of humour.
On a Day transforms the space into a kitsch dreamscape. The iconic ‘Sleeping Dog’ sculpture gets a coating of gold leaf, and a silicon cast of the same squish-nosed sleeping pup breathes against your palm. Small bronze figures are clustered in groups that instigate bizarre micro-narratives, and pink-blue-and-green canvases colour the setting. The characters in this dream are naïve and childlike, yet simultaneously teeter on the verge of nightmarish. This is the world of icing sugar and cyanide that is Frank’s work.
You’ve described your work in the past as “icing sugar mixed with cyanide”. Does this description still fit?
Yes I gravitate towards themes where a dual meaning is pertinent.
You work across a great many mediums and seem to adapt your style to fit, or rather explore, each one. What appeals to you about this broad practice?
If it is going poorly with the one medium it might go better with another. Also I guess the different mediums feed each other.
A concept might start as an animation and then evolve into a sculptural piece. I like it when work evolves. I was in a situation where I had to remake the same sculpture 3 times. It turned out to be a great learning experience.
Where your paintings, prints and drawings have quite a loose style, your sculptures are finished off with a smooth, glossy veneer. What does this shiny coating symbolise in your work?
They resemble toys. Or boiled sweets.
Earlier this year we saw your special commission work, Giant, made for the NIROX SCULPTURE | WINTER ’14 exhibition at the Winter Sculpture Fair. Please tell us more about this work, and particularly its immense scale…
With the title like “The Giant”, well it had to be Big. The figure is looking up to maybe an even bigger giant – stuck in a loop forever with the figures getting bigger and bigger.
You reference pop-culture and Internet aesthetics in a lot of your work. Can you tell us more about this, and other influences and inspirations you might have…
I grew up on comics and I watch a lot of cartoons with my daughter so I guess that filters down into what I do.
Your subject matter flits between the playful and the macabre. Please tell us more about this ambiguous world and some of the recurring characters that inhabit it…
The playful draws one in and then the macabre slaps one around a bit.
Humour is another recurring element in your work. What’s so important about having a laugh?
Humour and duality seem to walk hand in hand.
I once read something, it was like a cat poster: “It’s an artist’s job to propose an alternative reality.”
I thought, “Yeah, that makes sense”. As the real reality we live in kind of sucks, let’s make one that is vaguely amusing.
Looking through your gifs, animations and sketches, it seems like storytelling is an important part of your work. Is this the case? Please tell us more…
Story for me is big. Yes it is.
It is always so fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes peek. Will you let us in on your creative process?
It is strangely chaotic and destructive.
What can we expect to see on your show, On a Day, opening at NIROXprojects on the 2nd of October?
Sculptures and paintings. A lot of black. “Black is the new pink”. (Not really).
What’s next for you?
Making stuff in silicone. And an animated story.
See more of Frank’s work at frank.co.za
On a Day is on until the 22 October 2014