Moments of ‘beauty and ugliness’

A conversation and studio tour with Alex Francheville.

Alex Francheville opened the door to his Bridge Street apartment and led me through a tiny kitchen toward his bedroom. He gestured at a heavy door with peeling paint hidden behind the bed.

“Check out the Vault,” he said. “It’s where I’ve been doing a lot of my work this semester.”

He led me into the dingy room with exposed wooden beams and dim lighting. At the back sat a wooden tool bench where Francheville works on the base of his latest sculpture, titled Falling Mother. The sculpture was still in its early stages, but the beginnings of a city street were already taking shape in the rough block of wood sitting on the bench.

The other half of the sculpture sat on a narrow shelf: the eponymous Falling Mother, a stout figure with heavily curved limbs and proportions reminiscent of Palaeolithic carvings.  This modern Venus of Willendorf will be suspended above her base by an electromagnet that Francheville constructed with help from the physics department. The sculpture will be Francheville’s contribution to the graduating class art show opening at the Owens on April 17.

We left the improvised wood shop and walked into the living room, which was furnished with a broken-down green velour couch and a wooden table. The faded wallpaper gleamed in the sun flooding through two massive windows. In many ways, Francheville’s studio reflects the same ideals he strives to express in his art.

“The realism of each moment in my art is exaggerated,” said Francheville. “All the things that [we] hide away, all the things that we try not to project in a scene, I concentrate on that… I look for moments with beauty and ugliness at the same time.”

The Junction, a painting Francheville completed in his first year, hung against the wall beside the couch, providing a dramatic context to the conversation. The self-portrait depicts a stylized caricature of Francheville collapsed in the middle of a Moncton bush party. Empty bottles and cigarettes are scattered in the grass, and young hedonists replete with tattoos and cotton undershirts are scattered in the background.

The scene reminded me of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights: both pieces have the same wild, unbridled energy, the canvases crowded with bodies. Both pieces hum with a visceral sense of motion, and both pieces make the viewer feel as though they are fervently stealing a glance at something spontaneous and secret, something too pure to be painted. This is the magic of Francheville’s work: his ability to show the world around him with such insight and honesty.

“I get tired of seeing the same type of people always depicted in art, in society,” explained Francheville. “Clean people who look like they’re coming off a Hollywood set. I want to show the people I’m actually surrounded by.”

The conversation turned back to Falling Mother. “The mother in my new sculpture isn’t the sort of thing you would see in a magazine,” he said. “But you feel pity for her. She has grit, but she’s still the hero of the piece. [She might not be] your idea of what a hero looks like; it plays on the idea of what the hero is.”

Later in the morning, Francheville would explain the moment that inspired the sculpture. He would describe how he was walking through Moncton at night when a boy jumped out of a house in front of him and started running through the street, chased by a group of men with knives. When the boy ran up his driveway, his mother jumped out of the house, throwing herself between her son and the men chasing him. One of the men pushed her out of the way and let her fall on her back onto the frozen street.

Francheville would explain how this unfeeling act of violence inspired a sense of absurdity within him, a sense that pervades Falling Mother, a sculpture that forces the viewer to contemplate that moment, suspended in time, when the consequences of our actions reveal a human face. But at that moment in time he was content to sit back on his couch and sip his coffee.

“I just get so angry,” he said softly. “Everyone seems so lonely.”

Alex Francheville will showcase five of his recent paintings at Thunder & Lightning on Apr. 17.

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