About the Artist
Franziska Schenk is an artist and lecturer in Fine Art at Birmingham City University and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Birmingham. She holds an MA (with Distinction) in Fine Art, and First Class Hons Degrees in Fine Art (Birmingham City University) and Art Education (Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt).
Her work has been shown in venues across England and in Germany. And, in tandem, she has conceived, initiated and led a number of funded Art and Science projects, focusing on the conversion of nature’s iridescent colour to the painter’s palette – introducing flow, dynamism, transience and an evolutionary element into painting.
- The Art of Iridescence. Funding body: Arts Council England. Apr - Oct.
- In the Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Evolution. Residency at Univeristy of Birmingham, Biosciences. Funding body: Wellcome Trust. Jan - Dec.
- Interact: Artists in Industry. Placement at Univeristy of Birmingham, Biosciences and Physics. Funding body: Arts Council England. Jan - June.
- Sea Change: Converting Nature's Fluctuating Colour to the Painter's Palette. Residency at Natural History Museum, London. Funding body: Arts and Humanities Research Council. May - Dec.
- Colour and Chemistry. Project devised by Sherborne House, Dorset. Participation in their 'Colourlab' symposium and schools / exhibition programme.
- Mantel of Many Colours. Residency at National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth. Funding body: Arts Council England. April - Dec.
Overview of Practice
Ageing and Evolution
Initially located in the portrait genre, Schenk's early work engages with the passing of time. Inspired by Richter's photo-paintings, the artist deployed sequential representation to portray the changing appearance of one person over time.
However the perfect photo-real surface proved somewhat inadequate in capturing the ever-evolving process of ageing. Developing layered paintings with textured, disintegrating surfaces, Schenk began to explore the prehistoric marine creatures we emerged from. Human portraits morphed into fish. And ageing became linked to evolution.
The Romantic and the Scientific
Simultaneously referring to the 'grand' tradition of History Painting, together with illustrations of children's books, Schenk's work of the 90's juxtaposes the depth of the ocean ('the womb of creation') and heavenly deep space. Guarding this transient world, the Denizens of the Deep (representing our past) are, in turn, contrasted by an 'angelic' baby/cherub - vulnerable to the future.
A number of artistic leitmotivs surface here - the erosion of boundaries between 'high' and 'low' art, past and future, prey and predator, the real and surreal, the sacred and defiled - and, perhaps most importantly, the underlying theme of the Romantic and the Scientific.
Camouflage and Abstraction
By 2000, nature took centre stage. Further pursuing the theme of transformation, and with the chameleon in its many guises as exemplar, the artist began to explore camouflage, disguise and deception.
As the chameleon ages it sloughs. With the canvas as 'skin', and utilising castings of the original paintings, a series of interrelated reptilian 'palimpsests' was produced. With each added version the image gradually dissolves - suggesting a transition from recognition to abstraction. The language of sequential representation, materiality, process and lingering image combine to create multi-layered meanings.
Transience and Iridescence
With the main artistic themes and methods now established, the artist embarked on a quest to add perhaps the most crucial ingrediant to her palette: iridescent colour. Still restricted to industrial usage, latest iridescent technology offered Schenk the exciting potential opportunity to arrive at truly chameleonesque work - namely paintings that change colour depending on the light and viewing angle. However, as iridescence does not adhere to the rules of easel painting this proved a major challenge. But, perhaps as nature inspired this technology, it can also teach us how to best employ it?
With this in mind, and the cuttlefish and butterflies as her inspiration, the artist undertook a number of funded scientific placements, and in so doing familiarised herself with the latest developments in material sciences, optical physics and evolutionary biology.
Indeed, by mimicking nature's ingenious strategies, Schenk has now captured, for the first time on canvas, the vicissitudes of nature's iridescent hues. And thus made major strides in introducing change, transience and a dynamic dimension into painting.