John Franzen was born a single child in Germany, in 1981. When he was 6 years old, he and his mother moved to Belgium, where he grew up. His childhood was marked by constant changes of residence. His parents, who were nurses, would constantly leave him alone at home, especially during the night. In his close social circle, he had few male friends, his closest figure being his grandmother. These circumstances left Franzen with a great lack of social connections, and big fear of the night and the darkness that comes with it. Additionally, Franzen’s family did not encourage the arts in his childhood development, with very few books in his house and no artistic pieces on display whatsoever. He confesses he hated art as a young person; he had never been in a museum, and drawing was nothing more than a form of escapism from his loneliness.
This feeling of isolation, however, led to an increasing withdrawal into his inner creative world, which combined with a discovered inherent ability to draw, made him an artist who disliked art. This contradiction is important to understand Franzen’s change of style in 2007, and most importantly to trace the roots of some of the major themes of his work: darkness, singularity, nothingness, and destruction.
After such a difficult childhood, at the age of 15, Franzen started an intensive German speaking education at the Robert Schumann Technical Institute in eastern Belgium, which included 20 hours of drawing classes per week, amongst other artistic education classes. This was followed by a two-year-interlude, during which Franzen worked both in and close to nature as a woodcutter and creative nature-pedagogue for children. Franzen’s experiences working outside gave him a new perspective on working with mediums beyond the two dimensions, and made him realize his love for art that required intense work of the hands.
Coming from a family of woodworkers, he felt most able to relate to the use of such a medium. In 2003 he continued his artistic education by entering the Art Academy in Maastricht. As he knew at the time of joining, one of the most appealing characteristics of the Maastricht school was it’s structured education, where he was able to acquire knowledge and skills that fostered a hard working ethic, and a sound artistic background.
He concluded his education in 2008, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. 2007 is also an important point in John’s life, however, for reasons beyond his artistic production. In this year, his father died. Although his father had been distant to him, his death deeply affected Franzen. Personally, he became more spiritual, able to better connect with nature, and he began practicing meditation. Artistically, he stopped creating figurative art, his art instead became aniconist, and he obtained new levels of abstraction and introspection. His process of creation became both a performative act, and a personal spiritual process.
After his graduation, Franzen stayed in Maastricht where he works as an independent artist. Over the last few years, he has developed a serious production ethic, which links clearly to both the importance of spirituality in his life, and the great degree of abstraction in his art. He works in two different studios; one is bright and small, where he does his drawings and most of his delicate and meditative pieces. The other is a big, post-industrial space, where he is able to develop his biggest and roughest pieces. Both places reflect the universality of his character as both a human being and an artist, and his dualistic nature as a creator. Most importantly, these two places show how his work is deeply rooted in an organized private experience, which results from deep self-reflectivity, conscious seclusion and isolation, and his overall devotion to, and knowledge of, art.