Artist /Actor James Franco spent Sunday afternoon at the ICA (London 1 July), in the first of the gallery’s ‘Quick Fire’ talk series. He discussed with Katie Puckrik subjects ranging from his studies for his PHD at Yale, to his infatuation with James Dean. Franco is a man of many words. Why say it in a paragraph when you can write a dissertation!
The conversation was lively and often interesting, as he explained his latest art piece, centred around the US television soap opera ‘General Hospital’. The motive for the work is still a bit blurred, as it was the creation of a character named Franco, who happened to be a performance artist and a serial killer. It was to be viewed and absorbed on a multitude of levels and although we haven’t been given the opportunity to see it in the UK, I caught the drift of the motive along with the creative process involved and yes it was clever. Perhaps too clever for the average viewer of an American commercial soap, but Ah, to have the power of controlling the media and to actually command an audience, clambering at your feet to view it, as an art installation, that’s another story. Could this happen in the UK with Damien Hirst appearing on Corrie? Yeah I suppose it could!
The next complex subject discussed was Franco’s reedit of the Gus Van Sant film ‘My Own Private Idaho’ where with the help of financial backing from Gucci (Franco’s own little earner) he was given access to 29 hours of the film’s outtakes and allowed to reedit the film into a new feature. OK again I would have to see it to judge and I guess in the age of Christian Marclay a reedit is as original a work of art, as you make it. Franco also mentioned his tribute to Brad Renfro, the child actor who passed away in 2008 from a heroin overdose. The performance piece is a playful reference to “Deuces Wild,” the boy gang film that Franco and Renfro starred in together a decade earlier. Franco’s tribute film, “Brad Renfro Forever, finds the actor getting “BRAD” carved, prison style into his arm with a switchblade. The act was performed by Mark Mahoney, the LA tattoo artist. The switch blades were also produced in a limited edition with word Forever scrawled on them. They are for sale at a snip at 800 bucks a pop.
The final project covered was his MOCA James Dean work, ‘Rebel’ where he cast artists like Paul McCarthy to reenact scenes about the making and rehearsals between Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dean himself. The setting was the Chateau Marmont where the rehearsals took place. Franco is a massive fan of James Dean, River Phoenix and Jack Nicholson hence the references in many of his visual art creations. If he were a straightforward director, it would be natural for him to make references to other films and actors, in his work. As a visual artist this is yet another angle in a complex web of projects realised.
Franco is an obsessive personality focusing on what ever he is doing and he is doing it well. He is not a flash in the pan and my conclusion is, James has great ideas and is in a fantastic position to execute them. We are dealing with a breed of talent that we haven’t seen in many years. My only worry is that this rare, multi-disiplanary energy will drain him of the youthful energy, that has created the fabric of ‘potentially’ the 21st century’s first truly renaissance artist. My only other criticism is… In the future get some sleep James and occasionally look up at the audience you are addressing.
Words/Photo: Paul Carter Robinson © ArtLyst 2012 **** Stars