Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Kevin Frances

For this edition of Fan Mail, Kevin Frances of Providence, Rhode Island has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.

Kevin has made several renditions of rooms filled with ceramic objects, using screen printing and acrylic paint to label his imperfect things. He is currently pursuing an MFA in printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) after graduating from University of California, Davis in 2010. In February he’ll be participating in a printmaking group show at the Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery at RISD and in May, he’ll be a part of the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Kevin was enthusiastic to reflect upon his art to me via email, so here follows our conversation.

Kevin Frances, Our Bathroom Shelf.

Why so much love for the commercial object world?

I’m endlessly fascinated by people’s objects. I will probably go through your medicine cabinet. I’m really interested in the idea that the objects people own, they way they organize their environment can give us a window into their personality, their state of mind. They form a kind of portrait, however incomplete.

Kevin Frances, Our Desktops: A Love Story.

How do you see your role as an artist who is remaking non-art?

In the piece Our Desktops: A Love Story, I remade three desks, mine, my girlfriend’s, and our coffee table, and all the objects on them; books (loved books and those we aspire to love), notes, bills, coffee cups, computers. The importance to remaking them was to prompt the viewer to evaluate each object as a potential carrier of significance. Every object is rather intentionally clumsy, I don’t want to be Richard Shaw, it’s not about fooling the viewer, it’s about telling a story, or maybe more accurately: asking the viewer to tell a story.

Kevin Frances, That Melancholy (the aftermath of a party).

That Melancholy was a nice piece because the objects seem to speak to each other. Is this a remake of a real scene?

The photo That Melancholy continues along a similar train of thought–except the space is fiction. I created a scale model of an apartment, something of a mashup of apartments I’ve lived in, and my memories of friends’ houses. It tells the story of three months of the life of a young woman moving into an apartment: she moves in, buys furniture, decorates, cooks dinner, does exercise videos, has a party, a romantic encounter. And this is all told through still photos of her objects. That Melancholy (the aftermath of a party) comes near the end of the series. It stems from a comment someone said to me recently that the moment right after everyone leaves a party is one of the saddest moments imaginable. That’s kind of an exaggeration obviously, but part of what this story is about is the tragedies and triumphs of everyday life–until something earth shattering happens to you to really put things into perspective, we live our lives totally zoomed in, and the little peaks and valleys are all we see.

Kevin Frances, Kitchen, F St.

Your objects are so soft looking that I cannot help but think of Claes Oldenberg though you working on a smaller scale, but generally I’m not sure who you are inspired by.

Claes Oldenberg is interesting, but I would say I’m more influenced by Wayne Thiebaud, Milton Avery, Giorgio Morandi. I’m also very interested in literature–I’ve been reading a lot of Stewart O’Nan recently, he writes mostly short books with defined time spans, for example he wrote a book recently called Last Night at the Lobster, which is about the last day at a Red Lobster restaurant that’s being shut down. The manager is trying to hold it all together, but there’s a blizzard, and employees are rapidly jumping ship. O’Nan writes with such empathy for his characters, it’s really stunning, and he’s pretty funny too, he often writes about sort of average people with average lives. I think I want to do something like what he does, but in a visual form.

Kevin Frances, The Useful Life of a Tube of Toothpaste: a Play in Ten Acts.

When I saw your stages of a toothpaste tube it made me think you should be doing video.

I’ve gotten that reaction before, and I think it’s because they’re about the passage of time, which I’m really interested in, but what I like about books or series of images in contrast to video is that they let the viewer go at their own pace, they can go back, forward, skip around, and perhaps most importantly they can choose not to look–a video will go on without you, but a series of still images requires some commitment from the viewer.

Kevin Frances, Kitchen F St.

Tell me about your personal space. Maybe it is like the spaces you’ve tailored but maybe divergent too. Maybe you are really messy with stacks of paper everywhere or living the Ikea dream.

My personal space is usually pretty messy, very cluttered. I think really messy desktops can be really amazing compositions; although looking at that Our Desktops piece, they don’t really look that messy. I think my aesthetic sense is generally pretty clean, I guess in contrast to my nature. I think that comes across in my print Clothes Piles. Somebody told me once that they really liked that one, that they thought it was really funny, because it was like some dirty teenager’s bedroom. I got kinda embarrassed, haha, like jeeze, I didn’t realize people would be judging my hygiene, I just really liked that composition.

Kevin Frances, Our Desktops: A Love Story.

Do you like technology? Is it making the world a better or worse place?

I like technology. I’m generally an optimist. In the physical realm, it seems like we’re really approaching a new world of how objects are made, much more from scratch, with 3D printers and such, and I think that’s really exciting. Combined with other new things like the growth of crowd funding websites like kickstart make me think that individuals and small groups will have much easier times creating things. With Apple’s app store, there’s all these people selling millions of apps, and some of them are just one person who had a simple idea. I can easily see a future where a model exists like that for physical objects.

I don’t particularly like the attitude that “if it’s not cutting edge, it’s nothing”. I think it’s really fascinating to see what people are doing to push the boundaries of new technology, but I don’t think it makes older ways of making obsolete.