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City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Robert Franken: A Bird’s Eye View of My Private World

22 October–20 November 1983

ORGANISER Wairarapa Arts Centre, Masterton OTHER VENUES Wairarapa Arts Centre, 25 September–14 October 1983

I like strangeness or rather I have a fascination for it … The style of my work is very European. A special dark European. From Belgium, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia. I use their myths.
—Robert Franken

Wellington artist Robert Franken is known for his surrealistic works. Born in the Netherlands in 1946, Franken has lived in New Zealand since 1967. He exhibits oil paintings, pastels, hand dyed-fabric wall hangings (two include jewellery by Gillian Snadden), and a rug (designed by Franken, made by Diane Looney).

Franken's evocative titles—Journey through the Inner EarDragon of Past Times, and Conversations between a Fish and a Fool—hint at cryptic meanings and connections. The fish is a recurring motif. In the handout, Franken says, ‘A fish is actually a bird in the sea to me, a bird is a fish in the sky … As a man one always stands in between, one always wants to fly or to dive down.’ 

This idea is elaborated in A Grasp of the Wind (1982), Franken’s first film, which screens at the Wellington Film Festival while the show is on. In it, a fisherman climbs a hill. The higher he goes, the bigger the fish he encounters, until the fish in his sack turn into pigeons. Not a word is spoken in the film. But there is music, played on bamboo instruments by Wellington composer Jack Body, with other music from Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. 

In the Dominion, Elva Bett writes, ‘The latest exhibition of Robert Franken at the City Gallery is like the man himself—large, strong, firm, and robust, and it has the authority that this big Dutchman exudes.’ Dave Parsons composes music for the show.