100 Creatives

100 Creatives: Cliff Franks

What he does:While artist Cliff Franks is an illustrator and painter, he is just as much an astute philosopher. Incorporating elements of sensationalism into his art in the same way that that those "lovers of wisdom" incorporate provocative ideas into the questions they pose, he strives to incite others to search themselves and the world around them for those answers.

"I like to inspire outrageous thought, reaction, an all around feeling of mystery -- what is this guy talking about, what is he trying to say?" Franks says. "To say to people 'learn, question authority, break outside of the box, put yourself in other people's shoes.'"

The subject of religion is probably the largest part of hisbody of work right now, Franks says.

"It's the absolutist idea that I want to destroy...the ones that will stare you straight in the eye and say you're going to hell, with no idea, no idea of my moral code, my ethics," Franks says. "With my artwork I want to say, nothing is for certain, nothing is absolute, there are questions that need to be asked, and you need to live your life according to those questions, and not to this absolute belief that you've been told is true."

He employs textures and subject matter in his work to do the talking; to challenge the fundamentalist attitudes that he sees as blind thinking, contradictory and false notions of reality.

"Flesh and bone," Franks says, "I want to say, no, we're not going to deify this, we're going to make it human, and we're going to show blood, and we're going to show these mortal aspects of religious icons, or idols, which they've become -- in my opinion."

What inspires him: It was all sort of a personal soul searching, Franks says, a search for reason...sure, everyone goes through bad times, but it's what you do in those bad times that builds character, integrity.

"And for me, a lack of fear and a thirst for knowledge...to be this sort of artist who conveys these emotions that I view as false...it's almost like a proverbial punch in the gut, to the middle of the line religious people, that believe or say they believe...a wake-up call to them, and to myself."

"I have no physical mentor," Franks says. "It's only the dead -- Nietzsche, Sartre, Leonardo Da Vinci -- the philosophers and the science minded artists. I admire Nietzsche because he was so unafraid to speak his mind despite the majority view, and I feel like I'm living during 'the world is flat mentality' and I just want to say 'look, your absolutist ideal is not true, there are too many holes.'"

He compares Christianity to a Jenga tower that loses its base with every block of information from the Bible that is proved wrong.

"I convey my anti-religious views in my art," Franks says. "But it's funny, because without knowing who I am, a lot of people, when they see it, it's just a picture to them, they don't take into account my personal views."

He finds there is a duality of interpretations in religious images such as Christ suffering.

"A lot of highly faithful people will think it's pro-religious art, and it's a very ironic thing...one of my pieces was used for the Women of Faith Conference, and it got this reaction, 'oh that's so true,' but my vision of it was the complete opposite of how they took it...some do take it as something that is beautiful and a reminder of their faith, whereas to me, it's almost as if it's a weakness of sorts."

Why he enjoys it: Because of situations like this, Franks says, to be able to talk to people about it and convey information freely without a fear of judgment.

"That's what really gets me off the most...and the feedback from other people, a lot of times it's really profound, and art, I think, brings out that sort of profoundness, because it's not just words anymore."

To be able to stand up amongst your peers and not be afraid of what you feel is real, Franks says, to not be afraid to stand against what you think is false. It's a sense of pride.

"I'm no longer afraid of someone who I know isn't correct coming after me...the censorship idea, sanctity, for me, it's dead, or it never existed -- it's something that people make up so you don't question, so you don't search for these different answers that you might be looking for...if you look at my art and walk away disgusted, questioning things, well that's what I want. I want you to feel that sort of raw uncertainty."

If not this, then what? "I was a graphic designer for seven years," Franks says. "And it was just rehashing the same images over and over -- for ads, signs, banners -- a corporate America graphic designer...and it made me despise what is considered art in the modern era...that is what an artists' profession has turned into these days; what company can you work for...there have got to be people still expressing emotions and opinions through art without trying to sell something."

To know yourself, and find yourself, and always learn, Franks says, to never give up and think that you know, to never become complacent in your knowledge, that's the purpose.

"I had a fellow artist at one of my showings that commented on my crowning piece, and she said, 'Why would you show that, no one's going to buy that' and I said, 'It's not for me to sell, but for people to see.'"

What's next: Franks' work will be exhibited July 9 in JJ's Tales of the Garage-Mahal Volume 1 at Obsidian Stark Warehouse, and in a solo show Aug 19 at Dionysus Hair.

More Creatives (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).

Kim Hartz, photographer Katy Heinlein, visual artist Robert Shimko, dramaturg Galina Kurlat, photographer Wayne Slaten, filmmaker Jane Weiner, dancer and choreographer El Franco Lee II, visual artist Chris McKay, photographer Jason Ransom, visual artist Mr. SINched, fashion desiger "Uncle" Charlie Hardwick, poster designer Avital Stolar, playwright and educator Katherine Houston, visual artist Christopher Olivier, visual artist Dennis Lee Harper, sculptor David A. Brown, photographer Rachel Harmeyer, visual artist Kia Neill, installation artist Stacy Davidson, filmmaker Jennifer Wood, choreographer GONZO247 Kevin DeVil, filmmaker Kerry Beyer, photographer and filmmaker Robert Ellis, musician Davie Graves, musician and visual artist Robert Hodge, multimedia Mary Magsamen, photo and video artist John Harvey, theater Bret Harmeyer, visual artist Joel Orr, puppet master Rodney Waters, photographer and pianist Jeremy Choate, lighting designer Chuck Ivy, visual artist Tra'Slaughter, visual artist Jen Chen - visual art, designer Howard Sherman - Painter Nancy Hendrick - Founder of Dance Salad Misha Penton - Opera Singer and Theater Artist Ben Tecumseh DeSoto - Photojournalist Tracy Robertson aka Batty - Goth Fashion Designer Tierney Malone - Creative Type Dolan Smith - Painter Jenny Schlief - Mixed-Media Artist David Eagleman - Writer Anna Sprage - Painter Philip Lehl - Actor Andy Noble - Choreographer David McGee - Painter

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Christopher Patronella Jr.