I’ll start with Franz Walsh as he is the most recent to appear in my studio.
Franz arrived quite unexpectedly on a hot and sunny day in late August. I was driving to the beach when suddenly there he was, sitting next to me in the passenger seat of the car.
“Let me reply” Franz said.
Later as we lay under the striped umbrella and on top of the old IKEA bedspread I ventured to ask Franz this question.
How will you reply, and is it really necessary? Wouldn’t it be best to let sleeping dogs lie?
I should tell you what writing it was that conjured Franz into existence; the email I had decided to ignore, or so I thought.
Currently I am seeking ways to expand my meager income. After accessing my skills and considering the jobs I could do, jobs that were available in my area, and jobs that would fit into my schedule of odd jobs, parenting and art-making I decided I would post an advertisement seeking studio assistant gigs on the local artist community board of Craigslist.
It is not as if I live in a region with a dearth of practicing artists. Despite the excessive number of art students and recently minted art school graduates from which to choose, I could offer 20+ years of experience, writing skills, reliability and a wide-open view of the world.
Early in the morning of the day Franz entered my life I posted the following advertisement:
In need of a studio assistant? I am the person you are looking for. A reliable, responsible artist with 20+ years experience in the visual arts: 2D, 3D and performance. Whether you are looking for assistance on a specific project or in need of regular assistance, from prep to presentation, administration to fabrication, I can do it all. Contact me with what you need and for more info on my skills.
Pretty professional, I thought, and clear as to my skills and what I could offer in the studio. Within fifteen minutes my Inbox pinged with a reply.
If you're a woman, I was wondering if you would consider giving a 45 minute FULL body mass for $150 please? I am a clean, respectful guy and, if it would make you feel more comfortable, I would be happy to buy you coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever first before you decide. Thanks!
Maybe in the eyes of some people if a person with years and a wide variety of experience in the art world is seeking work as a studio assistant then that person is probably a woman and desperate enough to perform a sex act in exchange for 150 bucks, and possibly a cup of coffee, a meal or some alcohol...just to make it seem more legit and to show the writer is really a ‘clean, respectful guy’ with her comfort in mind.
Yes, Craigslist is a magnet for seekers such as he. At the same time, it was the artist community board, not the personals, and I had been receiving legit responses to other postings. But then, who’s to say his response wasn’t in its own screwed up way legit? Best to ignore, go about my day and hope a more suitable response comes my way.
Back to Franz who, while with me was hiding from the UV rays under the umbrella and coatings of 50+ SPF, told me about himself.
He was born in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria on May Day, 1946. His father was an Irish-American GI from the Midwest, a private in the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division. Enthralled by the charms of a German girl Franz’s father upon hearing the news that his division was being sent back state-side went AWOL the month prior to his son’s conception. Hidden in the basement of Franz’s maternal grandparents’ house not far from the old Klingentorturm, Frank Walsh was finally picked up by the MPs in the early morning hours of August 9, 1945 as he lay in the arms of Agnes Gruber with his pants still wrapped low around his knees while the fallout of Fat Man rained down on Nagasaki.
Franz’s mother, Agnes, was just out of her teens and eager to escape the oppression, control and ascetic experience of her childhood and youth through the pleasures offered by the young men who were now in ample supply. She’d met Frank the day after her home town, known during the preceding 12 years as the ‘most German of German towns’ had surrendered to the 4th Division with nary a shot fired.
Agnes’ parents had since the early days of the NS-regime eagerly towed the party line; living the vision of the ideal German family of the Tausendjährige Reich, waving Agnes’ two older brothers off to war and welcoming them home with tears dripping on the papers that told of their deaths and burials on the frozen, snow, mud and blood covered fields of Stalingrad. Agnes had one younger brother, Thomas age five, whose birth earned their nearing menopausal mother recognition by the state with a Mutterkreuz. After the death of her two older sons, and not having fully recovered from the geriatric pregnancy with Tomi, Agnes’ mother turned her youngest child;s care over to his older sister.
Agnes’ father meanwhile had retired to his chair, staring at the picture above the sofa of the man he had so blindly trusted and whose betrayal he could neither fully accept nor reject. This once ideal German family was blind to their daughter’s Irish-American lover holed up in the basement they had only recently cowered in themselves as the April showers of bombs brought in place of flowers soldiers who deflowered.
There were GIs other than Frank Walsh who Agnes was taken by. However Frank’s persistence, stamina and eventual appearance in the back garden late one night in early July convinced Agnes his intentions were good, or at least good enough so that his interest in her offered the possibility of an eventual escape, even if it was to a place called Iowa.
After the MPs dragged Private Walsh down the street with his wrists in cuffs and his pants cuffs wound around his ankles, Agnes and her neighbor, the Fensterfrau, propped on her pillow in the window next door, thought that was the last they would see of the red-headed GI from Creston.
What more could Agnes do but refocus her goals on other GIs still installed in the region?
By the end of August a handsome, tall and dark sergeant from Harlem had caught Agnes’ eye, and parts of her had caught his. By Allerheiligen Agnes knew enough by the bloat and nausea that she might just be carrying her ticket to New York City deep inside her. The sergeant, while not necessarily thrilled with the tiny prospect, did feel it was his duty to make the German girl a respectable war bride and married her on Nikolaustag.
Agnes’ parent’s said nothing, but Tomi enjoyed the presence of his Schwager. The winter of 1946 went well in for this new, post-war version of the ideal German family. The sergeant was due to be discharged in late June, after which the happy couple and their baby would set sail for New York. Tomi would follow once they were settled and his sponsor paperwork was processed.
Everything was on schedule until the evening of April 30 when it was clear that the baby Agnes was carrying had other plans. Suspecting premature labor and fearing complications the sergeant took Agnes to the base hospital. Early the next morning she gave birth to a full-term, 4 kilogram, piglet pink, green-eyed and ginger-haired Franz. The sergeant took one look at the boy and knew this was not the son he intended to stroll down 125th Street with. Agnes and Franz were sent back to Rothenburg o.d.T. and by July 1 the marriage had been dissolved and the tickets for Agnes and son exchanged for a few Bavarian trinkets to take back to the real family at home.
Agnes was furious with her infant that he was not who she had hoped he would be. Tomi was angry that he had lost yet another big brother. The grandparents remained stuck in their absence. And Frank Walsh sat ignorant of his progeny in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Franz was the innocent caught in between.
With impatience and aggression his basic needs were met by his mother. Once sufficiently postpartum she resumed her search for her ticket out leaving Franz in the care of his young Onkel Tomi who knew only how to take out his own frustrations of loss on the infant. By the time Tomi had reached puberty and Franz had received his nearly empty Schultüte, donated anonymously by the Fensterfrau, Agnes had chalked up a list of potential addresses Stateside but not a single offer of ship fare. Who’d want a wife with so much extra baggage that it required its own fare?
Then came the letter.
Faschingdienstag 1952 five year old Franz was sitting in the kitchen, hiding from the other children in the street, dressed in costumes and masks lovingly constructed just for them, were celebrating the day before Fastenzeit, the period of repentance also known as Lent. Agnes never made a costume for Franz, took him with a lantern singing on Martinstag, or celebrate any other holiday for that matter. The children of the street knew this and made sure to waggle their wares in front of Franzi, who by then knew enough to lay low for a day or two until whatever holiday or celebration it was had passed.
When he heard the clacking of the mail slot opening and falling shut Franz ran to the door, half expecting to find a taunt or prank of the kids. Instead it was thin, blue envelope addressed to Agnes Gruber. Return address: F. Walsh, Creston, IA USA.
Agnes perked up when Franz gave her the letter. She immediately sent off a reply along with a photo of young Franzi she had taken that very afternoon. When Frank got the photo there was no mistaking his role in Franz’s existence. Pudgy, freckled moon-face; wide green eyes and carrot top, yep, Franz was definitely a Walsh.
By summer Agnes and Franz were aboard a ship headed from Bremen to New York Harbor; from there a train would take them west to Iowa. In the meantime Frank had settled back into life on the factory floor at Bunn, making coffee makers that’d fuel the new, post-war white collar American economy while helping to tend his parents’ pig farm just outside town.
Maybe by the time Agnes finally arrived in the States she was too far along to change her habits, stuck in the chase mode. Within the year she was headed further west towards Nevada, leaving Franz with Frank who’d resigned himself to her leaving them. Franz, now seven, was quite aware of his mother’s feelings towards him and like his father accepted his fate.
In his first year in Iowa he had learned English, and while not being a stand out student, he also was no trouble maker. He had learned early on the best way was to keep his head down and silently observe from the corner of his eye the happenings around him. In southwestern Iowa he did not stand out as a ‘foreigner’ any more than he had in Rothenburg. He remained silent until he’d acquired the flat, midwestern accent of the Walshes. Fortunately Franz had a good ear, he even showed signs of being musically as well as in general artistically inclined. Too busy helping his father maintain the farm, Franz did not partake in the usual sports and other school activities.
After Agnes left, saddled with Franz, Frank took his fate as the luck of the draw and resigned himself to the hand he’d been dealt. Frank never remarried, and while he did not show the outright animosity towards Franz that Agnes and Tomi had, the father-son relationship even by 1950s American standards never really formed between Frank and Franz. Unlike many of the kids his age Franz did not rebel against his father, mainly because he had nothing to rebel against. There was nothing there. Instead he just did what he had to do, slopped the pigs and cleaned the stalls.
By his next to last year of high school it had become apparent to a few of his teachers that Franz, although he could easily assume the role of local part-time pig farmer and full-time factory worker, possessed the potential to explore other paths in life; paths leading away from Iowa. With the encouragement of the art teacher, and Frank showing no signs of support or opposition, Franz applied to and was accepted to art school in Chicago.
At this point Franz broke off the story of his life.
“I’ll tell you more about that period later” he said and then took a drink of his large iced coffee we’d picked up for him at the Dunkin’ Donuts on US 1A.
So, will you answer my question how do you intend to respond to Mr. Clean and Respectful Guy?
“After art school I spent most of my time as a studio assistant” Franz snorted. “I can handle him.”
That evening Franz, who despite the umbrella and SPF now had a ruddier tinge to his complexion than he arrived with, sat down at my computer, opened his Hotmail account and wrote.
After hitting ‘send’ Franz showed me what he had written.
Dear clean, respectful guy,
Thank you for responding to my studio assistant posting on CL.
From the politeness of your email I was wondering if you wouldn't happen to be a painter by any chance? I really love assisting painters in the studio. My favorite task is brush washing.
I believe it is so important for a painter's brush to be properly cleaned so that he can continue to swing it for his muse. There is nothing I enjoy more than to wet down a big brush, swirl it around a tub of "Masters" brush cleaner and preserver, and then careful massage out all the remaining bits of pigment and binder working the bristles from the ferrule through the belly to the toe. After a good work over with my fingertips I like to squeeze the soapy suds out under a stream of warm water. When the last bits of soap scum have been rung from the brush I like to twirl the bristles back into their natural point; unless the brush is a flat, in which case I stroke them back into a smooth rectangle. Finally I carefully place the brush back into its resting place near the palette where can the painter can easily grab hold of it and re-load his brush with a viscous, oily, heavily pigmented paint for me to give a another good cleaning to the next time I pop round.
I really hope you're a painter...
You write you'd be happy to buy me dinner if it would make me feel more comfortable. Yes, I do need to get to know a painter before I am comfortable washing his brush. My favorite dinner is a nice, juicy steak, medium-rare; preferably from Abe & Louie's.
Finally, I should let you know that my name is Franz. I'm 5'3" 275+, born in Bavaria in 1946. Dad was a soldier from the Midwest, mom a German mädel with big tits no soldier could resist...not that she could resist a big soldier either... I was really into tattoos and piercings in the mid-1970s before these hipsters rediscovered body art. Unfortunately age-related hair growth, and loss, along with a few extra pounds has distorted my original creations. But if you're willing to take a closer look I'm sure you'll enjoy what you see!
So, if any of this sounds up your alley I'd love to assist you with your brush.
Thanks again for the reply!
PS My brush cleaning rate is $300 and I finish in 30 minutes.
“Don’t worry, I sent it through the CL reply and it is from my email. He’ll never know it was you. And he won’t be in touch again...they never are.”
For the most part this is how Franz Walsh entered my studio. After sending off the email he has hung around, sitting quietly in the corner waiting for the next time I am in need of his assistance.
I have learned a few more things about Franz in the six weeks he’s been around. His physical appearance is very much as he describes it to MR. C&RG as well as what can be deduced from descriptions of him in his infant-childhood.
His early experiences have left him with a void which he spent a lifetime seeking to fill in whatever way he could find in the moment.
He did receive training as an artist, but never pursued being an artist in his own right. Instead he became a career assistant. Never taking the lead, but able to help in any way needed. He is ambidextrous which is reflective of his nature to conform to the situation as he seeks approval, acceptance and love. He has a story, but he does not really have a clear sense of self. His interests in life have primarily been determined by the moment he has found himself in, the people and places surrounding him. One interest which has stayed with him since his teenage years in Iowa has been Lesley Gore. They share a birth date. Franz would listen quietly in his room on the farm Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts and feel at least Lesley seemed to know who he was and spoke up for him when no one else did and he could not. Since her death in 2015 Franz has felt that this self-assertion that Lesley had so much of has been passed to him, hence his appearance in my studio and his desire to answer the email on my behalf in the manner in which he did.
Feel free to write directly to Franz Walsh at email@example.com
When I set out to create this collage I did so with the intention of learning more about the character, Franz Walsh, as well as my relationship to him through making.
I already possessed certain info about him from the email he wrote in late August.
After discussing the relevance of ‘handedness’ to a ‘maker’ with Andrew Cooks. Knowing that there has been studies on the connection between which hand a person favors and personality traits and health, I did a general search on the Internet to try and find what handedness most likely fit Franz Walsh based on what I knew about him and which might tell me more about him.
At first I suspected Franz might be left handed, and I still feel this might be the hand he favors most. However his early life experiences have left him with the need to conform, remain flexible in any situation he encounters in order to complete the task in the best way possible so that he can gain the acceptance, approval and love that he seeks. Maybe he learned to use his right hand for these reasons?
Because he first appeared to me while I was at the beach Franz seemed like a ‘beach person’ to me. Or at least he enjoys the sights at the beach. I had decided to create a collage using a piece of paper that was a failed test print from a previous project as the base along with some images and text from magazines. The first magazine I opened [HGTV magazine] had on the inside a two-page spread advertising a dream vacation in Maui...the perfect place for Franz, I thought, as well as the text ‘Getting lost paid off.’ I think this might be a personal mantra of Franz’s. The word ‘portrayal’ was printed on the base paper, a remnant of my previous project in self portrayal. The text ‘The One that got Away’ was found elsewhere, possibly in an issue of Cosmopolitan, and sums up the experience of Franz’s life. The one, and there have been multiple ones, always got away.
The image I use of myself comes from an earlier project, Wanderland, and features my face reflected and floating inside the sculpture Look In Glass while the slide show Pages plays on an iPad and is reflected on the mirrored surfaces inside the box. My ‘self’ is also contained in the collage in the scraps of earlier drawings, paintings, and parts of an ‘automatic’ letter written on vellum in ballpoint pen.
After creating the collage, adding a layer of acrylic medium for additional texture as well as to lessen the resistance of the watercolor and gouache I intended to apply to the surface, I scanned the piece at its actual and saved it as a jpeg [300 dpi].
Next I printed an edition of 12 prints. I have a copy of my MFA thesis book that I test printed on cardstock. One side is a scanned print of a panel from the painting Sonata, and the other side contains the text. I randomly inserted these paper remnants in the tray of my printer to see what came out, how the scanned collage of Franz and I interacted with what already existed on the page. In other words I left it to chance to see how the prints played out.
In this edition I have preserved the orientation of the scanned collage. The image and text that existed on the paper prior to the collage-scan being printed on it vary in their orientation.
One of the things I find interesting about the printed edition is that on the one hand I take a convention of printmaking and push it towards a monoprint, but it really isn’t a monoprint as I am always printing the same image...it’s just what already exists on the paper that makes each print in the edition unique. I am still studying the different ways in which the pre-existing image and the pre-existing text impact and expand on the relationship I began exploring in the collage.
The time spent making the collage, scanning and printing it. Re-scanning each print and posting to my website took approximately 5 hours in the studio. I tried to not so much think about but respond to what was coming up about Franz and my relationship to him in the process of making. My intention was to stay loose and playful. The same could be said about how I have approached writing down Franz’s life story. I started with what I knew, which came from the response to the posting, and then followed it where it led me...circumstances of birth, zodiac signs which might align with his personality profile, Lesley Gore, self-assertion,...there is more to Franz and maybe he’ll stay an assistant or some day become his own artist.