John Franzen was born as a single child on the 1st of February 1981 in Germany. The first six years of his life were already marked by ten changes of residence, which resulted in a complete lack of social contact to peers. When he was 6 years old, he and his mother moved to Belgium, where he grew up in three alternative hippie communes under poor circumstances. His parents neglected him. His parents, who both worked as nurses, would often leave him alone at home, especially during the night-shifts.
These experiences led Franzen to find refuge in his own inner world, where darkness became home, his breath his comfort, the earth his mother and nothingness his father. Drawing was a form of playful expression in which he could pass time, never having experienced “playing” with other children. Franzen’s family did not encourage art or any other kind of cultural education in his early childhood development, with very few books in his house and no artistic pieces on display whatsoever.
This is relevant to know, as it reveals how deep Franzen’s need to understand life in its most existential elements goes.
His statement could be: Show your wounds & Embrace your darkness.
Franzen’s withdrawal into his inner creative world, combined with his inherent ability to draw, made him an artist – but an artist who disliked art. Franzen never had any relation to art, never went to a museum and never had a role model.
This contradiction to his later profession is an important aspect in understanding Franzen’s art and especially his change of style in 2007, when he radically stopped working figuratively and went into minimal abstract works. It is also here that the roots of some of the major themes of his work lie: darkness, singularity, nothingness, and destruction.
It is also in 2007 that his father died. Although his father had been distant to him, his death deeply affected Franzen. Personally, he became more spiritual, able to better connect with nature, and he began practicing meditation. His art became aniconistic and he reached out for new levels of abstraction and introspection. His process of artistic creation became both a performative act and a personal spiritual process.
At the age of 15, Franzen started a three year long, intensive German and French education at the Robert Schumann Technical Institute in eastern Belgium. This included 20 hours of art classes per week. This was followed by a two-year-interlude, during which Franzen worked both in and close to nature as a woodcutter and creative nature-pedagogue for children. These experiences gave Franzen a new perspective on working with mediums beyond the two dimensions, and made him recognise his love for art that required intense work of the hands.
In 2003 he continued his artistic education by entering the Art Academy in Maastricht, where he acquired structured knowledge and skills that fostered a hard working ethic. He graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
After his graduation, Franzen stayed in Maastricht where he now works as an independent artist. Over the last few years he has developed a serious production ethic, which links clearly to both the importance of spirituality in his life and the great degree of abstraction in his art. He works in two different studios; one is bright and small, where he does his drawings and most of his delicate and meditative pieces. The other is a big, post-industrial space, where he is able to develop his biggest and roughest pieces. Both places reflect the universality of his character as both a human-being and an artist, and his dualistic nature as a creator. Most importantly, these two places show how his work is deeply rooted in an organized private experience, which results from deep self-reflectivity, conscious seclusion and isolation, and his overall devotion to, and knowledge of, art.