An individual’s identity within modern society is often ambiguous, rarely cut-and-dry, never completely isolated, and perhaps optimally explored through contemporary art. Denver-based artist Frankie Toan shows this through a playful, materially soft lens that examines queerness aesthetically, materially, and conceptually. They utilize mainly “low-brow” craft and DIY materials and techniques to create large plush sculptures and interactive works that suggest the complexities of touch, connection, and embodiment.
We recently had the pleasure of asking Frankie a few questions about their practice and the site-specific installation created for the GREAT EXPECTATIONS exhibition:
GOCA: You were originally a trained as a metalsmith/metal fabricator. What prompted your transition as an artist from metal to softer materials?
Frankie: I was originally trained as a metalsmith, yes. I always had a ‘material crush’ on fiber. I took a few fiber classes in college, and had a hobby knitting practice outside of the studio. There were a few factors that really prompted my dive into fiber as a focus in the studio: First was my move from Tennessee to Denver. I had been previously living in Tennessee working as an artist-in-residence at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. I had come out of the Craft/Material Studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Arrowmont was a great step for me out of school. I was focusing on metal, but slowly incorporating more and more materials while I was working at Arrowmont. I started to notice that while I love working with steel (and other metals), there was a lot more planing involved in the making process, and fiber seemed to be a little more organic to me to work with. So when my time at Arrowmont was up, I applied for a residency at Platteforum, here in Denver, and was accepted.
One of the amazing things Platteforum does is they support artists to explore a part of their practice they might not be able to otherwise. I was really interested in doing interactive work, and so I spent 2 months creating a fiber show with many interactive components. I just loved working this way, and have been indulging in these ideas ever since. Another big reason I enjoy working with fiber is the accessibility, and familiarity of the material. I love working with “low-brow” techniques, ideas, and materials. I also find that the conversations I am trying to have in my work, namely, accessibility, interaction, hand and body labor, investigations into queerness, and identity production all have a legacy in fiber art. I wanted to be able to tap into those conversations not only on a content level, but also a material level.
GOCA: What art/artists have been catching your eye lately?
Frankie: I am constantly looking at other artists, but recently I am enamored with Peggy Noland, LJ Roberts, Caitlyn Rose Sweet, Cameron Amelia, and Meow Wolf.
GOCA: Are there any other materials/media you’d like to experiment with in future pieces?
Frankie: I would really like to work on folding some metal elements back into my work. I did just a little bit of this for the show here in Colorado Springs, but I think the relationship between my metal work and fiber work could go much deeper. I also want to experiment with light more (adding string lights/LEDs).
GOCA: Some of your pieces are interactive and/or touchable. Will these be one of those pieces? Why is the interaction of viewers with art important?
Frankie: There will be 2 slightly interactive pieces/elements in this show. One is a curtain that viewers will walk through to enter my installation. It’s not hugely interactive, but it will touch the viewer as they walk through, and it is meant to serve as a portal of sorts into the installation. The other is the piece “Libation Bowl: See With New Eyes” that will be placed in front of the curtain, and viewers can reach their hands inside, and feel around inside. I won’t tell you what’s inside though, so I can cultivate some element of surprise! The goal of these 2 pieces being the entry into the installation is to sort of allow viewers to forget how to look at art, and not feel any kind of pressure to “get something” out of it–besides hopefully an enjoyable experience.
I think interaction is SO important! (In all aspects of our lives in general!) I think it spurs curiosity, and a deeper level of connection with a piece of art or environment. I also think it is SO FUN to be able to touch and explore art. But on a deeper, more conceptual level, a lot of my current work is about connection, touch, and how we are so often alienated from our own bodies, let alone each other. Having interactive elements pushes this idea of experiencing the work on a more physical level, and thus allowing viewers to connect with their bodies as they connect with the work. Plus I want viewers to see some of these pieces as creatures, or entities of their own, with bodies and feelings of their own. While the majority of the pieces in this installation will not be interactive, I would like viewers to potentially wonder about the lives and feelings of these pieces/characters. (I will say though that I am constantly looking for new ways of interaction between art work and audience. Many forms of interaction lead to damage/ a limited life span for the work, so I am always trouble shooting.)
Frankie holds a BFA in Craft/Material studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, with a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s studies. Originally trained as a metalsmith and metal fabricator, Frankie has recently been following their love of fiber and all things soft. Frankie has participated in many group shows and collaborations nationwide. Currently, Frankie is an artist in residence at RedLine Contemporary Art Space in Denver, CO.
About the Exhibition
Great Expectations @GOCA121, downtown
August 4 - November 11, 2017
Erica Day, Nathaniel Hodges, Stephanie Kantor, Suzie McMurtry, Diego Rodriguez-Warner, Elizabeth Selby, Frankie Toan, Streeter Wright, Ryan Wurst, Dustin Young
This biannual exhibition surveys emerging artists working along the Colorado Front Range corridor. Artists working in Colorado in 2017 are diverse and this exhibit at our downtown GOCA121 site aims to reflect that reality. The artists featured are working across a broad range of media - painting, drawing, sculptural installation, new media, and performance - and creating contemporary art in exciting and challenging ways. Great Expectations will introduce you to some of the brightest (art) stars from the Front Range of Colorado.