Visual Arts

Leo Franco talks wooden sculpture and the pros and cons of Denver's art scene

Leo Franco is a veteran of the Denver art scene, showing his work at Spark Gallery and Zip 37 on a regular basis. But he still has to work a second job. In fact, he laughed when asked if he was a full-time artist. Hard. "I have two kids in school after all. But I hope to retire soon," he said.

Franco may have to hold down a job, but his experience in Denver has afforded him some perspective on the scene, the importance of spectators in visual art and why his medium works for him. He took time to talk to us about it.

Your work has been described as "found object" art -- is that how you describe it?

You could call it "found object," but actually, I use a lot of recycled matter -- a lot of it is organic wood that I get from cabinet makers over here on Tennyson, and I re-cut it and re-sculpt it. It's not found in the sense that I am picking the materials off the streets.

You recently had a show at Spark Gallery. How did it go? It went very well. I sold a few pieces and I was pretty happy about it. I'm a full member of Spark, which is a co-op, so I do a lot of things there.

How did you come up with the idea for your recycled art pieces?

I'm a sculptor but I don't know how to weld, so the next thing I could think of was to use wood. The pieces are reliefs, so they are three-dimensional, even though they hang on a wall. So you can't walk around them three-hundred and sixty degrees, but they project out. It's a kind of that grey area, between sculpting and painting.

What have you done before this show?

Basically these reliefs. I've been doing these for quite awhile, about ten years, but what changed recently is I added colored Plexiglas to add a light element. The sun will pick up the colors in the Plexiglas. Before they were strictly painted wood, but the wood has become natural and I use the Plexiglas as added color.

What do you want the medium you choose, your recycled materials, to do -- what's behind your process?

I want it to be universal, which is why they look geometrical. It's like spontaneous order defined by an artistic eye. These structures are something in my head and they don't naturally have to exist in the outside world. They are something I assemble together, so they can stand on their own. It is the relationship of all these smaller pieces together that makes up the nature of the whole piece.

You've been involved in the Denver art scene for a long time. Has it grown and changed, to you?

It has grown. There are definitely more galleries than when I was young and first started here -- in that aspect it has grown. But, so has everything else in the city, so there is more competition between the different arts, like ballet, music, or even sports, and the galleries. That has seemed to be a struggle for artists. There are more fair-type shows than there used to be. The public is there, but the public isn't always buying, which to me is a part of the arts. The scene has grown, but I don't always know if it's for the better or not because there is so much competition that artists seem to be fighting the other events. And, I've noticed that it costs more money to be an artist.

Why do you think that is?

There are a lot more people involved now. It's not just a matter of showing your work. There's a lot of people in-between, trying to promote the art, a lot more organizations trying to promote, and everyone in that process wants some kind of money because everyone is trying to stay employed. There is a level of promotion you have to go through. Even the fairs are getting expensive -- even the Cherry Creek Arts Festival --compared to what it used to be like.

What do you like about showing your work?

I like being able to show people what I do and listen to what those people have to say about it -- whether they are pro or con. I also find it very strange how far a person will take a piece than it really is. They read more into it than I ever thought was really there. I think that's interesting and I like the response of the public. Of course, it's always good to sell a piece, but it's not high on my list. I like the public's reaction. Basically, art is a visual form, so it needs that interplay with the public.

Do you plan on continuing to show at Spark and stay involved in your art?

Definitely. I'm this for the long-haul. Until they bury me.

To contact Franco about his art, email [email protected], or visit the SPARK Gallery website.

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