Franco Andres has a thing for textures, surfaces, and sensory information. Throughout his sculptural assemblages, wax, fur, feathers, soil, or charred wood create finishes both sumptuous and visceral. The artist’s works dance between the worlds of the organic and the constructed and land in a space where the concept of author becomes collaborative and material usurps its own purpose. Who created them? The animal that gave its fur, the artist that mounted the pelt to a panel, appropriating the shape of the age-old canvas, both with the help of passing time that imparts both wonder and decay?
If you haven’t had the chance to see Andres’s work at the Santa Fe Art Institute, where he is currently a Post-Graduate Fellow, he will have a solo exhibition at Axle Contemporary this winter. A situation for open possibilities opens Friday, February 3, outside the New Mexico Museum of Art, and will close February 26.
CP: Where were you before Santa Fe? Could you tell us a bit of your story?
I’m from Miami originally. I spent my twenties in New York, then San Francisco. My first career was in interior design, and it was sort of accidental. It became really successful, so I rolled with it. Then when I got to a place where I couldtake some time off, I took a coupleyears and traveled. I had been recruited out of SVA [School of Visual Arts], New York, for interior design, and I chickened out of visual arts during orientation because all the kids had Manic Panic hair and piercings, and I [had] just walked away from a scholarship as a pre-med student in Miami. I went into interior design, because it was a compromise; then it became a career.
When I was at a place where I finally had the guts to be an artist, I decided to come back to school to finish—because I was recruited without finishing my BFA. I knew I wanted to be in Santa Fe, and the University was a place where I could hit the studio right away.
LT: How did you become introduced to Santa Fe? How was it on your radar?
Everybody always talked about Santa Fe. All of my friends are creatives, especially in New York, especially in design. There’s a romance associated with Santa Fe, where you’re off the grid, and it’s almost not even a city—which is inaccurate, and I had to explain that to some people, that it’s a bona fide city… There’s this whole lore that people associate with Santa Fe, whether it’s legit or not. I knew that I was ready for what felt like a small town. I got here, and I wasn’t disappointed. I fell in love, which I didn’t expect. I thought I’d put in my time and then go somewhere else, but I fell in love, because it’s so strange. It’s like my Twin Peaks. And it reveals itself slowly, but it reveals itself, and it gets stranger.
CP: Could you give us an overview of what you do at the Institute?
My job here is two-fold. I’m the Post-Graduate Fellow—I was awarded the first instance of the fellowship—and the Logistics Manager. Sanjit Sethi, the previous director, had been working on this idea of a fellowship where a graduate from the University would help develop a symbiotic relationship between the University and SFAI. There really was no relationship—which is strange, because we share a campus. I interned here as part of my requirement for graduation, and at the end Sanjit offered me the fellowship. What was cool is that a part of the idea of the fellowship was to support and help me develop my practice, so that I didn’t have to seek employment elsewhere. So I live here and keep a studio here. Also, because I’m a second-career artist and have been used to working, we wanted to build in some meat, so that there’s real work experience to walk away with and the fellow could learn the intricacies of an international arts-in-residence program. It’s grown, but those are the original principles.
CP: How much time are you able to work on your pieces?
A lot of time. In a weird way I feel like everything that I do here relates to my work. In my previous career, I never stopped making work: I’d make work literally next to my bed, [or] wherever I could, but it was really difficult to switchhats and be project manager during the day. It’s an awesome notion, and romantic, but I couldn’t straddle both worlds. I wanted to decompress or go out to dinner, not for lack of wanting to make work, but for lack of energy and headspace.
But everything I do here relates to my work. Because I’m in the studio with all the residents, I’m engaged. There are sixty to eighty artists-in-residence a year that I get to hang out with, learn from. I’m in a unique position where there isn’t a hard line between my one duty and the others. It all sort of feeds itself. Plus, I don’t make stuff in the studio: I’m super weird, and I make stuff in my room. I’ve set up a studio in my room, and [the shared studio] is space for me to recontextualize work, for me to breathe from work, to decide if it’s had enough, if it’s resolved. That’s a real luxury that I’ve never had before—and a luxury I’ve had to learn to get used to, honestly. There were times for the first few months that I didn’t set foot in the studio at all; I kind of stayed in my space. It’s become a real discipline to even put work out here.
CP: Are you showing anywhere?
CP: How do you feel about that?
I feel great about it, actually. It’s a great time for me to work on being a better artist and not be driven by the idea that I need to develop this fat résumé of showing—show for showing’s sake. It’s not really my game right now. I consider myself fortunate to not be focusing on that. I don’t take it for granted.
CP: Have you dealt with any negative reactions from the use of fur in your work?
Once, and I was surprised by it. While I was still at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, they partnered with Wade Wilson Art for a series of exhibitions curated by David Leigh. For one of those iterations, I was able to show, and Wade Wilson was on the receiving end of a lot of dissent from his immediate community—because the work was in the window—who didn’t understand it and felt like this became an animal rights issue. I had to address it—and appease that public—without lying to them or to myself. It’s so strange, because two blocks away, there’s a furrier, selling furs. I wasn’t sure what the issue had become.
We aren’t content to let them be what they naturally are. We domesticate them, we eat them, or we repurpose them somehow.
That was the only time that I’ve been presented with somebody thinking it’s problematic. That, and my girlfriend visited me from San Francisco with her twelve-year-old daughter, Fiona, who’s now thirteen. She came to my studio, and the minute she walked up to the mink (between two unique and symmetrical events, 2016) she started bawling and didn’t understand why they were dead and why there were so many. Her mom covered her eyes and took her out. I was like, “Wow, this is so dramatic; it’s kind of cool.” It was cinematic.
CP: That’s a serious reaction.
LT: What does the fur do for you, for your work?
I have very specific intentions when it comes to the materials that I choose to work with, and many of the materials I’ve investigated for years. When it comes to the idea of fur, I think it’s interesting the way that humans treat fur—and animals in general. I think of my work as living at the intersection of the naturally occurring and the manufactured, and the way that we deal with animals is, I think, perfectly situated there. We aren’t content to let them be what they naturally are. We domesticate them, we eat them, or we repurpose them somehow. In that way, the work benefits from the inclusion of something like fur. For that piece in particular, it had to be a garment—and not just the pelt. That they’re worked to be worn is a very interesting element to me.
CP: You have a background in painting?
I started off painting and was obsessed with painting. I used to only think of myself as a painter, and it was Tom Miller—who helped me install a work for a juried show at the University—he was like, “So why are you a painter?” And I couldn’t answer. He asked, “Why aren’t you a sculptor?” And I just realized, “Oh, wait, I’m a sculptor.” [Laughs.] It was literally that moment, and it had never occurred to me before. It’s kind of the brass ring, for me.
I always made art; I always thought about art. I was taught that art was supposed to be a hobby, and I was supposed to be a doctor. That was the messaging and the narrative. So art became this impossible thing: “Who does it?” Which is what I think, by the way, is so important. Part of my role here is to manage interns and volunteers, and a lot of our interns are students at the University. Having them come in here and see that at any given moment there are up to twelve artists that are doing it, this impossible thing that you supposedly can’t make a living at. They’re doing it, and they’re taking up to three months out of their lives to recalibrate, focus, complete a project. It’s absolutely achievable. That’s the message. That’s the message I feel I would have benefited from early on, and I wish everybody knew. Art’s not for everybody; not everybody is an artist, but it’s achievable if you are.
CP: What’s next for you?
I’ll be at SFAI for two years total, leaving during the summer of 2017, and I’m moving on to grad school, hopefully in the fall. I’m visiting several schools in New York in mid-November to scope out where I want to go.
That’s a strategic move. If I could stay in Santa Fe, honestly, I would. But there’s no opportunity for a Studio MFA in Santa Fe. Plus, I have my whole community; I lived my twenties in New York; all my friends who are creatives are there. I’d love to keep a place here—in a perfect world—because I love it. I’ve never had so much headspace, so much visual space, so much community support.
I wish there were more opportunities. I really feel like this is a serious moment for Santa Fe contemporary art. A lot of what happens now has implications that we don’t understand yet. What is contemporary art? what does it look like in Santa Fe? I don’t know. I’m interested—part of the reason I wanted to stay is because I—self-appointed—thought I could somehow effect change. I haven’t lost that hope; I just think I’m more aware of obstacles now. I’d like to come back and mix it up.