F.Franciscus: The Revian (E)


I am not surprised that F. Franciscus is inspired by Italian Mannerists such as Pontormo, Bronzino and Beccafumi. Nor is it strange that his sources of inspiration include Caravaggio and the Dutch caravaggist Ter Brugghen. His references to the world of fashion and the number of good-looking men adorning the Inspiration Point on his site seem just as logical. However, what does surprise me is that no literary figures are listed; to be more precise, that someone like Gerard Reve* is not included. Every time I see a work by Franciscus, associations with this author come into my mind.
F. Franciscus is a narrator. He often limits himself to scenes from a story and I am invited to make it my own, urged on by his suggestive visual language or his half-hidden directions. He sometimes literally measures his story out in time by painting or drawing in series. His “Seven Works of Mercy” (2007- 2009) are a good example of this. The separate works then become chapters of a thematically cohesive book.
His drawings and paintings appear realistic, but therein he reveals himself as a Reve sorcerer. This realism is a sophisticated form of spurious realism. He is playing with the viewer, as Gerard Reve persistently set the reader on the wrong track. Anachronisms and contemporizations alternate. The dining table in ‘Feed the Hungry’ is reminiscent of Pontormo’s, but here three stylish men with beards have replaced Christ and his bearded disciples. In ‘Shelter the Homeless’ Mary, represented by many predecessors as a figure with pity for everything and everyone, is portrayed by Franciscus as the Dutch New Age guru Jomanda opening her hospitable cloak both for a blonde woman dancing with a dark man and for two men dancing in dress suits. Just as Reve’s style was to alternate coarse words with archaic stateliness or officialese, so Franciscus jumbles visual languages.
Artist and writer walk a fine line between seriousness and irony. Both take their themes seriously and draw from serious, often religious, sources, but in the execution they cannot resist dropping a hint of humour or having fun at the viewer/reader’s expense. For example, F. Franciscus has the thirsty lavished by an innocent young lady with a grave expression. Two bottles of champagne, however, are sticking out of her basket. His ‘prisoner’ in ‘Visit the Prisoners’ is a rabbit, with a pink bow, appearing out of a black magician’s top hat. In ‘Tien Vrolijke Verhalen’ (Ten Happy Stories) Reve makes Santa Claus a sex-murderer in disguise and in the story ‘Brief aan mijn Bank’ (Letter to my Bank) he has God return to Earth as an ass in order to then go to bed with him.
There are also differences.
In his novels and public appearances Gerard Reve increasingly deliberately became the homosexual writer. Franciscus’ inclinations are scattered much more subtly through his work. Furthermore he also sets a light-hearted, mocking tone. He is able to take the penchant for Christmas card beauty, cheap thrills, explicit body language and other camp traits of the cliché homosexual and incorporate them into and hide them under a form of mannerism used in the art of the sixteenth century. Reve is an emphatic presence in all his books. Franciscus subordinates himself to the theme he wants to promote or the story he wants to tell. In this sense he is more faithful to the body of ideas and thought of his earlier predecessors, who effaced themselves before their Creator, than to many contemporaries – artists and writers – who freely showcase their personal issues.

F. Franciscus is a contemporary artist with a leaning towards the past, as Gerard Reve was a contemporary writer who was not afraid of sounding conservative.

  • Gerard Reve (1923–2006) was one of the greatest 20th century Dutch authors.

November 2009.