Spirit Tree

There was probably never any doubt that Robèrt Franken would become an artist. Born in The Hague in the 1946, he came from a family of artists stretching back five generations. This was one of the reasons why, after studying at the Free Academy of the Arts there, he decided to make a fresh start by coming to New Zealand in 1967.

From the 70s onwards he exhibited widely at the Elva Bett Gallery and Janne Land Gallery in Wellington, and with Barry Lett and the New Vision Gallery in Auckland, working across many media, including painting, pastels and glass engraving.

He joined The Learning Connexion as a tutor 20 years ago and is still working there. Now after four decades as a practicing artist, he still sees his work as a constant exploration into new territories: “I’m quite secure with being insecure, because in this way you grow,” he says.

He has put together a new show at Aratoi called ‘Spirit Tree’, bringing together four former students (Dan Wilkinson, Josie Connor, Sandy Rodgers and Dan Mills) along with Wellington artists with whom he has had a long association (Gillian Rainer, Gerard McCabe, Anneke Borren, David McGill, and Steve Myhre).

The artists are variously exploring the rhythms and manifestations of nature, and what lies beneath; the unseen forces that underpin our living world. In his introduction to the show, Robèrt outlines the mystical and interconnected relationship he feels we have to the natural world: “Humanity is a forest all on its own. We are all like trees. Our body is like a coral reef of microorganisms. Like trees, we harbor lots of life forms, in fact our planet is like a tree floating in space.”

He likens his paintings to “leaves falling from my tree”, and his work delves into dream states and other spiritual spheres.

Even with much experience and a large body of work behind him, he still challenges himself to keep looking at things with “an innocent eye” and be in the moment with his creative process: “In this way you can launch yourself into a new direction and you don’t become stuck….artists need to keep reinventing themselves.”

Afterall, as he says, “as an elder artist, I have nothing to lose but myself!”

Spirit Tree, until 26 May; To the Beginning: 50 years of acquisitions from the Friends of Aratoi, until 19 May; Thirty-Three: Matthew Couper, until 26 May; Worlds Apart: New Zealand and Antarctica, until 14 April.