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Franz West Platonic Moon, 2003

Franz West

Austrian artist Franz West was one of the most notable figures in the contemporary art world, and one of the most successful. Born in 1947, Franz West died in 2012, and during his decades in the art world, he created a legacy that still continues to this day.


Franz West was born in 1947, the son of a coal dealer and a dentist. Despite this blue collar background, the young Mr. West showed an early affinity for art, an interest his parents carefully nurtured. His mother in particular took an active interest in her son's artistic training, often accompanying him on special art viewing trips to Italy.


In spite of his early exposure to the world of art, Franz West did not start to study the subject in a serious way until he was already 26 years of age. It was then that Franz West chose to study art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. During his years at the academy, Franz West studied under the tutelage of Bruno Gironcoli, and he graduated in 1983 with a new appreciation for artistic expression in all its forms.


After graduating from school, Franz West began to create drawings of astounding power and beauty. After creating these early drawings, West moved on to painted collages that incorporated not only paint but also images from magazines. This use of magazine imagery was a hallmark of the Pop Art movement, and Franz West quickly become associated with that emerging movement.


He may have been most closely associated with the Pop Art movement of the day, but Franz West's approach to art was actually a strong reaction to the school of Viennese Actionism. The works of Viennese Actionism artists had long been exhibited in museums throughout Europe, gaining fans over more than three decades. Even so, Franz West and artists like him felt that Viennese Actionism had seen its day, and they looked for a new way to express their artistic sensibilities.


Although he drew on Pop Art icons of the day for inspiration, Franz West was able to create works of art that were completely unique and all his own. Working with materials like papier-mache, plaster, wire, polyester, aluminum and a host of similar items, Franz West was able to create paintings that in turn became collages and sculptures.


Franz West often referred to these portable sculptures as "Fitting Pieces" or "Adaptives". He also created a number of pieces that could serve as both furniture and environmental expressions - things like chairs crafted from welded pieces of metal and divans upholstered in raw linen.


Some of Franz West's pieces consisted of nothing more than everyday objects, things like bottles, bits of furniture, machine parts and strange nearly indecipherable items. These everyday pieces of flotsam were then covered in a combination of gauze and plaster, creating strange off-white objects that were as mysterious as they were eclectic.


By the late 1990s, Franz West had turned his attention to large-scale pieces crafted from lacquered aluminum. The first of these pieces was said to be inspired by Vienna sausages, and they were an instant hit with critics and collectors alike. Consisting of monochromatic colors and irregular surfaces, these works were designed to be practical as well as artistic.


Some of the artworks Franz West were enormous in scope, including one work that consisted of two enormous configurations of ribbon-like loops. Each of these loops was some 20 feet high, creating a striking impression and livening up the landscape of its chosen location.


That chosen location was the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the piece was entitled "The Igo and the Id". With its bright pinks and geometrical blocks of yellow, blue, orange and green, the piece was designed to be both beautiful and thought provoking.


Franz West also designed a large-scale piece for the Vienna State Opera, this time an enormous picture. That piece was part of a larger series, and it was also an instant hit.


While he generally works alone, Franz West has also had some notable collaborations throughout his long career. Those collaborations include work with conceptual artist Douglas Gordon, furniture maker Mathis Esterhazy and musician Fred Jellinek. Whether he is working on his own or with his contemporaries, Franz West is enjoying the fruits of his hard work, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

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