Here is how I would describe this painting, which was shown to me by the artist on several occasions— The painting ascends by levels from the deepest unconscious at the bottom, to the world of time and place at the top. In the very center, in a semi circle, is a depiction of the artist’s own marriage. In the semi circle to the left is the marriage of the artist’s mother and father; In the semi circle to the left is the marriage of his wife’s mother and father. Over each couple is a ring. Below this level , seeming to be behind bars or windows, are depicted ancestors of each family line. Linking this to the bottom section is a double pyramid – the alchemical symbol of the meeting of the masculine and feminine trinities. Below this is a heart that contains the same double pyramid, and depicted there is the artist as boy, and the first girl in school who inspired his devotion. On the left and right of the childhood scene are shadow figures of the primitive masculine and feminine, who await transformation. At the very top is a scene that I believe is the city where the artist and his wife met or were married. In the sky above is the face of an angel descending in a cloud.
I know that Ken Frantz believed, as did Carl Jung, that a marriage constitutes a powerful meeting of two ancestral lines. Marriage is also an archetype that involves other archetypes, he believed. It’s sacred goal is transformation – the making of something new out of two things that meet and are transformed. The archetypes that affect marriages are often embodied in childhood experience and memory.
Technically this painting shows Frantz’s interest in geometry and the correlation of shapes and colors. The diamonds, or double triangles, define the center vertical line. The circular “frame” of the painting harmonizes with the circular heads, the rings, and the semi circles. The horizontal space is defined by two horizons and strong dividing horizontal lines. The section of rectangular frames of windows contrasts with the circles and relates to the diamonds on the vertical center line.
Red is used sparingly to highlight the women and anything suggestive of love. This seems to be the influence of Corot, who often only used one spot of red to highlight a focal point of his paintings. (This fact was pointed out to me by Ken.)
Marriage was an extremely important subject for Kenneth Frantz -as it was for Marc Chagall, who depicted his own marriage many times.
This painting “Marriage” was a 1983 version. I have the 2012 version when he died. The lineal lines have disappeared by the 2012 version, and so have the ancestors and descending angel. My father Ken Frantz would change his 88 paintings on a weekly basis, and sometimes daily—as a therapy, and as far as I know only a few people; Webster Young, William Everson, Burke Lucas, and my brother Luke, or Marlowe, and my sisters Mary and Rebecca where the only ones to see his paintings. By 2012 Ken Frantz had reduced 80% of his paintings to cartoon primitive with less symbolism, and the cityscapes had disappeared, and some paintings are completely and radically changed—the 2012 painting has a cartoon below with my mother saying, “Who’s getting married Ken?” and Ken responding, “My woman and your man.” The timeline of the cartoon at the 2012 version is when Ken asked Mary to marry him on Thanksgiving weekend 1947 (They were married Christmas night 1948 – the snowiest Christmas in history at St James the Less Episcopalian church in Scarsdale, New York).
Also in the 2012 version Ken is much blacker, unlike the white person that he is—Ken taught at an all black school in Richmond California, and he was interested in the genealogy, symbolism, and life-path of the human experience—and how transformation is amplified in the marriage sacrament—Ken and Mary were also Catholic converts by the 1950’s.
In the 1983 version of “Marriage”, the angel seen overhead seems to resonate the blessing that Ken always spoke of, just by Mary’s presence. He saw that marriage brought out the dark side of life, but mostly he was overwhelmed by the tremendous blessing of being married.
I am pretty sure the cityscape in the 1983 marriage is White Plains—that night when ken told me they stopped at “Maria’s Diner” next to the train station and Ken had said, “Mary, will you marry me on Christmas?”
I will see if I can post the 2010 or 2012 version. I may have to put it in the original post, after the fact. Re: the cartoon aspect – this raises some important things. Foremost to me is that he identified the “child-like” with the “Christ-like”, recalling the saying of Jesus that “unless you return again and become as a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” I believe it was this that led him to believe that cartoons are a much more important art form in the modern age than they are credited to be. He made this last point to me directly. I think in 1982 he was able to balance this point of view with being totally serious (towards his art) in his attitude. By 2010, his seriousness, and probably all technical concerns, were merged into some kind of instinct that produced the whole painting. And yet it is hard to say what he was thinking – I know that even to the end, he said that you have to get very close to a painting and look at each part from 2 or 3 inches away, to really get what it has to say!
Looking at a painting at two or three inches away—you can see the scratch marks, the very primitive tools that dad used to carve into the masonite and paint over and over and over thousands and probably ten of thousands of times from 1949 to 2012. The paint is thick and metallic, and just a Sharpie pen in some places, acrylic over 1960’s oil—I’m not even sure if the paintings will hold up over time, because they are acrylic layers that look chipped over three eights’ inches of paint in places. At one time Kenneth had Marlowe Frantz, another vet like himself take a Skil-saw and saw down the paintings.
Dad used to tell me that his faces came out of the mud of the earth, “Like lizards, primitive hatchlings of the lava, and such.” I do not know what he meant about the phylogenetic comment, but I love how he viewed crude symbolism from earthly bowels, high Christian angelic symbols, and 1930’s cartoon simplicity in one eighteen (18) by twenty two (22) inch piece of masonite from the forties.
Just posted the 2012 version. Upon looking at it again, I see he has retained the vertical axis formed by similar shapes of the heads depicted, including even the cartoon balloons. One difference that I know he was aware of is that there is now an aureole in the picture, sideways, at the bottom. The next horizontal up from that is a curved horizon, which also suggests an aureole when interacting with the frame. Also the diamond or double pyramid is still subtly present behind the whole upper two thirds, outlined by the yellow, but now it is the shape of the whole scene. So I guess he never did forget his struggle with harmonizing the geometry in the picture. Now that I see it again here – I would say that this was one of his life long quests – to harmonize the geometry in his paintings in the most human, and meaningful way.
Now that the 2012 painting is posted, I am seeing more and more in it . His geometry is much less literal , and that seems good. Geometry is not just a statement for its own sake, but something more human. The circle of the frame or outer edge is now tending towards being an egg. The diamond or double pyramid is no longer exact. Now I see that this pushes everything in the 2012 painting into a “tissue of energy”, much more like a modern painting, even a Pollock, can be. Everything is tying into a woven object of many parts, with the birds flying around the edge – instead of the angel…
I will try to post one of the really early paintings. To me those paintings show how images were appearing to him out of the process of painting itself – the stirring of the paint or “the mud of the earth”. Also you can see that he did yet know (as he learned later) how to place the images in a relationship and “tell the story”.