James Franco just has 'it'. Rather than alluding to his Hollywood superstar status that special something is an adolescent curiosity, which presents moments of pure happiness and exploration, that youth possess and adults strive for. This is most evident in Franco's exhibition, The Dangerous Book Four Boys opening in Berlin on Saturday. There are drawings on pages from a book and film stills and portraits of Franco, often in well fitted suits with his face painted white, among them a collaborative work made with the artist Carter, characters sporting seemingly dangerous and frightening masks, sculptures, installations and ephemera.
Childhood and adolescence, often glamorised and retold with plastered on, dreamy looks, is, after all, about exploration and innocence. It is this childlike curiosity and innocence, with a kind of twisted humour at times, that can be found in Franco's work and in The Dangerous Book Four Boys, with something akin to freedom, a freedom in which, even for a moment, adolescents are free in their world, of pressures and fear of judgement. As Franco's voice as an artist strengthens, he questions notions of identity, masculinity and sexuality, rejecting a kind of normal childhood and way of parenting. Openly influenced by Kenneth Anger and the artist Paul McCarthy, he explores the cult of celebrity, referencing both real and manufactured public figures, including himself, to illustrate how celebrity can be meaningful. The idea of creation pervades, in the doodling on printed pages, but also destruction, in images of a burning lamp perched on an armchair and a melted toy-like house. A kind of chaos exists alongside quieter images. A hand answers the telephone, reaching through a pile of ice. These are the moments that are often remembered, the fun, boisterous afternoons and flashbacks we can't quite pinpoint.
Having painted since before he was an actor, James Franco began showing his work at Glu Gallery in Los Angeles in 2006. Last year, The Dangerous Book Four Boys, his first solo exhibition, was presented at AIR'S Clocktower Gallery in downtown Manhattan. It will be exhibited in two locations in Berlin and will mark Franco's first European solo exhibition.
What does it mean to be young curious and free? James Franco knows.
Text by Michael Kowalinski
The Dangerous Book Four Boys at Peres Projects MITTE and KREUZBERG runs from 12 February – 23 April.