Tacked to a bulletin board in the studio in Kathleen Kondilas Franks’ Asheville home, there is a hand-colored picture of her mother and grandmother from the 1940s, standing next to an old-fashioned car in period dresses. A jumble of other images surrounds it: a detail of an angel on a tombstone holding a stone blossom in her hand, and reprints of Greek icons. All of this imagery, says the artist, serves as a reminder that time is short and we are remembered by what we leave behind. For Franks, in addition to family and loved ones, it will be her artwork, an imprint of her experiences that will linger on.
A sculptor, photographer, printmaker and book and collage artist, Franks came to Asheville 12 years ago with her husband Larry, a retired homicide detective who is also a sculptor. Together, the two work in a cavernous studio behind their home, but Kondilas Franks also creates smaller works in a basement studio and prints her own photography there in a self-made dark room.
An army brat who loved creating art from cast-off items as a child, Franks spent her high school years in Germany. But her interest in religious iconography is rooted in her early childhood days in parochial school. Sitting through hours of mass each week, she would scan the church for images: statues and stained glass windows held stories for her that surface even today in her artwork. Later, when grown up and married, she lived in Greece for several years and was taken in by the culture with its rich artistic heritage and religious art. Images of Madonnas, sacred hearts and saints populate her work, often embellished or layered.
“I feel like a lot of the things I make a have a spiritual nature,” says Franks. “Rather than preach, I think it’s best to make things that cause you to stop and think about where you are in your life.” Often she incorporates text into her collage or assemblage work, words that may be cryptic to others, but remind her of a moment, a story or a quote that resonates with her: lyrics from a Leonard Cohen song or snippets from books. The assemblage sculptures, artist books, collages and multimedia pieces are, in a way, an attempt to manifest that resonance in material form.
On the other hand, Franks’ academic background is equally influential. She studied sculpture as an undergraduate at Endicott College in Massachusetts, starting out working alabaster, while still harboring an interest in icon-inspired collage and multimedia. One of her student pieces was included in a prestigious traveling show that originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston. Later, she pursued a master’s in printmaking and photography at the University of Memphis. That range of materials and skills means that any given time, she might now spend part of the day working in stone and another applying plaster to board and transferring her photos on top of them or hammering together found objects to create a shrine. She counts Joseph Cornell among her influences and loves collecting old tintypes and ephemera, often incorporating it into her work to create a haunting feeling of nostalgia and memory.
That idea of links to the past or imprints of those who have gone before is central to her work, says Franks. Because her mother passed away when she was still quite young, Franks says she has always been conscious of the fleeting nature of life and that understanding is in part what drives her to create. “My work seems to want to say something about life. We are here for such a short time. What are we going to leave behind?”
A member of the artist’s group Mountain Sculptors, Franks will show her work this month in the exhibition: “The Universe In A Cubic Foot; Small Sculptures To Delight The Senses” at Asheville’s Updraft Gallery. She recently participated in a show at Tryon’s Upstairs Artspace, also with the Mountain Sculptors.