Frantz Lexy is literally a constructive inferno. Skeptical? Fair game: Read on, and then visit ominous.cloud on Instagram to possibly extinguish your doubt.
Interviewer: I notice you’re a self-taught artist. Congratulations! That’s quite a feat. Was that self-imposed or were there other conditions or variables involved?
Frantz: I would say a combination of the two. I come from a modest background and engaging with art was seen as a luxury. I’ve always gravitated towards the arts. I’ve always seen it as the thing to do, when I’m not working. So, I have never really seen it as work. When I was at school, I would be drawing in class.
Interviewer: [Laughing and speaking singularly] Were you drawing when you were supposed to be paying attention to the teacher?
Frantz: [ A large smile fleshes] Yeah. Exactly. Out of high school, I considered going to school for art, and I was thinking, “Ohhh, I can’t afford that. I need something more secure.” Part of it was the stereotypical things you hear people say, “People don’t make it or it’s not useful.” So, I studied business, but I was still going to do my art. So, that was my plan; but at the same time, I didn’t have a focus, until my senior year of college. I was trying to find a discipline that I could find myself assimilating with for the rest of my life. And, it was in my senior year of college that I picked up a paintbrush and realized, “Wow! Why didn’t I do this sooner?” [His eyes widen a few centimeters under his glasses.] I felt that it was my calling.
Interviewer: Quite a discovery! In your formative years, did you create art as a child?
Frantz: Yes, I did create art as a child, but then again it was very informal. I grew up in Haiti. I have an uncle, who is the one person, who is close to me, that I saw making art. He had a couple of drawings, and I was like [Voice raises subtly in pitch.] “Ewww, this looks real, and like real life.” And, that was kind of like a spark for me thinking, “Oh, let me do a little something too.” I’ve always drawn, but I didn’t get into a flow where I could approach something like paintings. I would think, “Who am I to paint? Painting is for the pros.” And, even when I was drawing, I rarely used colors; I was afraid of colors. When I eventually picked up the paintbrush, it was an obsession. [A sudden large smile and ascending eyes landscape.]
Interviewer: [Grinning in anticipation of his response] So, was your last year in college the tipping point to change your periphery, and you knew art was your calling?
Frantz: Well, a big part of it was that during my formal education in college, I hadn’t found my purposeful calling where I could get consistently better. So, visual arts became this loose idea by then, for there are many forms of visual art. But in art, in general, I think I found my thing for a lifetime. And, when I found painting, I had never felt that way about anything before. [Head tilts slightly with a nod.] Literally, when I went to buy painting materials–that’s all I could think about every day.
Interviewer: That’s ominous, just like your Instagram name! And, in a good way too.
Interviewer: Did it also give you confidence to use color, for you stated that you were afraid of color?
Frantz: Yes. I don’t know why, but I never really used color that much. [Pausing for about 3 seconds as if attempting to understand his past actions.] Maybe because of the drawings, I was doing. I was focused on realism. I remember in school, kids were drawing Dragon Ball Z and Mickey Mouse, and I just wanted realism. I don’t know, but that was me.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s food for thought. Thank you.
Frantz: Yeah, exactly.
Interviewer: How does your Instagram account name, ominous.cloud, position an audience to view Frantz Lexy’s artwork?
Frantz: There are so many reasons why when you think of ominous clouds you think of something bad that is going to happen or assimilate those emotions to it.
Frantz: But also, clouds are beautiful. They’re a regal thing like heaven. I think of being at the mercy of a higher power, and having had some trauma in my personal life, that I really can’t run away from, there’s a certain darkness I can tap in to. I’m from Haiti. I experienced trauma there. So, that’s part of it. And, if I’m going to create art that is really true to myself, it’s going to have a certain darkness to it; that’s like a big part of the ominous cloud component. But, clouds are also formless: change shape and change form. If you look at my artwork, I’m kind of all over the place. One day I could be painting pink flowers, but the next day, I might want to draw something a bit darker. A lot of my work comes from anger. When I’m experiencing a block, it’s easier for me to feed off my anger to create out of pure will, then it is to create out of joy and celebration. I have to wait for it to come.
Interviewer: Hmmm…It reminds me of your Instagram page of a painting entitled, Birth From Destruction with 2 pairs of brown hands ripping the canvas.
Frantz: Oh yeah. Well, I’m horrible at updating on my website. That piece, I finally settled on calling it, “Everyone To See.”
Interviewer: So, that’s the new updated title?
Frantz: Yes, and that piece, I actually sold.
Frantz: When creating it, I felt like there was so much frustration, and I wanted to put it on the canvas. So, for me, it was a questioning, “What’s the next step? [Brief pause] Oh yeah, I want to cut through the canvas itself. And, I did. It was more literal to convey the depth.
And lately, I did another series, where I actually burned work on paper.
Interviewer: Oh yeah! I saw the burning on your Instagram too! [Frantz’s smile jolts exponentially.]
Frantz: Yeah. [He’s nodding now.] It goes back to trauma, and Black Rage. It’s a real thing. I think every black person at this point is dissatisfied, and angry, and rightfully so. So yeah, I’m going to paint a pretty picture and set it on fire.
Interviewer: Let me tell you [voice raising in slightly increasing decibels] I just thought of your Instagram again. There’s a sunflower painting which looks just like a Vincent Van Gogh parody. I was looking at it, and I was thinking, [Interviewer is chuckling as Frantz grins baring his teeth.] “Where is this Brother going with this painting?
Frantz: Yes. That piece is emblematic of what I’m talking about.
Interviewer: Yes, I know. That’s why I brought it up. [Hands raise for about a second] It really cuts to the chase of what you’re now talking about.
Frantz: People asked me, [eyes sloping upward slightly] “How did you come up with this composition?” It has the ominous cloud in the background, and this tornado that’s starting up. It touches on so many things.
Frantz: Just as a black person being able to go out and enjoy nature and being able to smell the flowers without feeling like you’re criminalized, especially in rural America, for that’s where you’re more likely to see sunflower fields is challenging. And, with your black skin–you’re already out of place. It’s already like you’re wearing a ski mask in the midst of such a peaceful neutral place. It also criminalizes nature, through the war on drugs, and criminalizes marijuana. Plants are not criminals. Thousands of lives have been destroyed just by possessing a plant. These are just some of the absurdities, I was trying to tap in to, but also, it’s about embracing life and the simple things. Being able to enjoy yourself as being a radical thing and as an act of resistance.
Interviewer: Enjoying yourself as an act of resistance. Hmmm…that’s a word!
Frantz: Yeah, he’s in these sunflower fields, and that’s gangsta. Sitting down watching the flowers and the river stream, that’s kind of ballsy. Not being consumed with fear, hatred, and anger, that’s kind of ballsy. It takes courage to do that.
Interviewer: Yesss. Yes. You handled explaining it with such care coupled with examples, and gave us some of the cadences within it. It would seem that generating anger can sometimes possibly be seen as simply enjoying something you’re not supposed to enjoy.
Frantz: Yes. Keeping your innocence is not reserved for you. Certain others, not you.
Interviewer: To me, it’s empowering how you acknowledge all of these things and still create constructively within your craft, Frantz. August Wilson, the playwright, once stated, and I paraphrase now: there’s a lot of wasted talent of people of color. Too many of them are either six feet under or in a jail. And, if it wasn’t for playwriting, he would probably have been one of them. James Baldwin had a term for it. I can’t recollect it now, but it’s where some black people have willfully entered a zombie like existence because they have just given up– all hope is gone.
Frantz: James Baldwin is cool. And, I want to read more of his books.
Interviewer: Is painting in the open air appealing to you or do you even paint in the open air?
Frantz: I actually don’t paint in the open air. It might come up with a sketch though.
Interviewer: Ok. So, let’s default to sketches. Is it a different vibe?
Frantz: I have hung out in the park and done some sketches, and also on the train, but it’s not a practice. A few years ago, when I was working in a business administration type of job in the Downtown area, I would have a quick lunch on my break, and then go and sketch some buildings. It was a way to add art-making in my day between phases in the office crunching numbers.
Interviewer: Cool! it was almost like a mini-vacation within the constraints of a day.
Interviewer: How else, besides being Haitian is your identity revealed in your work?
Frantz: I have sent a couple of my paintings back to my uncle in Haiti. He commented, “There’s something mystical to it. I guess I kind of want that to come through in it, because I come from a very spiritual place. My family is Christian. Catholics. There’s also voodoo in the land. I don’t have a conscience knowledge of it, of the religion itself, but I know I’m influenced by it. The mystery. The spiritualism.
Interviewer: Are you conscious of those elements in your work being incorporated?
Frantz: Oh yeah! I also want to think it’s due to my upbringing. Spirituality, that’s not necessarily religious. I hope that comes out in my work.
Interviewer: I noticed you separated spirituality and religion, Frantz. Through the lens of your art, how are they different?
Frantz: [Pauses for about 4 seconds and then serenely shares.] I feel art-making is a spiritual practice. I was raised Catholic. That’s going through a religion. It’s bureaucratic, but not necessarily spiritual. Spirituality runs through a lot of different cultures, and you can be spiritual without belonging to an organization. When I look within myself for guidance, I am less concerned about the free market, and am asking myself. “How do I honor the service of inspiration?” Again, I am self-taught, so a lot of what I do is intuitive. The art is spiritual to me.
Interviewer: Yes, of course. Art is spiritual! Thanks.
Interviewer: If you weren’t a visual artist what career would you choose?
Frantz: If I weren’t a visual artist [a second’s pause] or if I weren’t a painter? [All the while Frantz is smiling as he speaks, and I now notice his right eye squinting slightly as if helping me along.
Interviewer: Ok. Aha. Let me see. And, if I need help, you’ll help me. [He nods and his smile remains.] A visual artist is the large safe umbrella for classification, and you’re specifically a painter.
Interviewer: So, if you weren’t a painter, what would be your chosen career, Frantz?
Frantz: I still do business part-time. It’s kind of the main breadwinner.
Interviewer: So, it hasn’t dissipated.
Frantz: No, it hasn’t dissipated. I still have bills to pay. Maybe–I could have gone into science.
Interviewer: And, art is a part of science.
Frantz: Yes, and science is something that informs art more than business.
Interviewer: Possibly a scientist?
Interviewer: I noticed on your Instagram, you had a jelly fish painting and some nature painting scenes displayed too.
Frantz: Yes, I watch nature programs and documentaries. [Interviewer nods.]
Interviewer: Share a color in your palette that you find irresistible right now and makes you possibly feel like a child in a candy store?
Frantz: There aren’t any pressing colors in my palette. I’m interested in an economy of colors right now. Also, a more subdued color palette. Something that is not as highly chromatic; more earth tones. Something focusing more on values than colors.
Frantz: Like there’s different values of gray: the dark gray then the lighter gray.
Interviewer: Ohhh. The gradients of a color.
Interviewer: For the last question Frantz, and I do thank you for your time and this opportunity: I will give you a sentence starter, and you will complete the same sentence starter for 3 periods of your life. The first period is in the past, 20 years ago (so, you were still a child). The second period is present day. And, the last period is 20 years from now (so, you’ll be nestled firmly in middle-age).
Here’s the sentence starter:
Art is in my life because…
20 years ago
Art is in my life because it’s fun, and it’s all around me.
Art is in my life because it has to be, and I need to see this whole thing through.
20 years from now
Art is in my life because it’s a part of who I am.
Interviewer: [Internal musing] May that part of “who I am” always envelope an unconditional love of his craft. A love that Frantz Lexy continues to nurture and constructively shield as a spiritual and untouchable realm that always guarantees him at some point–to always smell the flowers–too.