Life seen through a video lens: Western Sydney video artist wins visual arts fellowship

2015 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) Recipient, Heath Franco, THE RAINBOW LANDS, 2015, installation view, Artspace, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley

2015 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) Recipient, Heath Franco, THE RAINBOW LANDS, 2015, installation view, Artspace, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley

Experimental video artist and Western Sydney resident Heath Franco was recently awarded the NSW Government’s 2015 NSW Visual Arts (Emerging) Fellowship for his work THE RAINBOW LANDS 2015 currently exhibited at Artspace, Woolloomooloo.

Born in Cooma, Heath moved to Westmead in 1995, at age 11, and has been active in the local arts community from his teens and through Parramatta Artists Studios since 2007.

We caught up with Heath about his recent award and what inspires him to create video art.

How did you get interested in video art?

I dreamt of being a filmmaker when I was a young boy. Drawing and painting were the only mediums accessible to me at the time. I started painting at 15 until my early twenties although I never felt 100 percent comfortable or happy with a still image. After finishing high school, I enrolled in and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at UNSW specialising in drawing and painting.

In 2008, I got my very first computer capable of video processing and began creating and editing videos using iMovie. I was also inspired by Canadian video artist and musician, Bear Witness, who I met at Parramatta Artists Studios whilst he was on residency in 2009-2010. He took the time to show me how to use more professional video software and had a massive influence on my editing style.

How did you transition from regional to a Western Sydney based artist?

I wouldn’t have called myself an artist at age 11 when we moved from Cooma to Westmead!

I didn’t have a say in where we lived as it was my parents’ decision. My mum liked the proximity of our house to the hospital, it was affordable and not too far from the city. I attended Chester Hill Public School from Year 6 because my grandmother and aunt lived in the area.

My turning point came when I retired from playing football at age 15 due to injuries and started drawing with pastels at night time. It was at Chester Hill Public School that I received my first prize in art which encouraged me to pursue it as a hobby. In Year 12, I spent many of my lunchtimes in the art room painting and really enjoyed it. My HSC work was exhibited in ArtExpress and this encouraged me to study art as a career.

At the end of high school and before I started university, I decided to get involved in my local art scene in Parramatta. I put my name down for email notifications when Parramatta City Council was organising temporary exhibition spaces in buildings set to be demolished. In 2006, I was invited to a meeting about a proposed studio and did a walk-through on the site. I was overseas travelling when Parramatta Artists Studios opened in 2007, but when I returned to Sydney in August that year, I went in immediately to introduce myself to the studio’s co-ordinator.

After attending life drawing classes at the studio for several months, I was invited to lead them. I also applied for a studio space. The co-ordinator, Michael Dagostino mentored me and opened my eyes to what contemporary art making really was. The real-life and practical nature of the studios was fantastic and through ARTSmart, their professional development course, we were introduced to influencers in the art world; curators, art collectors and even conservators and it was invaluable insight into how the art world worked. Parramatta Artists Studios has been absolutely vital to me and my development as an artist.

What are you hoping to achieve from the visual arts fellowship?

The best outcome for me would be making a really great artwork and moving my art and skills to a whole new level. I have glimmers and pictures in my mind about how I want people to feel whilst viewing this work but it’s still quite young in its development.

I’m planning to soak in the aesthetics of American pop culture and music videos while I’m there by actually working with music video makers. I want to see the vibrancy, sexuality, dancing, the sets video makers use, techniques in actually editing the video and camera work in action. I want my experiences to filter through me and be present in the work without being too obvious.

What other funding opportunities have you received that have supported your development throughout your career?

In 2009, the Parramatta City Council Art Fellowship enabled me to take three months off to create work during a residency in UK enabling me to develop as an artist.

Parramatta Artists Studios is subsidised by the council, and studio space is available for rent at a fraction of the price it would have cost me to rent elsewhere. The NAVA Australian Artists’ grant helped me to make a catalogue for a show, and of course receiving the Churchie Emerging Art Award in 2012 was a great financial boost along with the Campbelltown Fisher’s Ghost Contemporary Art Award in 2014.

All these grants allowed me to develop my work in a shorter time frame than is possible when you’re also working part time.

What advice do you have for other early career artists, particularly those in Western Sydney?

Find out what really makes you tick as a person and as an artist. What is it that makes your brain go wild and follow that passion. Art can be an expression of a person’s individual interest communicated in a way that’s not verbal or writing.  Don’t place barriers between what people call low culture and high culture. Have a willingness to share anything that’s inside you and just do it. Get involved in your local art scene and meet people already in the industry.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I have a few goals. The first is not to have to worry about income so much! I’d like to see an improvement in the quality of my work and develop a better bag of skills. I’d also love to travel to new places, countries I haven’t been before and experience new things. I’d like to live overseas to experience a different world of art than the one I’m familiar with in Sydney. Rotterdam, Netherlands is on my list of cities to live in because I’ve heard they’re very supportive of video art and have an audience who is extremely educated in this art form. New York also seems an exciting place with possibilities – so let’s see!



If you would like to find out more about the NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) please click here

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Published: 19 November 2015