Q&A with Western Sydney video artist Heath Franco

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

Western Sydney video artist, Heath Franco was awarded the 2015 NSW Visual Arts Emerging Fellowship.

We spoke to Heath about his Fellowship experience and how this opportunity impacted his professional development and artistic practice.

Why did you decide to apply for the Visual Arts Emerging Fellowship and how has it helped in the development of your career?

I decided to apply for the Fellowship in 2015 because I had an idea for the professional development project that I was confident in and really wanted to pursue, whether I was granted the fellowship or not. Previously, I had considered entering but didn’t have what I thought was a good idea, and didn’t want to manufacture a project proposal for the sake of the Fellowship.

Receiving the Fellowship has helped me by providing the opportunity to work alongside music video director Joel Kefali from New Zealand. I gained insight into his project planning processes and executing music videos of a high production value. This has helped me produce what I consider to be higher quality videos. I further developed my skills to create music videos and now have a greater understanding of planning and collaborating with a client and musician.

This is an area I’d like to work more in in the future. The Fellowship also provided the opportunity to purchase a new camera with much higher image quality than my previous model, which has again improved the aesthetic quality of my work and provided new features and video techniques that I hadn’t explored previously.

Most importantly, the Fellowship provided the life-changing experience of a residency and travel in the United States. This has opened my international conscience further. And stimulated the creation of a new body of work and allowed me to capture an extensive archive of video, audio and still image material.

How did you approach the application process?

Firstly, I made sure I had an idea for the proposal that I really wanted to do and thought would be worthwhile and explicably linked to my practice while creating paths for future development.

I had intended to apply in 2014 but wasn’t prepared adequately by the time the deadline approached. I decided to use the following 12 months for further mental preparation and to investigate possible contacts to music video directors I could potentially work with.

A professional colleague revealed he had a previous working relationship with Joel and initiated the contact between us. Joel agreed to potentially be part of the Fellowship as a mentor and provided a brief letter of confirmation for the application.

For the travel section of the proposal I chose locations that I really wanted to visit and that again were clearly linked with elements of my practice. I also listed objectives that I could only achieve in particular locations and why this was.

For instance, I proposed to perform as newly created characters in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Las Vegas Strip and Times Square. I fulfilled these goals throughout my travels. Obviously, I could only undertake this in those locations as they played a central role in the development of new work. It also meant I could develop a new aspect to my video-making process.

What other opportunities have helped shape your career?

There have been a number of great opportunities; in fact, every single event in my professional practice has helped to shape it in some way. But to pick out a few, I would have to say foremost being a studio tenant at Parramatta Artists’ Studios, sporadically) between 2008-2014, had a huge impact on my transition from a hobbyist to a practicing contemporary artist. This experience revealed to me for the first time new ways of thinking, working, and a glimpse at the machinations of the arts industry.

Following that, the 2009 Parramatta City Council Arts Fellowship, which included a 3 month residency in London, was a huge milestone and is where I really started to devote my practice primarily to the video medium and my whole self to my art practice. It lead to my first solo exhibition FUN HOUSE in 2010. This initiated a general body of work I am still building upon currently.

Exhibiting in Primavera 2013 at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) was also a wonderful opportunity that provided greater insight into planning and exhibiting within a large institution and brought my work to new audiences.

I am also fortunate enough to work at the MCA as an art installer, which has undoubtedly shaped my practice, by broadening and improving my skills of installing. I have applied these in the planning and execution of my own exhibitions.

Finally, currently I am an exhibiting artist in The National 2017 at Carriageworks. This has brought my work to new audiences, provided some international awareness and encouraged me to push my practice into new areas.

What tips do you have for other emerging artists?

Firstly, these are just my tips that have worked for me. They won’t necessarily work for everybody; I can only speak from my experience.

The most important tip would be to never give up. Sounds cheesy but it’s true – stamina is important. If you just keep doing it long enough, I think you will get somewhere with it. If you do give up, then that’s fine too, maybe something else excites you more, and contemporary art is obviously not the only creative field.

On that note, I think as an artist you do have to work with something that excites you deeply. Think about what you have recurring dreams about. Make work about that. You must be willing to face what truly stimulates you physically and mentally and make work about that. I think it’s hard to push yourself to keep working. Be honest.

Don’t be afraid of expressing uncomfortable truths or being embarrassed. You might be surprised how well audiences and peers respond to things you might consider weird or ‘risqué’.

Make every exhibition the best to your ability. Don’t cop out on shows you might consider small or unimportant. Every exhibition is an opportunity to communicate with people, which is a wonderful privilege, and should be respected. Modest opportunities will lead to grand ones if you constantly put your best work forward and build upon past successes. It is better to have fewer exhibitions that are awesome than many that are mediocre.

Make sure to get professional quality documentation of your exhibitions and/or finished works. This is so vital and a key commonality of many successful artists worldwide. You can’t underestimate the importance of this; it is all that remains after the show is finished. Good documentation will lead to good opportunities.

It’s important to be an artist that curators, galleries and other artists like to work with as that may lead to more opportunities. Being prepared, having a good understanding of your medium or field of work including how you’d like it presented coupled with professionalism is important. It is also very important to be clear and direct with requests for exhibition provisions when allowed. Don’t compromise out of politeness and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Finally – have fun!

What’s next for you? What have you been working on recently?

I’ve just returned from Mt Gambier in South Australia where I was on residency and am mentoring two local artists, Caroline Hammat and Luke Pellen on their video projects. I will return in October this year to present a new video work I have made from my experience in the Limestone Coast region alongside the two video projects of Caroline and Luke.

And currently my new work, LIFE IS SEXY created partly during the NSW Fellowship in on show at Carriageworks in The National 2017 until 25 June.

Applications for the NSW Visual Arts Emerging Fellowship close on 5 June 2017. To find out more about the Fellowship, please click here

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