James Franco, Artiste

I NEVER WATCH THE ACADEMY AWARDS, not necessarily out of scruple but because I can’t. There is no working TV in my house. (Part scruple, part laziness, on that point.) So I had no idea who James Franco was until I came across Joe Queenan’s description of him in The Weekly Standard:

For decades, Hollywood has been waiting for the full-service artiste—writer, director, producer, screenwriter—who can lay claim to the scepter of Renaissance Man once held by Orson Welles. Woody Allen couldn’t quite pull it off. Neither could Mel Gibson or Spike Lee. But now, in James Franco, who just brilliantly cohosted the Oscars, totally upstaging the radiant Anne Hathaway, Hollywood at last has uncrypted the Renaissance Man it has been seeking for so long.

That “full-service artiste” is delicious. (I promise to steal the phrase one of these days.) It sounds wickedly tongue-in-cheek without being a run-of-the-mill pan. But what got my Google-juices going was the description of Franco as a “talented painter.” For inexplicable reasons, I thought that sounded sincere. A good look-see was in order to find out what a Renaissance man in contemporary LA produces. I found this:


James Franco, "Untitled"


This installation view, below, moved one LA art appreciator to burble: “He smells great, he sleeps well, and sometimes he paints.” It is an autobiographical piece exquisitely adapted to its setting:


James Franco, "Holywood Loves Me" (2006)


Both images are from his 2006 exhibition waz up? at glü gallery, Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. From the press release:

The actor spends his free time painting with oils and acrylics. Franco was born in Palo Alto, Calif., to aspiring artists. His late grandfather was a cartoonist, and grandmother Mitzie Verne runs a Japanese art gallery in Cleveland. Franco calls his grandmother a great influence. “She took me to Japan to meet artists there. One even invited me to live with him for a year. I didn’t, and now I regret it.”

Instead, he majored in English at UCLA. Then, against his parents’ wishes, he dropped out to study acting. “They had ideas of how I should proceed in life. I was confused. I still felt obligated to my parents’ wishes.” They told him that if he quit school he’d have to support himself, so he got a job at McDonald’s. He worked on his acting skills by practicing accents on drive-through customers.

Now that he’s a rising star, of course, his family couldn’t be prouder.

And we are proud to present James Franco and his magnificent art pieces at our gallery.

For connoisseurs of expletives, weary of the usual bullshit, there is this to excite the spirit:


James Franco

Sadly, the gallery closed not many months afterward. It was all too lower-case even for LA. Too bad. waz up? was beginning to make Basquiat look passable. You can find a cached version of a web page with more dogshit art by Franco here. Enjoy.


© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey



  1. Interesting post! I can’t say I’m a fan of Mr. Franco’s work but hopefully someone else may be. As far as living exponents of art and film, I’d probably have to cite David Lynch as my favourite ‘artiste.’ His photography in particular is, including the digitally altered Victorian images are quite fascinating.

    Keep up the great work on your site!
    Kind Regards

  2. Bull dust reigns! Basquiat was a graffiti artiste; Franco is a cartoonist, so to speak. Celebrity sells. It turns “ape shit” from an expletive to an attitude. What an insult to painters who struggle to refine their craft.

  3. Yes, celebrity sells. That’s why it is craved. Phoebe Hoban’s Basquiat: A Quick Killing the Arts describes Basquiat as wanting celebrity above all. She quotes him as saying he could learn to draw later. The strategy seems to have worked.

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