The members of Jewish Artists Collective Chicago write about our stories, struggles, experiences, and musings, and how they inspire us to create contemporary Jewish art.

A Retrospective

Art and Text by Jonathan Franklin

Beginning with the presidential election almost four years ago, my anger over the daily obscenities that were occurring behind the walls of the White House festered without stop. In order to vent my rage, I began to paint parodies of the current occupant whom I could only refer to as our beloved DearLeader. As I created more and more of portraits of him, it occurred to me that maybe I could organize them. And now, four books later, the titles include DearLeader—Man of the Century, Play Golf Like me, I’m Very Rich and really really Great!!!, and The Art of the Steal.

I had finished them up in March just in time for the global pandemic, which closed the world down and evaporated the few teaching gigs that I had. But having finished DearLeader projects, I now had ample time explore some new ideas. In short order, I produced four children’s books, including a childhood memoir about my earliest memories in Vietnam.

My father had been a civil engineer and from the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s he worked in numerous countries in Asia and Africa. This experience of growing up overseas gave a unique shape to my adolescence and also helped inspire an interest in art. Although I did not formally study art until I went to college, I absorbed enough of it to make a go of it after college when I moved to a kibbutz in Israel.

It was there that I made my first serious paintings. Later I worked for a couple of years as a printmaker in Tel Aviv. As a printmaking assistant my ‘salary’ was negligible but the amount of work that I creating during that period lasted a life time, literally. It set the tone and template for practically everything that followed.

Printmakers work in stages. Each step is called a ‘state.’ I approach my work in the same way, but in a nonlinear meandering process that involves many states and stages. There are paintings and drawings that I have returned to and worked on over the course of weeks, months, years, and even decades.

Over the 45 years since I finished art school, I have been lucky enough to have never really stopped working. The good news is that I’ve managed to create a prodigious body of work in mixed media, on canvas and on paper.

The bad news is that I have not been as good at marketing myself or selling my work. Most of it is stored in my file drawers, stacked vertically on racks, or visible somewhere online. In short, every nook and cranny of my studio is stuffed to the gills and I cannot squeeze another piece of art into it.

With that being said I surveyed my work and began to mentally organize it by subjects and themes and within a short time came up with a new book. And then I came up with another idea, and another book, and another one after that. And now after almost five months, I find myself with 16 artbooks with subjects ranging from portraits and harlequins to abstraction and Cubism.

It occurred to me recently why I have been so driven to create these books. As I reflect and look back, I realize sadly, that I will probably never have an opportunity to showcase most of the work. But, fortunately, what I can do is curate it. And that’s what I have been doing these past five months, and hopefully will continue to do so for some months to come.

As I look to the past, I better understand the present, which helps me figure out what I might do in the future, and in the end, I realize that am curating my own Retrospective in the shape and form of books.

Here is a link to them.