Francien Krieg: Age and Interface

Artist Francien Krieg lives and works in the quiet village of Puiflijk, set in the agricultural center of the Netherlands. Solid, unpretentious homes line pragmatic Dutch streets, where tobacco farmers and their workers once marketed their produce. There was a battle here nearly two hundred years ago, and the village church was destroyed by the French, but other than that brief entry into notoriety, the village has trundled through time with little to distinguish it. The modest and uneventful life of conventional Puiflijk contrasts sharply with Krieg’s paintings – both masking and inspiring her urgent need to share the private world of women. Before the pandemic, she developed a reputation for painting nudes of elderly female models, treating their age-marked and battle-scarred bodies with a combination of tender regard and respect, celebrating the vulnerable strength of her naked subjects, and their endurance in an imperfect and frustrating world. Some were injured by mastectomies and cesarians, others wore boxers’ gloves as symbols of their struggle. These introspective and sometimes melancholy portraits put their audience into a position of trust, offering a rare moment of revelation usually shared only by intimate partners in decades-long relationships. In the partnerships of age, eventually the erotic gaze is neutralized for both the beholder and the beheld, and in a partnership lived well, the balance between sexual desire and subjective affection tips toward the latter, and the wounds of life’s wars become tender memories of past trials. Puifllijk residents think of Krieg as an eccentric.

Francien Krieg, The Ephemeral Embrace, 2023, oil on linen, 120 x 80cm

Francien Krieg, The Ephemeral Embrace, 2023, oil on linen, 120 x 80cm

When the lock-downs caged her models even more than the conventions of class and covenants, Krieg turned to herself as the subject of her scrutiny, painting a series of dozens of nude self-portraits picturing her covid-dance with viral death, or shrieking and naked, fighting with her own fill of frustration. Fascinated with the doubled self, she repeatedly painted herself in naked celebrations of foreshortening, silently singing – or screaming – into her mirrored compositions. Scrutinizing her own body, she avoided the downturned eyes of conventional nudes and returned the viewers’ gaze. In some, she raised a magnifying glass and stared back at her audience, and at herself as the painter, with the exaggerated vision of examination. It is a confrontation which questions motives. Who’s looking at who, and why? Krieg’s own examination doubles her body – she is her most incisive examiner.

Francien Krieg, Together in Joy, 2023, oil on linen, 150 x 100 cm

Francien Krieg, Together in Joy, 2023, oil on linen, 150 x 100 cm

If the quiet and conventional life of solid Puiflijk contrasts sharply with Krieg’s expressions of her fascination with bodily scrutiny, it is an even more unlikely home for a digital art revolutionary – but the covid lockdowns coincided with the emergence of NFTs, and as they began their dramatic entry into the art market, Krieg embraced the new technology and brought her paintings into the digital world, launching herself into the crypto bazaar. Now her animated ladies morphed and shape-shifted with musical accompaniment, in hybrid multimedia incorporating oil paintings and computer-generated manipulation. Then, the frantic party of stable diffusion image-making flooded the world’s computer screens with an unending surge of slick digital pictures, and many traditional artists reacted with fright and fear. Krieg sympathized. “I have very mixed emotions about AI,” she said. “In the beginning it made me furious. Now I understand it, but I started out being very angry because it seemed so easy. You just write a few words and you make an image! I worked twenty years to be able to paint something, and it seemed so unfair, suddenly people pretending to be artists who couldn’t even paint.”

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