Francien Krieg asks the questions that nobody else asks through her portraits. The Dutch painter has been exploring the topic of human transcience for decades; web3 has given her an audience she never had. She sat down with Leo Nasskau to discuss her journey, her artwork, and the concept of ageing.
Francien Krieg has never been afraid to strike out on her own path as a painter. Continually fascinated by human transience – the relationship between ageing, life, and death – Francien’s work captures her exploration of these concepts and her efforts to redefine the stories we tell about age.
From a family of Dutch artists, Francien traces her influences back to her father. “My father was always very interested in life after death, and I grew up with this kind of background. My fascination with life and death started there, and that’s connected to the death of our body. But why have a fascination for something (like this)? I don’t know; it’s something deeper inside of me. I’m surprised that not everybody has this fascination with their own body, because how can you not want to know more?”
Known for her melancholic life paintings of older women, Francien has enjoyed a stellar career as a figurative oil painter and is very active in the art ecosystem on Tezos, as well as Ethereum. She has exhibited work at a range of galleries and art fairs, including the ING Collection and Gallery Mokum in the Netherlands, and Scope Basel, Realisme Amsterdam, Chicago’s Zhou B Art Center, and Australia’s Stark Realism exhibition, amongst many others around the world.
“What is going on is so fascinating for me.”
However, it all began at the Royal Art Academy in The Hague, where she first began exploring her fascination with the human body. “I studied Monumental Art, which is more conceptual and 3D, and I was making art with meat installations and skin; meat heads falling apart.” Though very different stylistically to her paintings today, “it was very much about the human body and anatomy.”
After graduating in 1998 – and discovering “that I’m much more of a painter” – Francien went to The Free Academy of the Hague, where she first began painting the human body and developing her artistic voice. “At first, I painted with a lot of distance; my paintings never looked into somebody’s eyes, you did not see the face. Later my style has become more realistic and I always had a fascination for this weird object, in the body.”
To an extent, Francien’s work is an effort to understand the obscure object that is the human body. “If I look at my own body, especially seen from different perspectives and when you get these deformations, that gives me this meaning that it is a bizarre thing. We don’t know anything that is going on inside our bodies. We feel so connected, I feel so close to my body, on one hand. You know, you were born in this body and you will die in this body. But somehow I feel a lot of distance to it as well; this inside of the body. What is going on is so fascinating for me.”
Precious Bodies is Francien's magnum opus. Produced over the course of 15 years, it is an enormously rich collection that blends the vulnerability that comes with age with an underlying sense of resilience. “Everybody is wrestling with the whole concept of ageing. Everybody prefers to stay young. And now I’m 49, I see in the mirror that this ageing process has also started with me. Painting these ladies helped me a lot. I have a lot of beautiful conversations because with older women in my studio. During the posing and the moment they take off their clothes, they become very open to me. That’s always special."
“By listening to their stories – because they have experienced a lot in their life; they have a lot of knowledge – it is interesting to hear that they all have the same feeling on the inside of still being the same young woman. I feel drawn to ladies who accept their ageing and wear it with pride and dignity. And it’s so beautiful. I think that’s, for me, an example of how I hope to also experience this.”
Indeed, as well as an exploration, Francien’s work is also a dialogue, helping her understand ageing and encouraging others to think about these difficult questions, as well as simply being a canvas that records her fascination. “It started because of my own fascination for my body, but later on, I noticed it became more of a dialogue. I started painting different types of bodies, like very big women and older ladies. And for me it all began to come together.”
“I noticed that a dialogue started with the people who saw my paintings, started reacting to it, and that made it interesting as well, to see how diverse people’s reactions were.” Francien had always been aware of how her art and voice brought very different messages to the kinds of paintings she was used to seeing. “For 20 years it was pretty difficult for me to sell my work, because somehow people don’t want to have naked, older women on the wall!” In the IRL world, she was likelier to see “very very heavy reactions from people thinking I could not show a naked, older woman”. Some perceived her style to be disrespectful, though Francien suggests that the negativity arises “because we are a little brainwashed that nudity is connected to sexuality, and sexuality cannot be connected to an older body. I don’t think that is true, though many people see it like that.”
But everything is different in the NFT space. “Maybe these paintings are not the best paintings to hang in the living room, but in the NFT space, it’s not about hanging in a living room. It’s about building up a collection of art that you appreciate. NFT buyers and collectors look at art in a different way. They look more into what your art is about.”
“The moment you dive into this community, you meet so many kind people.”
Francien notes that many people perceive cryptoart to be “a bit shallow”, but points out that “it’s a very diverse audience in the Twitter space, in the NFT space”. As an ecosystem of artists, it is impossible to pigeonhole. “You have the group of people who have interest in the meaning behind the art and you have the group of people who just like to see more – some ‘hip and groovy’ art – easy art, if I can say it like that. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to those people, because everything is okay.”
Francien’s point is, having broken into the NFT space only last year, that “there’s an audience for everything; it’s pretty diverse”. Originally of the view that NFTs were only for digital artists or animators or photoshop masters, Francien was first encouraged to exhibit her art as NFTs by the photographer Simon Beraby. He introduced Francien to LootNFT, the metaverse-driven parallel world that is now auctioning five of Francien’s artworks. “The moment you dive into this community, you meet so many kind people. In the beginning, the technical side, the digital wallets; it was quite complicated for me.”
Though only recently welcomed into the cryptoart community herself, Francien now has many colleagues who she is trying to make enthusiastic as well. “I had a lot of help and I’m trying to do that too now for other people who are new to the space. That is the strength of this community: people are building this together and we are all at the beginning. There’s just one way to discover: just dive into it.”
“For 20 years it was pretty difficult for me to sell my work, because somehow people don’t want to have naked, older women on the wall!”
Leo is part of the founding team at Culture3. He has been in the web3 space since 2020 and is an award–winning editor. His podcasts reach tens of thousands a month and he is the Chair of UniReach, the EdTech non–profit he founded whilst studying at the University of Oxford. He writes about technology, web3, and culture.
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