Paintings by Christian Franzen continually reprise a distinct set of subjects; the sun sets on the Pacific ocean through a murky, scratched view; a decoy owl, sometimes hiding under a white cloth, is reflected from somewhere elusively elsewhere, both behind and beyond. As if summoning a missed encounter, various stages of sunset repeatedly refract dark water. Chance flares of light bounce sharply off mirrored tides flaring brighter than the hazy skies above. Echoing the sun, orbs of floating prismatic glares and flashes suggest, but never reveal, a recording device or source of observation. Cast from an inaccessible ‘other space’ in a reflection beyond the sunsets and moonrises, a decoy owl is present in absence. Just as the sunset memory is fated to be a conjured proximity that circles but never arrives at its source, the owl fixes its creaturely gaze just beyond representation. Caught in a linguistic double-bind, the decoy is always an imitation, a stand-in, explicitly defined as not the thing. Performing object permanence in a game of peek-a-boo, the decoy further self-negates by ‘disappearing’ behind a draped sheet.

In an exhaustive search for ‘that thing that made the sunset meaningful to begin with’, wear and slippage appear on the timeworn vision. While giving the illusion of a battered barrier akin to a car windshield, scuffs, drips, and smudges are notably not rendered through trompe l’oeil techniques but hide in plain sight as smears and scrapes in the painting’s surface. Forging the picture’s scene with the material reality of the viewer, these moments collapse illusionary and real space, piercing through to touch. Franzen’s sunset is a specific sunset. It’s also a memory of that sunset compulsively re-membered. Reiterated over and over, the one special sunset multiplies, accumulating in a strange index of nonlinear days gained or lost. In variations on descension into night, soft dusks set hypnotic seas ablaze. The scene stops, rewinds, and starts again in another attempt to recall the beachside sunset and decoy apparition. The absurd encounter insists on being scanned, studied, slowed down, replayed. Returning with different eyes each go, the memory is screened for, and therefore gestures toward, a moment that never fully arrives. - Marie Heilich

Christian Franzen (b.1994) is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. He received his BFA from California State University Long Beach in 2018. He has participated in group exhibitions at James Cohan (New York, forthcoming), In Lieu (Los Angeles), Sow & Tailor (Hong Kong), and Peripheral Space (Los Angeles), among others. In October 2023 his work was exhibited with In Lieu gallery in a solo presentation at Frieze London.

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