Catalog Essay by Edwin Stirman:
In Sara Frantz's portrait Exploding Chipow!, a small cartoon chipmunk takes on a surprised expression of shock as it blows apart. The actual violence portrayed here has a dulled effect since the creature's explosion resembles a playful water balloon exploding rather than an anatomically correct image of a creature turning inside-out. These combined elements render the violence relatively innocuous. Frantz's paintings tend to feature a single animal-like figure in a contained environment, either undergoing a physical transformation or existing in abstraction. These animals seem docile, sweet, and benign at first, but Frantz is after more than that: a secondary layer reveals an emotional component ranging from menacing, vague viciousness, definite violence, to unmitigated loneliness and despair. Reading violence through this chipmunk's combustion requires the viewer to consider how cartoons can combine action, character development, and a sense of fantasy.
The current generation of 20 and 30-somethings, be they Generation X, Y or Z, share a common experience: a youth spent absorbing new technology – an experience that went beyond viewing cartoon characters in film. Through parallel developments in media, technology, and entertainment systems (and through learning the particularities of heavily branded gaming systems like Nintendo, Sega, and Atari), many contemporary artists face a reality of not just shared stories, but also these shared experiences. However, while gaming systems constantly change with ever-evolving technology, these systems are only shells holding the characters and environments. Nintendo is a particularly important system, in this instance, since it focuses on providing intricate narratives and character developments through games such as Super Mario Brothers, where main characters battle walking mushrooms and other typically inanimate objects. The interactive storyline of video games remains dependent on the user's active involvement to perpetuate the narrative forward in games. Frantz's paintings indirectly comment upon those fantasy narratives, especially in terms of character development.
Through this leisure activity of game playing, cartoons bridge cultural boundaries and allow the viewer to transcend his or her immediate surroundings. Various personal experiences combine collectively through these systems to provide a generational visual vocabulary. This bridge provided by gaming media, via Japanese culture and the development of animation narratives, predates the more recent popularization of Japanese manga anime. Even though bridging the cultural differences from one end of the world to the other is complex, Frantz's work comments upon these strong ties to multivalent cartooning.
While she develops her characters in tandem to these cultural systems, and reflects the combined interest of telling a story rooted in personal reflection and cultural influence through cartoons and fantasy in her initial paintings, her more recent paintings have begun to harvest older traditions of portraiture and landscape. In Bad Dream #1, a large pink bunny sits idly in a background of looming dark mountains. While this painting still retains a single character portrait, its emotional quality shifts from the flattened background of her earlier works and expands through her placement of characters into settings and landscapes that demand a more emotional inquiry from the viewer.