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Franz Mark Johansen
(Huntsville, Utah, 1928 - 2018, Provo, Utah)
The "Veil Series" (one of a group of seven paintings) by Franz Mark Johansen, depicts that which is most important to Johansen's work, spiritual relationships. In mostly monochromatic tones with gold and silver accents, the artist portrays the religious idea of the veil that hangs between our present mortality and the afterlife to come. With a single figure on each side of the veil, he presents the notion that those who have already passed to the other side are there to help those who are still in mortality, somewhat like guardian angels. "Veil Series" exemplifies most of Johansen's work in that it is deeply spiritual and is rooted in LDS theology.
Born May 10, 1928, in Ogden, Utah, Franz Johansen had a late introduction to art. Although his mother encouraged his artistic pursuits and Franz participated artistically in the production of his high school's yearbook, it was not until he served a mission for the LDS church that his interest in the arts grew. Being a "Utah farm boy," Franz naturally was impressed by the culture and museums of London, England. He also was impressed by the nature of the art he saw, which was mainly religious, whether medieval or Victorian. The young missionary was moved by a story about the English Romantic poet William Blake, who in his early boyhood, believed he saw the face of God at his window and throughout his life strived to express his deep religious convictions. Likewise, Franz Johansen was inspired to express his religious beliefs through visual art. Johansen passed away in Provo, Utah on August 23, 2018.
Upon his return from London, Johansen acted upon that desire and began his formal education in art. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from Brigham Young University, studying under Glenn H. Turner, J. Roman Andrus, and B. F. Larsen. In addition, he studied at the California School of Arts and Crafts, the Illinois Institute of Design, and the Acadamie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris. As a skin diver, Franz was interested in underwater and microscopic life forms about which he studied at the Marine Biology Institute at the University of Miami, and this interest is evident in his early works. He believes "Art is the gateway into the realm of creativity,making the new entity,something that has never been done."
In 1950, Johansen married Ruth Aldous, his childhood sweetheart. They have a family of 7 children and 26 grandchildren to date. One son, Nathan, is following in his father's footsteps and he also is now a successful sculptor.
Franz Johansen is best known for his figurative relief sculptures in both stone and bronze. Although he grew up in the West, he does not consider himself to be a western artist. Instead, his figures and subject matter reflect his European training. His art is at the same time both representational and symbolic. His subject matter often reflects his interest in the resurrection, such as his work "Resurrection Series". He started with a group of 7-8 paintings, and then produced a group of 11 sculptures, all exploring various facets of the resurrection. The piece included here was the last in the series. Dr. Vern Swanson, Director of the Springville Museum of Art, points out that unlike most portrayals of the resurrection, which are triumphantly raising and lifting upward, Johansen's sculpture depicts the resurrection at the moment of inception, as a half-drooped figure with the burial wraps just beginning to fall. Every part of the piece,the head, the arm, and the draped cloth are all suspended in graceful curves, the figure is just awakening from slumber.
Johansen has two more pieces planned for the series, one of a figure reaching down to a curled up figure below and the final piece, a resurrected man leaning down to pull a woman up to him.
Some of Franz Johansen's more well-known works include the bas relief stone panels on the Harold B. Lee Library and the bronze relief on the Joseph Smith building at Brigham Young University, the stone relief on the LDS Church Museum of History and Art in Salt Lake City, and a relief on the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, Utah.
Because of the religious content of his art, Johansen was a natural choice for the commission for the doors of the LDS temples in Seattle and Washington D.C. He believes the symbolism presented in the reliefs correlates with the LDS symbolism within temples. The doors are covered with circular stylized designs containing traditional LDS symbols such as suns, moons and stars.
The artist taught in the BYU Art Department from 1956 until his retirement in 1989. Franz Johansen lives in Provo, Utah, and often works alongside his son, Nathan, on bronze sculptures. He presently is involved in the painstaking finish work on the casts for a large piece for Winter Quarters, Nebraska. As part of the Sesquicentennial celebration of 1997, the LDS church commissioned Johansen to create an appropriate sculpture for Winter Quarters, the place many of the early pioneers left to make the thousand-mile trek to Utah. The work consists of four adults, two children, a baby, the handcart, and a base showing the tracks left by previous handcarts. This ambitious piece will be placed in front of the new visitors' center.
In addition to the handcart pioneer piece, Johansen also is working on a family pioneer group to be placed in Huntsville, Utah, where Johansen's ancestors settled. Franz says he has been so busy with sculpture projects these last two years he hasn't even had time to finish a painting he started in Navoo, Illinois. He does, however, plan to continue painting as well as sculpting. He was trained in both areas, loves them both, and appreciates the balance working in the two differing media gives him. In addition, Johansen is enjoying the extra time to produce art his early retirement from BYU is giving him.