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Phranc Retrospective: Craig Krull Gallery Through Dec. 2

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If Los Angeles’ iconic singer-songwriter/visual artist Phranc wrote an autobiography, it would revisit the LA punk rock scene, folk music, art, activism and feminism, as well as her rise to the top in Tupperware sales. It might even explore life before she launched her butch identity onto the punk rock scene in the 1970s.

But Phranc doesn’t need to write a book, because the career retrospective “Phranc: The Butch Closet,” through Dec. 2, 2023 at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, says it all.

“It’s a memoir on paper,” said Phranc, in an exclusive interview with Goweho. “I’ve wanted to merge my music and my art and this is a time when so many of my peers are putting out autobiographies.

“I’ve written some pieces to describe the reasons why I’ve created some of the objects in the show. This is my memoir … and it has a lot of my brother in it.”

Phranc’s brother Gary became a catalyst for her “second career.” She had already released three albums (“Folksinger,” 1985, Rhino Records; “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” 1989, and “Positively Phranc,” 1991, both on Island Records) and was touring with Morrisey when her beloved brother died in 1991.

“When he was killed I came home,” she said. “Everything stopped for awhile. That’s when I was given the studio at 18th Street (Art Center in Santa Monica). And it was so important for me, it allowed me to be creative without being in public … I couldn’t be in public then.”

Phranc grew up in the Santa Monica area, and as a teen with a captivating voice, dove into the LA punk rock scene with bands such as Nervous Gender, Catholic Discipline and Castration Squad. All the while she tinkered with visual art on the side, with cardboard becoming her medium of choice for practical reasons.

“I would just find it in the alley, and it was free,” she grinned.

When her brother died and she needed to retreat from the public eye, she was offered the vacant studio in Santa Monica.  

“Somebody gave me a glue gun,” recalls Phranc. “I started to make three-dimensional sculptures.”

The Cardboard Cobbler emerged, and cardboard and Kraft paper became the fabric of Phranc’s visual artwork.

Pieces of clothing are a favorite, representing how our culture often defines people by their clothing. She scoffs at the assumption that sewing came naturally to her.

“What dyke needs to sew?” she laughed.

In “Phranc: The Butch Closet,” the studio room is a recreation of Phranc’s 18th Street  studio.

From a distance the garments–vest, jacket, boots, etc.,– resemble typical fashionwear. But on closer inspection, it’s apparent they’re not. There are other artifacts as well.

“All of the sculptures on the shelves are from different pieces of my life. The pumpkins were an illustration job for the LA Times Food Section, the black leather jacket and the engineer boots were for a punk rock show at Track 16 [Gallery] that a lot of punk artist were involved in.”

In addition to the retrospective, all of Phranc’s solo music has been released on major streaming platforms for the first time, including “Folksinger,” her acclaimed first solo album, and “I Enjoy Being A Girl,” featuring “Take off Your Swastika,” written in reaction to punk violence and use of the swastika.

Phranc has long used her voice and her art to support favorite causes. And she credits the feminist art and LGBTQ communities for that–and for saving her from “a very lonely place” when she came out as a teen in the 1970s.

“I came to punk rock with such a strong identity and foundation, so I could say I was a Jewish lesbian folk singer, I could claim the stage and claim the identity.

“I look to community, always,” she said. “I think that’s what’s going to save us.”

“Phranc: The Butch Closet” runs through Dec. 2, 2023, at Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building B-3, Santa Monica, CA 90404. Phone:  (310) 828-6410; info@craigkrullgallery.com. Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. @craigkrullgallery.

For future exhibits and appearances, see Phranc.la

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Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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