Inside and outside scents of oil paint and linseed oil waft comfortably with the diverse music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Woody Nelson. The stylistic methods of Dali, Klimt, Goya — their lives and techniques captured in library books, share space with music albums, videos, CDs and cassettes.
John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, James Bond in a green beret, John Wayne again hell-bent for Tombstone — grapple for studio space.
A 4-by-5 masterpiece of a dark-eyed Hopi girl with red, round cheeks is lost behind the front door. Neat trays of brushes are laid side by side with heavily coated palettes, more paintings lean against walls.
“I have to touch up the brown on that one,” Laurence Girard says. On a table-top easel another painting waits completion. In the backyard, beneath the shade and detritus of towering palms, larger compositions — more works in progress — are mounted on saw horses next to shelves of wood scraps to be used for picture frames.
His friends call him “Frenchy,” this graying Carlsbad painter who likes to have 10 paintings going at once.
“This gives me time to work until I get one I like,” he says. “I have a lot of different styles.” He doesn’t say he is innovative or consumed with his art.
Ask him about his most-liked artist, he answers, “I like them all. Pick an artist for the moment.” A graduate of art history as well as techniques, Frenchy’s art may be enhanced by another artist’s style — such as the stunning portrait of a young mother and child.
“A style like Klimt,” he quips, “with a background that glimmers like Klimt’s jeweled mosaics.”
An intriguing sketch of the three faces of the Dalai Lama, and the eyes of Buddha, is yet to be anointed. “I just do it naturally,” he says.
Frenchy was born Aug. 28, 1946, in Redondo Beach, the son of Virginia Dare, a Hollywood gossip columnist in the 1950s and 1960s. He sold his first painting for $100 when he was 13.
It was a picture of the head of a sailor looking out to sea. Three years later, an oil of Edward G. Robinson sold to the actor, and more portraits to actors Boris Karloff and Nick Adams. After graduation from Dominguez High School, Frenchy entered the Army as part of the Special Forces. “But I don’t like to kill people,” he says. His art saved him from the ordeal and he painted soldiers in an anti-communist mode for a general. At Fort Bragg he had two lockers, one for his gear, the other with paints and brushes supplied by the army. “Later I had a studio in Santa Barbara,” he says. He points with personal satisfaction to a large, old wooden paint box filled with tubes of oils he found at an estate sale — once used by another local artist. Frenchy has produced sizable works of art in a variety of media; India ink, pastel, acrylics, but his favorite are oil paintings. “With oils I can change, manipulate.”
In 1998, Frenchy did the show The Belly-Up Revisited in Solana Beach.
“I’m now an ongoing artist at the club and have 13 or 14 paintings there, and three or four at the Note. I spruce up the center and paint large electrical boxes in a variety of techniques.”
He neglects to say he restored large murals for Western CHC Manufacturing and other major works for Honeywell and the Roku-Roku Corporation in Japan. Nor does he mention that once he was ordered by a San Diego judge to sell his paintings in the courthouse to earn child support.
Or that he worked off a parking ticket by painting a portrait of the Solana Beach lifeguards — favors only a fine artist would be granted.
Frenchy held galleries in 29 Palms and Santa Barbara, and spent two years prospecting and perfecting his painting style along the Yuba River in Downieville.
He’d like to find another gallery. Asked about his future, he is nebulous — or so it seems.
“Conform to certain standards. Conform to my life.” One thing is clear, as Frenchy says, “It is John Wayne that keeps me alive.”
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