Artown's Chosen One: Artist Franz Szony Returns Home To Reno

Jul 7, 2015

Every year, Artown commissions one local artist to create a unique image for the event poster that can be seen all over town. It’s a time-honored tradition and this year’s 20th anniversary poster was given to artist and Reno native, Franz Szony.  Szony’s work is also on display all month at Sierra Arts Foundation. Reno Public Radio’s Esther Ciammachilli caught up with him at the gallery as he was setting up his show to talk about his work, his time as a young art student in Reno and what inspires him.   

You may not know this, but there’s an art to hanging art.

Artist Franz Szony is making sure each of his photographs hangs in just the right place for his show titled Wise Witches. He takes into account everything from shape and size, to lighting and even the subjects of the giant pieces themselves.    

Outside of his exhibition, the 29-year-old was also asked to design this year’s Artown poster, a coveted honor that he’s been waiting for.

“I had wanted to do the Artown poster for the last eight years…When they came to me for this one…that in itself was like a really nice gift because it was like, oh wow, you guys waited for me for this 20 year anniversary. It was really humbling.” 

The poster features a pink, pastel interpretation of lady liberty. She’s donning a crown made of roses and the iconic starburst that spins above the Biggest Little City Arch. Szony says his task was to create a character that embodied all that Artown represents: art, community, harmony and twenty years’ worth of each.

“If all of that was personified into one person, who would that person be? That’s when I really started looking into this…I say witches loosely, but it’s a powerful woman.”

As he often does, Szony turned to Greek mythology for inspiration. He discovered a character called Mnemosyne, the mother of time and remembrance. She had nine daughters, known as the Muses. Each one represents an aspect of the arts and humanities. Thalia is the protector of comedy, Erato the guardian of poetry, Clio the Muse of history just to name a few.   

“So in essence who I created in this poster is...Mnemosyne was the mother of the arts, so my character is supposed to be Mama Art. That’s who represents Artown.”  

Szony’s work frequently features strong female characters, but subjects often depict both masculine and feminine qualities, regardless of the person’s actual sex. Szony says this gender ambiguity happens almost unconsciously.

“It’s just a part of how I see things. I can do a character that I think is uber-masculine and people will say wow he’s so pretty. And it’s like oh, ok. So, I think at this point it’s just the way I see the world; I don’t really try.”  

“He’s so not afraid of his own ideas, which is a thing that most artists strive for is to find their own thin thread of communicating with the world in a way that no one else can.” 

That’s Kathy Sedarquist, Szony’s long-time friend and mentor. Sedarquist, who teaches art at both public and private schools in Reno, remembers Szony as a vibrant and talented student who had a big influence on other young artists.

“Franz made everything work. When he came to class I think the whole class went better because all the other children picked up on his energy.” 

Sedarquist started working with Szony when he was about five years old and she says he was already way ahead of the curve. She says Szony has always been excellent at incorporating humans in his work. While other beginning students were just learning how to draw people, Sedarquist says Szony’s subjects would be…

“…dancing and moving and they would be articulated in a certain way that young children don’t do naturally.”

And this articulation can be seen in his show. Szony’s characters are depicted in ways that accentuate the human form in both natural and studio settings. His cotton-candy palette offers a unique softness to the deep layers of his gothic aesthetic. Fellow artist Eric Brooks says this is what makes Szony’s work so absorbing.

“It’s mystical and magical and takes you to a place that you didn’t think you could ever go to. And there’s so much depth to them you feel like you could just walk right into them and be part of the story.” 

Brooks says Szony was instrumental in helping the underground art world in Reno take off. But this influence has had little effect on Szony’s overwhelming humility.

“He probably doesn’t even think of himself, or even would recognize himself as being one of those people. But, he made a huge dent in getting it to where it is now. So it’s a beautiful story of the triumphant return of Franz Szony to Reno.”   

Szony now lives in Los Angeles and is an accomplished fashion photographer. He also does work with big media companies like Warner Brothers. Brooks says, as a fellow artist, it’s refreshing to see a small town talent like Szony making a name for himself and the city of Reno.

This story is part of our month long series on Artown’s 20th anniversary. Stay tuned to Reno Public Radio for more on the month long festivities. You can also hear the entire series at our website, kunr.org and for information in upcoming Artown events, visit renoisartown.com.