A closer look: Rose Frantzen explores society with illusions

MUSCATINE, Iowa–In her ninth grade art class, Rose Frantzen’s art teacher had students select a photo, draw a grid pattern over it, and then divide a sheet of drawing paper up into a grid of the same size so they could carefully draw what they saw in each square, eventually making a lifelike picture. Frantzen chose a photo of herself and her brother to recreate, and when she saw the results, she knew she wanted to work as an artist. She remembers thinking, “That’s it! I want to draw people for the rest of my life.” Frantzen, a Maquoketa native, eventually did just that and has recently had several acclaimed shows, including “Portraits of Maquoketa” at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and “Faces of Iowa State,” which came to the Muscatine Art Center in 2018. Frantzen also did a live or a la prima portrait of Muscatine Art Center volunteer Sandy Hallett at one of their ice cream socials, and the portrait still hangs in the first floor of the Art Center to this day.

Though many of her portraits focus on depicting people in a way that looks true to life, Frantzen chose to do something a little different in each of the pieces she made for her “Optics of Illusion” exhibition, on display at the Muscatine Art Center now. After the many turbulent events of the past year, Frantzen sought a way to create art that explored identity and misconceptions about other people in a way that helped bring people together rather than dividing them. As she put it, “How do I talk about that national conversation in a way that’s useful for us?”

After debating this question for several months, she suddenly realized that overlaying optical illusions on her otherwise realistic portraits of different kinds of people could help convey the message she had in mind. As she put it, she believes her art can, “help you see that what we’re doing to each other is an illusion, not the truth,” adding, “if we could learn that we’re really just seeing tricks, we could find the space between people and what we think of them.”

To that end, Frantzen collected several of her preexisting works and created many new ones that highlight people of all sorts obscured by different types of optical illusions, distorting the subjects in ways that though not logically sensible, people cannot help but see. As Art Center Director Melanie Alexander explained it, “part of her messaging is to slow down and understand what your looking at, and that applies to other people and yourself.”

“Optics of Illusion” will remain on display through Oct. 31. Frantzen and Alexander encourage you to visit the Art Center at 1314 Mulberry Street in Muscatine any time during their open hours. “We’re always just blown away by her work,” added Alexander.