As a 70s child, Fiona Francois has had the luck to be an artist all her life, but staying the road hasn’t been easy. Born in New Zealand, Fiona spent her childhood in Auckland, but she spent most of her adult years in Brisbane, Australia. After graduating with a degree in Graphic Design, she worked for more than 20 years as a graphic designer in a broad range of industries from television to book illustration to multimedia. Fiona spent ten of the best years of her career working in the video games industry in Brisbane where she eventually became an art director working on AAA console games for local and international game studios. In 2010, after the fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis had wiped out the entire games industry in Brisbane, Fiona and her family escaped to Tasmania, where she now lives. At this point, she found herself burnt out and despondent from precariously navigating a commercial art world full of pitfalls, funding cuts, retrenchments, and corporate takeovers. “Ending up in a small town in the middle of nowhere with a bulging portfolio of near-useless high-end technical skills nearly did me in, and if it wasn’t for the exceptional wilderness to inspire me to take a very different direction, I can’t imagine what might have become of me,” she says.
Fiona still remembers how, during those all-nighters in the games industry, she used to fantasize about sitting at home, painting what she wanted instead of exhausting her efforts for a publisher, a client, or a company promoting other people’s visions. However, when she finally had the opportunity, it was far from what she had imagined. Fiona approached creating art from a commercial mindset: what would a customer buy? What sorts of things would a customer like? “Any artist out there would collapse in fits of laughter at this. I had it the wrong way around and it nearly sent me insane and bankrupt at the same time,” she says. It took her about six years to arrive at the point where she stripped back all the layers and finally asked herself without feeling selfish what she really wanted to do as an artist. “I forced myself to forget about the elusive buyer and the god-like art critics looking down their noses from the panels of art competitions and decided to make a drawing so large and ungainly, it would be impossible to sell,” she says. Fiona decided to do a tree-woman who had withstood the harshest of life. She had collapsed on the ground in her agony. Fiona clipped paper on the largest piece of MDF available, which she supported across two easels. It occupied her entire studio.
The drawing became the exact size of a piece of MDF (2.4 x 1.2m). “I didn’t even think about what I would do with it once it was finished. It was ridiculously large and would be impossible to frame.” The drawing was large because Fiona wanted it to be powerful, to make a statement about suffering, what it was to be the recipient of it. “I wanted to make a tribute to the environment and all living things that had suffered at the hands of selfish, careless people and a blind, unthinking society, to all those who had been ignored, bullied, abused and left behind,” she says. But more than that, Fiona was creating an outlet onto which she could pour out her own anger, resentment, and unhappiness. But, at the end of it all, this outlet was to contain beauty. “I wanted so much to prove that beauty would prevail despite everything that life could throw at you and that the scars of suffering would be undeniably magnificent,” she says.
After five months of arduous work, “The Fallen” came to be. The work was a turning point for Fiona. It was through this gigantic piece that she transitioned from a commercially-minded artist into one who creates from within. It also became the catalyst for her current series of work, which she is still exploring with the same kind of obsessive raw expression of sadness and beauty in the guise of weathered trees. To her surprise, “The Fallen” became her most popular piece and it still is today. Fiona shares a small gallery space in Deloraine, Gallery 5 Deloraine, with two other artists where they create and sell their work to the public. Her work is also represented by Gallery Salamanca and Penguin Creek Gallery in Tasmania. Her biggest prints are for sale in two cafes in Deloraine, Nelly’s Café and Field Rabbit, where Fiona spends a lot of time drinking coffee and dreaming up new ideas.