Kingston Isn’t Boring Anymore And You Can Thank Francisco Corbett
Tucked away on Princess Street is a cavern of canvas home to Francisco’s practice and studio, but his boundless energy can be found all over Kingston. From BSE Skateshop to Art Noise to Miss Bao, the city’s downtown core has quintessentially transformed into a mosaic of his makings. The Sagittarius was nice enough to sit down with me for the first of an ongoing feature series of artists in Kingston I personally feel people must start conversing with. I firmly believe his engagement with the community through his art has altered the livelihood and landscape of the city at large.
This interview contains explicit language and has been adapted for clarity and length.
Have you always thought Kingston was boring?
I was just thinking about that too—you’re referencing the billboard, right? And the shirts? I put that out because—I never thought that Kingston was boring, I just realized that there wasn’t anything for me to do in Kingston that I didn’t make. So me and my friends would throw shows and me and my friends would do things to amuse ourselves. So when I said Kingston isn’t boring anymore, it was very provocative to say that. Well, not really, but it was more charged to get people to react. Because I didn’t want to just put “Life isn’t boring anymore” or “My life isn’t boring anymore”. I wanted to make it more widespread so: Kingston isn’t boring anymore.
I feel like that also kind of implicates everyone else who you’re living amongst. So what would you say is your relationship with Kingston, the city itself and the people?
I just love people, like truly love people. My relationship with the people in Kingston is my relationship with anybody anywhere. It’s just like trying to connect and have fun. Be friendly. Openly.
How did you move from kind of starting art on your own and doing it and moving it into kind of like a larger thing based more in audience and out of personal practice and engaging with the community?
For sure, the shows. They were really beneficial. I would do them in partnership with Queens’ groups or I would do them with my friends, and since I’m in my early twenties, most of my friends who would be in Queens were my age. And they would tell their friends and they would all come. I’ve been painting for 5 years now, and it started off more solitary, and still is as you can tell from the studio. I will always work alone, but now I’m just surrounded by my friends more often, so it’s easier to position myself to be like, “Hey guys, I’m doing this show. Come out!”
Did you ever go to Queens for anytime?
No, never. I dropped out in Grade 10 actually.
What’s your opinion on art school or like schooling for art? That’s a fun hot take.
I think it depends on the artist. It really matters who goes to the school. It matters in any program whoever goes to the school. For so long, I thought I was an idiot, and now I realize I am an idiot, but in a different way than I thought. When it comes to the fundamental institutionalized version of learning, it doesn’t compute in my head. For some people, it works really well and they apply for art school. And for others, I’ve had friends tell me that it stunts them, that they’ve kind of lost their taste in art because they got beaten down so much. But then you have Picasso who went to art school and it didn’t hinder him at all. There’s exceptions to the rules and anomalies all the time, yet I think mostly all institutions favour a certain type of learning. And if you can’t function in that type of learning, you’re kind of left to the wolves.
The dynamics institutions maintain is very A to B—that’s not exchange. And arts about connecting people, and how do you do that when that’s not even invited? Did you find schooling was a lot different from when you were in school to when you finished this year? The way it’s treated or done?
It was great because they added a whole curriculum of Indigenous culture to the high school program. But when I left high school, I couldn’t tell you what I was learning. I don’t think I learned anything but the social stuff. I was made to feel dumb and I knew I wasn’t dumb, so I left. When I went back, it was really problematic and I was really down on myself. It was really crucial for me to go back for where I’m at right now, but if the world wasn’t designed the way it was—where you need the diploma. I still am proud to say that I dropped out. Because fuck you and fuck that system. Fuck that school for just what it does to kids who know they’re smart but they’re not smart in the ways that they teach there. It’s no fault of the teachers, it’s no fault of anybody, there’s no fault. You can have that design, but have the design for other kids like me who don’t funnel their smarts through the through the way that you teach. Have diversification, have alternative ways of learning because I was made to feel like shit for so long. And finally when I left, I was like, “Thank god. I feel free. I feel good.” So going back was really hard. It was really frustrating because, if I had my way, I would never have gone back again.
You document a lot of your process as an artist, it’s very public. It’s very on the record. And it’s intentional. Why is that?
I like when everyone’s on the same page. When everybody knows what’s going on, that’s good with me. It feels more comfortable, and it’s hard for me to hold in a secret that I’m excited about because I want to tell everybody. It’s not an active choice. Sometimes it is like, “I’m gonna talk about this on Instagram, I’m gonna promote my friends’ stuff” but it’s because I genuinely love it, but it’s also just because that’s who I am. If we bumped into each other on the street and we started talking, I would pretty much tell you the basis of who I am right off the bat. So that funneled through Instagram is just heightened even more.
Genuineness is the last thing people expect from a first encounter.
Yeah exactly. I like to circumvent that.
“My art is me, but I have to grow up as a person too, and the art will follow me and grow up with me.”The floor of his studio, by the front door.
Both your social media and your live paintings/performances kind of share an embrace of performance. You’re aware and also celebrating the fact that there’s kind of, not like a spectatorship, but just something fucky happening. Do you feel like there’s a distinction between Francisco the artist and Francisco the human, or do they bleed into each other? What different facets of yourself do you think are coming out when you perform?
At the heart, I’m a performance artist and my mediums are painting and sculpture, but I’m a performance artist—a concept artist. I don’t think there’s a different part of me, it’s all me. I haven’t ever put on a show when I didn’t feel like it. There’s sometimes jitters that you’ve got to get over, but I’ve never been like, “I really hate this and I don’t want to do it” and then been untruthful about it. So Francisco the artist and Francisco the human, they’re all the same. I’m hyper all the time, it’s not just on Instagram. But whoever has gifted me with this, I’m really grateful for, because I’ve been a gifted that energy to “Go! Go! Go!” and I love it.
Do you think that maybe as a human or artist, there’s different goals or intentions?
Helmut Lang—he’s a fashion designer, and there’s a great interview where the interviewer is trying to romanticize his stuff and they’re like, “Do you think you could ever live without fashion? Do you think you could live without your art?” And he stops and stares at them, and just goes, “Yeah.” It’s such a ‘fuck you’ because I love my fucking art so much. I’m my biggest fan for sure, but if I got so drained into this, I wouldn’t be able to—I care more about myself than my art. My art is me, but I have to grow up as a person too, and the art will follow me and grow up with me.
Do you have any recurring characters in your paintings?
The dog. The dog was a recurring character for a long time. I was doing a dog series and I finished the series, and then a week later, I got bit by a dog on the mouth. The teeth went right in, and I remember being like, “Fuck!” I was in the hospital but I called my friend and said, “You need to go to the art store and buy me a canvas please. And I’m gonna come to the studio after I get out of the hospital.” So I got out of the hospital, took my antibiotics, and then called my friends like, “We’re going to the studio. And I can’t go alone because I’m probably gonna pass out.” Then we all came here, four of us, and I just started painting. That was really funny, that as soon as I finish the dog series, I got bit by a dog.
So how did you get bit by a dog?
I was at a clothing pop-up down the street, I was visiting my friends and they had their dog out. I’ve met this dog before but he’s very aggressive. I was petting him on the head and he started to relax, so I relaxed with him and got down on one knee in front of him. No growling, no nothing like that, but he just snapped on me and clamped on my lip. It was a very weird feeling, but then I got a tattoo that says, “Dog Bites.”
Is there a personal idea or understanding that you’ve carried through your art this year specifically?
The themes are always changing. There’s dogs and now there’s a hick series—a Southern Ontario redneck series I’m doing. It’s always been freedom. That’s the point of my work: to express myself and have nothing to hold me back. I’m allowed to go crazy on a canvas, I’m allowed to do as many different things as I want to. And I can do whatever I want to, whenever I want to, creatively. Recently it’s still freedom, but now it’s self-sustaining, so self-sufficient freedom.
Does Kingston feel more like something that will always be home-base to you, or is this ground zero?
I have a son, I have a little 5 year old. He’s like the best thing in my life. Because of that I am here. I’m here for as long as he’s here and until he gets older. I wanna be able to come back here, have a home here, but be able to work and travel. But with Luca, that’s his name, I want to be able to be around. So it’s both; I see it as a place to jump off of, a place to build, but also a place of sanctitude where I can rest here, but then also be able to leave when I needed to. That would be the freedom too, that would be another goal of my future: to be able to go do a show overseas and then be able to comfortably come back for a little bit and not have to think about it.
I really like Kingston, it’s good for brainstorming. I don’t find that Kingston gives you the tools to do what you want, but you find them with the friction you have of what you’re not getting.
It’s like a kind of war room, it’s just building up here. You make it, that’s always what I’ve said. Kingston is like a playground, you have to make what it is though. There isn’t any infrastructure, which is a good thing, because you can do something and have no bars to hold you back, but you also have to convince somebody that it’s gonna be good and safe, financially or not.
Where else are you interested in moving with your art?
I want to continue what I’m doing which is just expressing myself openly. No chains really, creating with no bars. Not more than usual, there’s always gotta be some push back, otherwise it’s not fun. So just continuing to create in the same rate that I am, to just inspire younger artists and younger kids to try and express themselves, and to not worry and to take a shot and to take a chance. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in the arts, but be free and take it seriously. Because it’s a good life, it’s really good what we can do if you put your mind to it.
Is there something you’d never do?
I don’t know. My dad always said, “Do whatever you want. Just make sure you’re not hurting anyone.” I hold that pretty close, it’s the reason I dropped out of high school. It wasn’t hurting anyone for me to drop out and it wasn’t where I was supposed to be at the time. I would do pretty much anything, but within the right of people being okay and comfortable knowing that they’re gonna be uncomfortable. If they know that first.
Is there anything you feel that you want people to know? It doesn’t have to be about art, like I don’t know, bananas are fake.
It’s funny because I always have some bullshit thing to say, let me see. Recently I’ve been radically positive because everything is so—
Yeah, more or less. It is what you make it, and I think that people should really strive to make a better life for themselves. That can be achieved through the arts and that can be achieved through just being positive. Radically positive. Cos fuck you if you’re negative. You’ve got this, just keep going.
Francisco recently released Lil’ Drawings 2, a series of small paintings for sale. ‘Show Of Smalls 2020’ is on at Art Noise until December 30. Stay tuned for the release of Series One, the beginning of the beginning, dropping January 31, 2021.