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Meet Frankie Toan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Frankie Toan.

Frankie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
It is tough to say in the arts where you start, but, I have been a working artist for seven years, and a self-employed for the last 2.5 of those years. I started my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and two years later transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University where I finished my BFA in Craft and Material Studies. After graduation a friend and I started a studio together in Richmond named Mule Barn Craft Studio- which is still around today. in 2014 I moved to Gatlinburg, TN to be an artist in residence for a year at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

That was just a one year position, so I began looking for a place to relocate and build my art career. Denver quickly rose to the top of the list because of all of the art opportunities that exist here. I was excited about the number of fantastic residencies here, the amount of arts organizations, and the opportunities for public art. I applied to some things and was awarded a residency at Platteforum- an organization that is still near and dear to me- and that sealed the deal, my partner and I moved to Denver in June 2015.

Shortly after moving here I applied for the two-year residency at RedLine and was accepted. Both the Platteforum and RedLine residencies really helped me become rooted in Denver, and have been major factors in me being able to have the career that I do. I continue to receive a large amount of support from both of these wonderful organizations. I was working at the Museum of Contemporary Art when I first moved to Denver, but after about two years I was getting so many requests for work/commissions/installations that I was able to quit my job and focus on art full time. Now I have a studio in South Denver (in the antiques district), and I am still busy with shows, commissions, installations, events, etc. I feel so lucky to get to do what I do every day!

Has it been a smooth road?
Being a self-employed artist is incredibly exciting, and also pretty scary at times. As I said, I feel so lucky to get to do what I do every day, but there are certainly hard parts. Just when I think I know the ropes, it’s time to learn something new about contracts, insurance, driving a lift, installing lights, fireproofing materials… the list goes on and on. I have been constantly learning for the last seven years.

One of the toughest parts about being a full-time artist is never knowing exactly when the money is coming in. I am able to book myself months or even a year out, but projects all pay differently, and there is a lot of squeezing in last-minute commissions or workshops to make it all work. This scheduling goes hand in hand with periods of long hours. I always have a few rough weeks/months a year where I just have to work every day all day until the thing is done- but I can’t complain because I get to make my own schedule. I am usually able at some point to make time for rest or get into the mountains after big projects.

Being a full-time artist is a big challenge that is almost always super fulfilling.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
My business is my art, and I am always finding new ways to make it and show it. One thing I love about Denver is the multitude of places where art exists in the city. I show work in galleries, libraries, businesses, non-profits, on the street, in window displays- recently I worked with Meow Wolf to make the Kaleidoscape ride at Elitch Gardens. I love that there are so many non-traditional ways to show and experience art in Denver.

The thing I am best known for is my soft sculpture. I make large plush- often super bright- soft sculptures out of fabric, old clothes, and recycled materials. I do a lot of installations, but also make individual pieces for shows. In addition, I work with an art collective called Secret Love Collective, where I get to experiment with performance, throwing events, and photo booths. On top of all that I have a production line where I make small functional objects for sale at markets and occasionally on my Instagram.

I have the most fun working on large sculptures, but I also love to make interactive pieces and costumes. What sets me apart from others is my medium, materials and color pallet. I love to use super bright (wonderfully tacky) colors and pattered fabrics. I love sequins, sparkles, and fringe. For the past few years, I have been making soft body parts- hands, eyes, mouths- that are playful and monstrous at the same time.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Being a full-time artist is hard anywhere I think, but Denver has been a really great place for me. I am almost always working on at least one project and doing my own more conceptual work for myself at the same time. I think Denver is a good place for an artist to be. The art scene here is welcoming and varied. There are lots of ways to be an artist here. Our robust public art program is attractive to professional artists, as are the number of excellent residencies here like Platteforum and Redline (among MANY others).

I do think there are several hard parts about being an artist here as well. The first of which is the cost of space in the city. It’s really hard to find affordable housing and workspace as an artist- something that affects many people in Denver, not just artists. Another hard thing about being an artist here is that Denver is somewhat isolated in its art scene. It can be hard for Denver-based artists to show outside of the city or state. We could definitely use more cross-pollination from artists, galleries, and curators in other cities.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.fetoan.com
  • Email: fetoan314@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @fetoan


Image Credit:

1: Children’s Museum of Denver, 3& 4: Wes Magyar, 5, tom Kimmell, 7: Kate Russell curtesy of Meow Wolf

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