BY DAVID WILLARD
Washington Irving once said, “It is interesting to notice how some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.” We all have obstacles in our lives that can slow us down or even keep us from accomplishing our goals and dreams altogether. Unfortunately, some children step into that role and even receive more obstacles than any child ever should. The real world has never been known as being fair. However, the greatest of triumphs always begins with the hardest of roads, and one artist in the downtown scene has made that road to victory a great story to be told…and painted.
Gina Franco, an artist who started in Greensboro but has spread her wings to show her work here in Winston-Salem, indeed began in less-than-humble beginnings. “My mom was a single parent with five children, and my twin brother and I are the youngest,” said Franco. “Both of my parents struggled with addiction. My dad was in prison until I was 12, and my mom did her best to stay clean. Things were pretty rough during those times; we lived in public housing and relied on welfare and food pantries. My mom managed to get her degree, and she got a pretty good job in Greensboro and moved us here in the sixth grade. My first year here was awful. I didn’t know I was poor until somebody told me. Back in Spencer, NC, everyone was poor. I got picked on for smelling bad and because of my clothes and shoes. There were some good years, but unfortunately, once my dad got out of prison, they both got back on heroin. There were times when she lost everything, and we were homeless, [so] I dropped out and worked full-time. I embraced my independence and loved working. My dad overdosed before my 18th birthday, and I had a son at 19. Things were crazy back then, but I never got into drugs and managed to graduate from Guilford College and have a steady job. My mom eventually got clean only to die of lung cancer last year. Every painting this year has been about her, my grief is in every stroke.”
Franco has proven to be an unashamed fighter and is very quick and forthright when describing her unique art style. “Someone told me that my art style was ‘cartoon realism,’ and I like that, so it stuck,” said Franco. “I think it does have a cartoony look which works well with my more narrative pieces. I usually use old paintings I find in Goodwill, and I paint over, or I paint on un-stretched canvas. My paintings are unrefined; a lot like me I guess. I still take on commissions, so my style sometimes changes based on what I’m painting, I enjoy doing murals and hope to develop those skills and create my own distinct style.”
Although Franco began her art career in Greensboro, she has certainly been a welcome addition to the downtown Winston-Salem scene. “I fell in love with Winston this past summer doing a mural at Artivity Park,” said Franco. “I am always telling my Greensboro people about the art district in Winston and how I wish Greensboro had more galleries and public murals. There is a real strong art community in Winston, and it’s only getting bigger. I can’t wait to do more public art there.”
Gina Franco has been no stranger to adversity or hardships. She started fighting them at an early age. However, she has shown remarkable resolve and vision to become the artist, mother and even person she is today. Franco has proven it is not where you begin your journey; it is where it ends. Luckily, this journey has led her to downtown Winston-Salem, so we all can help revel in her art and even in her fight to bring the art inside of her to a gallery in our Salem streets.