Artist and Printmaker, Cody DeFranco, is Expanding his Creations One Punk Print at a Time

Artist and Printmaker, Cody DeFranco, is Expanding his Creations One Punk Print at a Time

Artist and Printmaker, Cody DeFranco, is Expanding his Creations One Punk Print at a Time

The upstate New York artist silkscreens his original creations onto clothing, books, and stickers

The upstate New York artist silkscreens his original creations onto clothing, books, and stickers

Text: Greg Marku

In his quiet upstate New York home, Cody DeFranco has been sliding his adhesive scraper over hundreds of colorful t-shirts, sweatpants, and tote bags for the punks and art lovers who are a fan of his work. Splatting gobs of paint on silkscreens, each color creating a different image on whatever he’s printing on, DeFranco has been so busy during the pandemic that he’s been able to grow out of the tiny beginnings of a business created and run by one guy.

An independent clothing designer and artist, DeFranco has had his Instagram following almost double in the last year because of his strange, dark yet delightfully cartoon-like and quirky creations. Whether someone out there likes death metal or noise rock or punk visual art, DeFranco has got it covered.

While the subject areas DeFranco creates vary and he mixes them as he pleases, his art tends to center around punk art and fetish art with a touch of comedy and grotesqueness. In an exclusive interview with VMAN DeFranco said, “I feel like over the years I’ve used these themes in my work a lot, to the point that a lot of people know me for using it. It’s not typically always a part of the work but there’s something gritty about these underground scenes that are great for creating a narrative. There’s a lot of influence drawn from fetish and bondage magazines and punk culture. I collect a lot of these older magazines and collections of punk ephemera. The influence simply comes from growing up being into punk music, it pours over into the work.”

Some of his favorite artists of all time include collagist and correspondence artist Ray Johnson and sculpture and performance artist Mike Kelley. Both have distinct styles and points of view, Johnson more of a Dada and black-and-white kind focused artist while Kelley is fantasy-like and absurd. “Those two always come to mind right off the bat for me because the both cover so much ground and themes in their work,” DeFranco added.

But music, on the other hand, plays a huge role in his work. “I am an avid record collector so it’s always an inspiration to me. I would say that most of my work comes out of lyrics from songs or jumbling of lyrics from multiple songs,” he explained. “My music taste is all over the place I wouldn’t even know where to begin with any of that. I’ve currently been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry, which generally doesn’t have lyrics since it is jazz. I constantly find myself pulling lyrics out of Sonic Youth songs for inspiration though and stuff like that.”

Born and raised in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, an hour away from Boston, DeFranco has been encouraged to explore his creativity from a young age. “My parents were always so supportive of me making art,” he said, “so that positive reinforcement was helpful for me to grow.”

Printmaking was introduced to DeFranco when he was just a kid. “I can remember making stamps with carved potatoes and also rubber linocuts. The duplicate was something I was always fascinated by growing up. I knew then that I wanted to be able to create a lot of the same thing and variations of it,” he said.

When he was in high school, DeFranco came across a closet full of wooden frames that turned out to be silkscreens. He informed the school of his findings and in the next semester, a silkscreening class was introduced. But it wasn’t until after high school that he began to push his interest in printmaking. “It was when I got to college where I really started to print on t-shirts. It was really looked down upon while in school because the facilities were used for fine art printmaking, not t-shirts. I had older friends that were doing it and getting away with it, but it took me a while before I was doing it.”

While living in New York City, DeFranco stopped silkscreening for years until picking it back up in 2012. He started making shirts to go along with zines and books he made for Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair, an annual event hosted by MoMA PS1. He then moved to upstate New York preferring the open space and nature. He said, “I was living in New York City for almost a decade before making the move upstate with my partner. I don’t think I’d ever live in a city again after living where I live now.”

“Printing on garments was just another way to put my art on something that someone could wear, he said. ”It’s extremely humbling the amount of people that support my work and feel good wearing things I’ve made. They always say that fashion and clothing is a level of your personal style and identity. So the fact that someone can wear something I made and feel completely themselves is amazing and fulfilling.”

DeFranco is a part of a long history of punk artists using simple, quick, and powerful art to express themselves through zines and clothing. Silkscreening is an easy way to create many copies of a single image by hand which makes it quite punk.

DeFranco said his creative and printing process is as follows. “It all starts with coming up with a design really. That could take minutes or months for me. There are countless things I’ve made and spend hours on that never get made but it usually is a stepping stone to something that actually gets produced.”

He continues, “Once you have a design you then gotta make your transparency film for the light table and expose it onto a silkscreen that’s coated in photo emulsion. I usually have the garment already sorted out, what color, whether it's short sleeve or long, etc. I then actually choose my colors on the fly, unless it’s something specific. Print and repeat.”

DeFranco creates a couple of new t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweatpants, tote bags, or sticker designs a month. Along with the serene environment, he says that surrounding himself with all forms of art keeps him inspired. “I surround myself with books and records. Everything I create starts in the space where these items I collect can be found. I am inspired by my books and records, it’s as simple as that. I’ll put on a record and pick out a book and find my inspiration there and once I feel that spark ignite I get on my computer.”

He has folders upon folders of scans he’s made throughout the years and says a lot of time is spent going through his files to find the right imagery for what he’s trying to get across. “Whether it’s a t-shirt, a book, or even a sticker it always starts from there. I never source my imagery from the internet, it’s all collected and scanned from books and magazines I’ve collected and own. There’s a sense of connection when it comes from something you’ve spent the time sourcing and acquiring.”

In terms of what’s next for DeFranco, he just wants to create. “I honestly don’t think of myself as a brand at all. I am simply an artist who has been printing on a lot of garments lately. I plan to make more artist books and art just in general. I don’t think I’d ever want to be a “brand,” it’s too suffocating. There needs to be a sense of freedom in the creative process and limiting to just printing on garments won’t cut it for me. But I will leave this interview by saying it’s only the beginning for me. I have a lot of things stored in my brain that will seep out and come into fruition.”


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