Downcity Living: Franco Colavecchia part II

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Our neighbor Franco Colavecchia is a prolific artist and omnipresent character in downtown Providence. He was interviewed for a Downcity Living post two years ago, and again this year for a project he hung at the Biltmore Garage.

In the left photo (taken for the article by Kristin Crane) are the beginnings of the painting that hung in the window of 65 Washington Street earlier this year (right).

But how did the project begin? This February, we sat down with Franco to learn more about his background as an artist and social commentator.

“My first love was literature. The schooling I had from a Mr. Williams, who thought I would be a writer, encouraged me to work on my own. I wrote very long essays about theater and film. I was always exploring. When I was 12 or 13, I belonged to the school art club where I began to paint.”

Due to Franco’s varied interests and talents, he was able to build a prolific career as a set and costume designer. Over the last 50 years, his work has reached four continents in an uncountable number of opera productions. During his career, Franco also taught at Universities all over the country.

Artworks, costume sketches, set models, and books from floor to ceiling in Colavecchio’s downcity loft

During his tenure at North Carolina School of the Arts, he met a student named Raber Umphenhour. A 16 year old undergraduate, Raber was “. . . one of those kids you shove out into the world.”



“Raber was a terrific set designer with models and renderings of complexity. He learned photoshop rendering and became very good at it.”


Detail of Raber 

After college, Raber moved to Providence. While living in the Smith Building Downcity, he made animated films and worked as a projectionist at the Avon Cinema. Franco would visit him, and developed a love affair for the compactness and liveliness of Providence. He would ultimately retire to the Alice Building in 2012.

Not one to be idle, Franco explored his nearly life-long interests in film and social commentary. A regular at the Avon Cinema where Raber worked, he began making portraits of his mentee as well as Cinema owner Richard Dulgarian. The digitization of the cinema’s facilities became a fertile subject for Franco’s artwork.

A painting inspired by living in 1970s Soho.

Artworks, costume sketches, set models, and books from floor to ceiling in Colavecchio’s Downcity loft

“I thought – why not do a history of the Avon Cinema. Avon cinema is fascinating because it’s kind of art deco and hasn’t been altered since ’38. It is a kind of institution. “

Franco is also moved by injustice, and wanting to illustrate what he calls ‘bad behavior’ by higher education. Recently, he’s been painting some anti-Trump illustrations, as well as depictions of the Malayan War.

His favorite materials are oil paints on canvas, wood, or paper. He also uses gouache and ink for drawing and sketching. Over time, his work has become more painterly, more expressive and personal. He says “I finally have begun to be truthful in my artwork.”

Franco’s Loft in the Alice Building

A typical day for Franco consists of Breakfast at Small point, where he is able to chat with neighbors, as well as young people. At 9am, he begins painting, and then usually meets up with visiting faculty or alums passing through town for lunch. After that, he paints into the early evening. To unwind, he reads – he’s also a fan of Chris Mathews, Hardball, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnel.

If you’d like to talk to Franco about his work, you will find him at Small Point Café.

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