Still Life with Dragon Vase

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Oil on board
440 x 510mm

Dick Frizzell was brought up in Hastings, studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts (Ilam) from 1960–64 and then moved to Auckland where he has continued to live. In 1966 he worked as a cartoon animator and later as art director for an advertising agency. The world of commercial graphics was an ideal background for providing the pop art imagery of many of his paintings. In 1974 he left advertising to freelance as a designer and illustrator and in 1979 he was appointed a lecturer at the Auckland University School of Fine Arts (Elam). Michael Dunn has written of this artist’s “mocking, light-hearted view of art and of the world.”

Like most of the so-called New Image painters of the early 1980s – Denys Watkins, Richard Killeen, Paul Hartigan, Gavin Chilcott – Frizzell’s style is not at all naturalistic; instead it plays with conventions of representation which are taken from many sources. Like McCahon, Frizzell was interested in the low art visuals found in comics and some advertising images (it is no accident that he should have made a painting titled Stranger Meets Phantom which is a teasing homage to McCahon’s Here I Give Thanks to Mondrian). Like Andy Warhol in the USA or David Hockney in England, Frizzell wanted to deflate the importance given to traditional high art subjects and to demonstrate an affection for the banal and ordinary.

In a diary kept during his 1979 journey through the USA Frizzell wrote: “To become familiar with the popular sources of inspiration of Art serves to demythologise it to a considerable extent — it becomes more understandable or approachable and not such an awesome thing.” Thinking about the New Zealand art scene he wrote in a letter from America: “We’ve got to get less stuffy or serious about the peculiar ethical code we seem to have drawn up in isolation. We seem to be locked up in some puritanical time-warp where art has to be seen in an almost direct communication with the gods before it even gets a C+.”

This still life takes as its starting point one of art’s most conventional subjects, an arrangement of flowers in a vase and a jug viewed on a flat surface. Most artists of the past would use this as an opportunity to display their virtuoso painting skills at capturing the fragile delicacy of petals, the polished patina of the table, the subtle shading which defines a relationship between foreground and background. Not so Frizzell. Instead his representation is deliberately crude, garish colours being applied with a large brush which forbids detail, reducing definition to a few simple strokes. The jug with its crawling dragon handle is ugly in conception and painted in a manner which emphasises the fact.

The Fletcher Trust Collection is one of the largest curated private collections of Aotearoa art. The Trust makes works available online as well as via exhibitions initiated by public art institutions and by the Trust itself.

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