Oil on board
440 x 510mm
Michael Dunn has written of Dick Frizzell’s ‘mocking, light-hearted view of art and of the world’. Like other so-called ‘New Image’ painters of the early 1980s, including Denys Watkins, Richard Killeen, Paul Hartigan, and Gavin Chilcott, Frizzell favoured a style that was not at all naturalistic. Instead, he played with conventions of representation taken from many sources. Like Colin McCahon, he 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; it is a teasing homage to McCahon’s Here I Give Thanks to Mondrian). Like Andy Warhol or David Hockney, he 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 United States of America, 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: ‘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 that defines a relationship between foreground and background. Not so Frizzell. His representation is deliberately crude, garish colours being applied with a large brush that 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 that emphasises the fact.