Frizzell enjoying space to ‘untangle mess’


Space to ‘‘untangle a mess’’ has been one of the benefits of spending several months as artist in residence at Alexandra’s Henderson House for Auckland artist Dick Frizzell.
He has been able to work on a book he is writing called Me According to the History of Art.
The aim of the book was ‘‘to define my personality and my thinking through art history — the art history that I relate to’’, Frizzell said.
He began downloading images of significant works of art from the internet but realised he could ‘‘get into trouble’’ if he reproduced the paintings.
So instead he was creating his own versions ‘‘to get around complicated international copyright laws’’.
His first thought was to do cartoon ‘‘Frizzell versions of them’’ but he wanted the reader to be able to recognise ‘‘stylistic evolutions’’ that ran through the history of art.
He knew he was ‘‘quite clever at forging and faking’’ so he thought ‘‘maybe I will just re­paint them’’.
‘‘I’ve got this trick that I evolved quite a while ago’’.
He would reproduce an image of the painting on a simple desktop printer, and then paint over it.
‘‘So I copy on to the printout, rather than on a sheet of paper next to it.’’
The final result was an artwork that retained enough of the original composition to understand how it fitted in an art history context.
Creating his ‘‘Frizzell forgeries’’ provided insights into the creative process of the original artists, he said.
‘‘It is intriguing what you discover when you are doing it.’’
People looked upon early pre­Renaissance Byzantine figurative work as being very primitive, he said.
‘‘But actually looking at a Piero della Francesca [painting] you realise that the artist has been very aware of things like the shadow of the left leg across the right leg — little things like that.’’
While the ultimate result in many early Renaissance artworks was ‘‘very staged’’, the degree of observation by painters of the time was ‘‘incredibly acute’’.
Spending several months at Henderson House had enabled him to ‘‘untangle’’ his book.
His first name for the book was A Brief History of Paint, which was a take on Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time.
‘‘I was going to explain myself and my philosophy in this book — how I think, why did I think like I think, how did I end up being me.’’
Beginning during his ‘‘formative years’’ studying at the University of Canterbury in the late 1950s, he began writing about Cubism, which was his ‘‘big breakthrough at art school’’.
So he began a retrospective look at Cubism, but that led to writing about post­impressionist painter Cezanne, which in turn led to writing about modernist painter Manet.
To try to explain his artistic influences he began going back further and further in time.
‘‘I jumped all the way back to cave painting and then wrote myself all the way forward, right up to me.’’
The book had taken about five years to put together, and there would be more work to finish it, but his time in Alexandra had enabled him to ‘‘get to the nub’’ of his book.
‘‘I think the Dick Frizzell thing is an irreverence based on respect and truth.’’
— An exhibition of works from Frizzell’s ‘‘Bark’’ exhibition last year will be showing at Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery in Alexandra from May 24 to July


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