Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Looking back

Dick Frizzell: Walking Back To Happiness
Gow Langsford
11 November – 5 December 2008

Frizzell is a clever fellow here, using a Helen Shapiro song title to transport his older viewers back to 1961, when the golden period of early Pop Art was emerging with wonderful work by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Oldenburg, Hamilton and others. This show pines nostalgically for that period of the Kennedy era.

Lichtenstein is a strong presence here within Frizzell’s imagery because of the comic book subject matter, yet it pays to remember the technical austerity of those American works of the early sixties. They were technically raw, simple paintings compared to the earlier abstract expressionism, using a small range of colours applied very directly. Frizzell‘s oil paintings, are not nearly so restrained. They are like his very early enamel paintings in that they have lots of under-painted colour peeking through the surface layers or line edges, but with the surface being softer and not skin-like as with enamel. The overpainting is more delicate, feathery, and not quite so opaque.

For Frizzell though, making these is really an easy option – his paean to comic imagery, but without referencing the reproductive processes like Lichtenstein did. Having said that, I still greatly enjoy them. Then again, I happen to collect comics.

There have been times when Frizzell’s projects have managed to really anger sections of his audience, such as when he ‘insensitively’ used Maaori religious imagery - just as Tania Kovats similarly did with Roman Catholic imagery in the ‘virgin in a condom’ controversy at Te Papa. My personal view is that Frizzell’s ‘Tiki’ series was an extraordinary achievement for its wit in incorporating quoted styles from modernist art history, and you can see his influence on younger Maaori artists like Wayne Youle who also delight in cheeky ‘misuse’ of sacred images.

This show though, is not about Aotearoa, but English and American culture – its comics, movies, music, and art. And it is about Frizzell’s love of oil paint and his use of cultural references as an excuse for painting, having fun with the medium and with (now historical) media images.

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