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Straight forward information

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

From his early Pop art-influenced approach to his experiments with landscape and the contested area of appropriation, Dick Frizzell has never shied away. Now he takes on the history of art in his new book Me, According to the History of Art.

Here he talks process, painting and Picasso. And gives his tape dispenser a shout out.

What does a typical day look like?

A typical day…? Answering questionnaires. Out to the studio by 9am. Correspondence until 10. Then to work. Writing if I’m writing. Planning canvases, references, dreams and schemes if I’m painting. Knock off for lunch with Listener or New Yorker. Siesta til 2pm. Walk til 3. Work til 5. Knock off. Go in.

Describe your creative process.

Finding the right metaphor for an emotional response to the world. Hoping to put onto the canvas, or into the book, enough straight forward information to take the viewer or the reader directly to the experience.

How do you measure success?

Financially. Can’t put it simpler than that. Funny how art is not meant to cuddle up to commerce, but it’s mostly the artists not making money who say they’re above it.

Who are your biggest influences?

Picasso and Cedric Morris. Actually, pretty much all the artists I illustrated for my book. But mostly it’s the meat and potato artists who don’t fudge their message.

What role does the artist have in society?

Keeping society’s eyes open. Reinventing the paradigm, refreshing the language. Turfing out all the consoling models that have outlived their use-by date.

What themes do you pursue?

Painting paintings of paintings. And then there are the landscapes...

What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

Hamilton city censoring my touring survey show. This was a bit of utu exacted on me by a grumpy little corner… but, it WAS 1994 and my mash-up of eastern and western cultural signifiers was a bit fresh.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

I hate “Issue art”, but I do stray into trouble occasionally. See above.

In two sentences, teach us something we might not already know.

Most of Art’s “rules” are just organising principles we confuse with holy writ. As you get older you have to learn how to do deliberately what you used to do by accident.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

That they’ve found the perfect Jack Reacher to play in the TV series. And he’s Alan Ritchson. “Hawk” from Titans. Otis and I called it months ago!

What book is beside your bed?

The second volume of The Lives of Lucian Freud.

What's the most indispensable item in your studio?

My tape dispenser gun. I don’t know how I got on without it!

What were you like at 15?

A more gormless version of what I am now at 77. I look back at my art school work and wonder if I’ve learnt anything at all! Mostly I think all I’ve learnt, is how to survive!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Whether you’re in New York, Auckland or on the F***'n moon, you’re on your own” – H C Westermann

Images courtesy of Massey University Press and the artist.

Dick Frizzell, Backyard Painting (Detail), 1981

Dick Frizzell, My illustration of Colin McCahon, A candle in a dark room, 1947

Dick Frizzell, Waikato Landscape, 1985

Dick Frizzell, Fishing Hutt, 1991

Dick Frizzell, Cubist Study, 1971

Dick Frizzell, Lawrence, 2018

Dick Frizzell, A New Landscape, 1981

Dick Frizzell, Birthday Flowers, 1983


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