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Walking Back to Happiness: Dick Frizzell


Tue 11 Nov 2008–Fri 5 Dec 2008, 10:00am

Where: Gow Langsford Gallery, Cnr Kitchener and Wellesley Sts, Auckland CBD

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

Related Artists:

Listed by: Gowlangsford

In his 2008 solo exhibition for Gow Langsford Gallery, Dick Frizzell returns to the interests, as he puts it, of ‘his misspent comic-book youth’. Walking Back to Happiness, the title of the exhibition speaks to both the return to a subject matter Frizzell has explored before, and to the sense of nostalgia that has always been a strong component in the artist’s work. While Frizzell is known for the sheer variety of local subject matter that he has employed over the years, (from New Zealand landscape, to road signs, to the ‘four square man’) cartoon imagery, and particularly the Phantom figure, has retained a prominent and recurring role in his oeuvre. Frizzell painted his first ‘Phantom’ painting in 1976, as he says, “a private experiment to see if I could make a painting out of something so personal. Looking back it’s funny to think that it should’ve been so difficult to try my own thoughts and enthusiasms as subject”.

This statement showcases Frizzell’s point of difference from the American pop artists of the 1950s and 60s, who also used everyday objects (traditionally ‘low’ referents) and elevated them to the status of fine art. Roy Lichtenstein for example was an artist who also used cartoon imagery and tactics such as speech bubbles in his work. However, instead of their irony or empty commentary, Frizzell, in his 2002 Phantom show stated: “I wanted my low art sources to be honoured a bit more - not being used to ‘comment’, but being used because of real emotional attachment to the source.”

Such a close attachment can be seen in Walking Back to Happiness, where Frizzell, master of pastiche and reinvention, returns to the comic as source material. Unlike earlier exhibitions featuring the Phantom, here the cartoon hero rarely makes an appearance. Instead, the works can be read as part of Frizzell’s broader and ongoing investigation into pictorial archetypes. In sourcing old comics such as the Phantom comics drawn by Wilson McCoy, Frizzell ‘tweaks the images and universalises them a bit’. Scenes such as a plane flying over the ocean in the dead of night, or the detective of noir having a drink, or a car careering off a cliff are all familiar in our universal memories of an old popular culture. While they are nostalgic they also re-present the images as fresh and new.

Dick Frizzell’s works are held in all of the major public and corporate collections throughout New Zealand. He has completed numerous commissions including works for Sky City Casino (Auckland) and the painting of an Ansett New Zealand airplane for Starship Children's Hospital. In 1997 a retrospective exhibition of his work,Dick Frizzell: Portrait of a Serious Artiste, toured nationally to the major public art galleries of New Zealand, and was accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue. In 2005 Dick Frizzell was chosen to embark on the Invitational Artist Programme in Antarctica. Works completed while on this expedition were exhibited in Sinfonia Antarctica, a group multimedia show held at the New Dowse Museum in 2008. Dick Frizzell lives and works as a full time artist in Hawkes Bay.

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