Saturday, October 5, 2013

From Earth's End Spotlight: Dick Frizzell

Above: Dick Frizzell at his Auckland studio, 2013. Photographed by Adrian Kinnaird, copyright 2013.

"I’m amazed at how consistent I’ve been actually, over the years, with my interest and love of the comic book image — the line work, the whole thing. Everyone asks me, what drew you to commercial art or pop art, and if you look back it’s not a decision, it’s just what you are. For some reason you take that level of enterprise seriously — as a big deal, even though it’s just a comic."

As one of New Zealand’s most popular fine artists, Dick Frizzell’s artwork is both iconic and engaging in its ability to communicate ideas through imagery. This particular facility to compress information into a series of highly memorable images has served Frizzell well in a career that has spanned the popular culture spectrum - from fine arts to advertising and illustration.

The follow is an exclusive excerpt from From Earth's End: The Best of New Zealand Comics, in which I go in-depth with Frizzell on his art, advertising and his life-long love of comic book imagery.

Above: Mickey To Tiki (1997). Copyright Dick Frizzell 2013.

It should come as no surprise that Frizzell has drawn on imagery from comics for some of his most well-known artworks, including pieces inspired by The Phantom comic books, or the controversial Mickey To Tiki (1997). Unlike other pop artists who were simply intent of borrowing imagery from comics in passing – most notably Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Dick Frizzell has had a life-long appreciation for comics, which has inspired and informed his approach to art in a profound way – reflecting a deep understanding of the visual language and medium of comics.

Above: A childhood cartoon by Dick Frizzell. Copyright Dick Frizzell 2013.

“I was into comics as far back as I can remember,” recalls Frizzell. “My father was quite keen on a couple of comics that he must have read in America when he was a sailor. He somehow managed to track them down, and he’d come home and give me these copies of newspaper cartoon reprints, in the style of Bringing Up Father – very clever, literate drawings and writing. The quality of the work was very high, these guys were classically trained illustrators.”

Frizzell taught himself to draw by coping his favourite examples. “Growing up I used to copy from comics all the time. In my little bedroom in Hastings I had a desk set up by the window, and I would copy comics artists like Carmine Infantino from The Flash. I could sit there all afternoon re-drawing an entire comic on loose sheets, and then pin them around the wall in my bedroom. When I went to Varsity, my mother took them all down and burnt them! I’ve still got a few random cartoons that I managed to save.”

Above: An Frizzell drawn advertisement for Levi's Jeans (1970s). If you look closely, you can see the stylistic influence of Batman artist Bob Kane, one of Frizzell's favourites.

His interest in comics would later influence his advertising career, with many clients gravitating towards 'comic book style’ solutions, convinced that "nobody could resist that graphic clarity, the framed narrative”. This belief proved right, and he created comic style artwork for clients like Tip Top ice cream and Levi’s Jeans.

Above: Tiwa Chief (1976), enamel on canvas. Copyright Dick Frizzell 2013.

When Frizzell returned to painting in the late 1970's, it was an image from a comic book that would provide the inspiration for a new direction in his artwork. “One night out in the garage, when no one was watching, I painted this Tiwa Chief, just transposed it straight from a Phantom comic onto a little canvas I had lying around. Just drawing loosely with enamel paint out of these tins, and it was just incredibly exciting doing it – and it worked. I thought it was amazing, all I had to do was transmute it from this little drawing to an actual canva in paint, and that just did it. And then I experimented with something else, and another image…and as they say, the rest was history.”

So what is it at about certain comic images that Frizzell responds to? “I figured out over time that it’s always about looking for an archetype. Images like the running man, or the jumping horse, a vase of flowers…images that are completely inert, but communicating volumes at the same time. That’s what I look for when I’m going through those Phantom comics, a narrative archetype. I like the ones that are like a finger going up to turn on the light switch, or a cutaway…the panels between the action. Those little frames, the compositions were just so immaculate”.

Above: Dick Frizzell at the opening of his current exhibition, The Dance of the Hooligans.

Dick Frizzell's current art exhibition, The Dance of the Hooligans, currently on at the Gow Langsford Gallery in Auckland, features several pieces infused by Frizzell's interest in comics imagery, and should not be missed! Gow Langsford Gallery is located at 26 Lorne st, with the exhibition running from October 2 - 26th. 

If you'd also like to find out more about Dick Frizzell, you can interact with him on his newly launched Facebook page, Dick's World, right HEREFrom Earth's End: The Best of New Zealand Comics is available for pre-order from a bookstore near you right now, and will be hitting the streets November 1st!


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