Ready For An Art History Lesson From One Of New Zealand’s Most Renowned Artists And Personalities?
In an innovative new book published by Massey University Press in November, readers can follow Dick Frizzell as he tries to make sense of western art history. He tracks from cave art right through to today and has a crack at recreating most of the book’s 125 paintings to get an understanding how they have influenced him, his work and his DNA as a 21st century painter.
In typical Frizzell style, it’s a romping good read interlaced with humour and effervescent accounts. But none of it is a joke: Dick holds the painters of the past in high esteem and reproducing the book’s selection of significant paintings,
from Rubens and Tintoretto to Cezanne and Lichtenstein, to gain a better understanding of their work, was a labour of love, done over the period of a year.
‘My aim in writing this book — and painting the reproductions of the works that appear in it — is to clarify, demystify and deobfuscate this mad business of smoke and mirrors we call art,’ he says. ‘And I’m going to tell that story
against my background, which means that it’s a very Eurocentric, Western story. Politically or historically correct or not, this is the story I feel behind me. It explains who I am as an artist. You could call it The Anatomy of Dick. Because art history might be shit. But the history of art isn’t. It’s the story of my life — and yours.’
The book’s premise also evolved as it progressed. ‘It didn’t start out as an Art History thing. I initially thought I could
explain myself through something as practical and pragmatic as the history of paint. And then I started doing a bit of
research … I was constantly conscious of balancing my frustration with academic obfuscation with my respect for those very disciplines. I think the thing that kept me level was the fact that I knew I was writing from the point of view of the painter, with the understanding that getting the stuff from the palette to the painting hasn’t changed much in 32,020 years.’
Cubism is an ongoing love affair for Dick and is an important focus of the book. ‘It’s what kicked off the whole book really. Going back to my formative years at art school. Cubism was the first ‘concept’ I actually grasped. In a curious way the book traces Cubist principles all the way back to the Renaissance, where paintings began to be structured from front to back as well as corner to corner. It’s the over-arching structure of the entire narrative.’
Me, According to the History of Art
is an art history education that both art lovers and novices will enjoy. ‘I hope,
vainglorious though it sounds, that “my” readers come away with an open and airy sense of the story of art, and how
it is essentially an illustrated record of the evolution of our efforts to understand each other and our relationship with the world we live in,’ Dick says. ‘The main problem — and the most fabulous thing — is that the harder you try to demystify something like art, or philosophy, the more mysterious it gets. Creativity is really just the ability to see when a philosophical organising principle is past its use-by date and finding ways to refresh it. The idea that art helps us to keep ‘seeing’ the world anew (and hence continuing to value it) is probably my bottom line.’
There’s a helpful glossary of art terms and Frizzell’s generosity extends to the final section of the book, titled ‘Big Box
Developments’ where he outlines much of his thinking about the creative process, explains his grid approach to making a painting and shares other tips and hints to painters
Striking, novel, entertaining and engaging, this lively 312-page book is a must-have.