WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS
11 November - 5 December 2008
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.
Winsome Wild, 2008