May 17, 2010

AWRF 2010 - Saturday May 15: Dick Frizzell & John Reynolds

The Festival programme promised “Two of our wittiest artists talk about their art, their inspiration, the health of visual arts in New Zealand and what matters to them in the creative process.”

I didn’t hear anything about the health of visual arts in New Zealand but as that was exactly the part I would have recommended leaving out – as my mother used to say, “To be really elegant, just before you head out the door, take one thing off” --  this was only an improvement, in my eyes.

Dick Frizzell and John Reynolds have both recently produced books of and about their art: Dick Frizzell’s is Dick Frizzell: The Painter, and John Reynolds’s is Certain Words Drawn. I didn’t know this before AWRF 2010; what I did know, and why I went, was that Dick Frizzell did the portrait of Hamish Keith on the cover of Hamish's memoir Native Wit and is a friend of Hamish’s, and I am assuming also of Marshall Cook’s, who has a Dick Frizzell hanging on the wall of his living room if I remember rightly (correction on 28/5 after having been back to Marshall's house: I remembered wrong, it's his bathroom, and there are two of them) and this made me think he must be good company;  and that John Reynolds has to be an interesting person if his imagination could parturate Cloud, 7000 little white canvases billowing across a huge wall, each with a word from the Dictionary of New Zealand English on it in silver letters, which is one of my favourite works of art by a New Zealander.

The first thing that got said, as soon as they filed onstage with Chair Ian Wedde,  was "Take a seat" and it was John R to Dick F. The best thing about this mildly amusing throwaway was that the seat that John R then ended up with, the one that Dick F didn’t have, was too close to the potted palmetto just behind it, so that he was actually in its clutches, so to speak, all through the event, like a figure in a Rousseau junglescape.

Dick Frizzell. Instead of a naked woman on the other side, we had Dick Frizzell in a white suit jacket. In fact, Ian Wedde introduced him as “Dick in the white jacket of course as you will know.” I’ve got three adjectives for his t-shirt and whatever order I put them in it doesn’t seem to work, so I will just list them: French, boat, and striped; then there were jeans and Sperry Topsider-type boat shoes (I don't really know my boat shoe brands but the point is, leather and brown, not horrible Gucci bicoloureds) and a square-faced wristwatch.

I can’t remember if Ian referred to John Reynolds’s hat when introducing him, but I’ll describe it to you because unlike Ian, I am not assuming we are all in the club: clearly a trademark hat, a 1950s fedora on vacation in a sunny clime. Accompanied by a brown shirt with white polka dots, half-open to reveal a red t-shirt, baggy black jeans, and a gorgeous wristwatch of the type with no numbers at all.

I admit to checking if Ian Wedde had a wristwatch too. He did! And he had a good turn of phrase, as befits a poet with a wristwatch. For John Reynolds's speaker bio, on the subject of John’s Diner, the coffee joint JR opened on his return from America: “It didn’t cling to any of the glummer stereotypes of New Zealand glamour.”

Followed by a good question:  “Why a book?”

JR instantly had three answers. “It was a way of engaging in one of my greatest loves which is reading, and you know, when the subject is yourself… And for an artist, when you do a book, you’re collaborating with someone, not like with paintings where you’re always alone in a room… And also so that before the academics get a hold of you, you can do your own distortion.”

DF explained that the idea had been that Hamish Keith would write the book, and he was just going to make some bullet points for him, but then he kept filling in between the points. He built the book with "How to build a book" software and took it to Random House, who wanted it but wanted it in their house style. “Yeah, their style had -- what can I tell you, more spaces between the dots. We had a big fight." He laughs. “I hope Jenny’s not listening to this.” “I am.” comes the voice from the audience.

JR, slyly: “I’ve got a shonky little theory I’m going to share,” and, leaning gleefully out of the palmetto, “Frottage!” At least I think it was “Frottage”  - it sounded a bit like “Frottard!” which I assume would be one who practices “Frottage”. So I wondered, does shonky have a meaning I don’t know? Because “frottage” to me meant what men do who ride the Metro to rub up against women. In fact, despite shonky not meaning that kind of thing (I googled it to be sure), JR does actually mean something like that. His theory is that “to rub up against books, or works of art or (pause) people”, will set your molecules twitching and just in itself will reap you all kinds of benefits.

Dick Frizzell looked on patiently, looking rather like I always imagined Aslan, the lion of the Narnia books. He has a bit of a leonine face – the profile, the bridge of the nose, the set of the eyes.

JR went on to discuss tropical sadness, Claude Levi-Strauss, tattoos, etc. Put on a pair of Mickey Mouse hands “Let me just put on my curator’s gloves,” (appreciative laughter from the house) “I got these at Disneyland.” Knocked his mike off, couldn’t get it back on with the Mickey Mouse hands.

I liked Dick Frizzell’s explanation of his "Bad tikis" paintings: “I saw bad Maori art disappearing and only good Maori art remaining, but you can’t have good art without bad art, so I made it my mission to provide this. I went and painted a lot of bad tikis, and I made it government-sanctioned with a catalogue so it would be impossible to shoot down.”

I noticed that the woman next to me, in a leopard print, lots of gold, and sunglasses which said Dolce e Gabbana in zircons, was wearing a red wristband which gave her entrance to the events – a sponsor, perhaps? Her friend, also in wild beast prints, also jeweled, had one as well. Leopard #1 was taking notes with what appeared to be a fat, shiny fountain pen. I leaned closer, pretending to scratch my ankle. In a twist Dick Frizzell would appreciate, I feel, it turned out to be an Air New Zealand pen.

Ian Wedde: “How do you keep your joie-de-vivre?”
Dick Frizzell: “An American artist said, ‘If you’re thinking too much, you’re getting it wrong.’ That certainly appealed to me!”

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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