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Landscapes capture road trips for level 1

A really great thing about being at level one, is that we can take a holiday in New Zealand and feel as though we are playing a part in rebuilding the economy. What better excuse?

I suspect that many of these trips will be road trips and at this time of year New Zealand’s landscape is bright, wintery and particularly beautiful.

This has made me think about some of the landscapes that are held in the Hawke’s Bay Museum’s Trust Collection. Landscapes are one of many strengths of the collection and the collection holds work by artists as renowned as Rita Angus, Charles Heaphy and Brent Wong. You can see art work by these artists on the MTG Hawke’s Bay’s website here.

But for me, Just Outside of Taumarunui by Dick Frizzell captures the experience of a road trip more than any other landscape work in the collection, wonderful though many of the others are. In this view of the backblocks of Taumarunui, Frizzell conjures up memories of many road trips I’ve had through the country and all the autumnal beauty of the country at the moment.

If you talk about art in Hawke’s Bay, Frizzell is the first name that people mention, he is something of an icon around these parts.

And he is in fact a ‘true local’, Frizzell was raised in Hastings and says he is “an old boy of Hawke’s Bay”. As a child he went to Parkvale Primary, Hastings Intermediate and Hastings Boys High School. His father was the Chief Engineer at the Tomoana Freezing Works and his aunt ran a dress shop on Hastings Street, Hastings. The family lived near Windsor Park.

“It was on the edge of town with rural on one side and suburban beginning to build up on the other. It was the stuff of a classic kiwi childhood, an archetypal childhood. There was countryside, saw mills, wilderness. It was untamed and amazing.” Frizzell remembers. 

Frizzell is art school trained, had a long stint in advertising and a pretty impressive art career, so I guess it’s no surprise in reputation he foots it with the best.

Frizzell is well versed in painting history and as Hamish Keith once said about him, he doesn’t invent, he reinvents. “Dick picked up the threads of New Zealand landscape and rewove them”.

You can see that reinvention in this lithograph print, where Frizzell has used techniques from nineteen century landscape painting. Tropes such as the light caps on his broccoli-like bushes, silhouetted trees and his use of atmospheric perspective (whiting out objects in the distance) illustrate Frizzell’s wide-ranging interest in landscape painting.

Although the real point here, is what Frizzell does with this technical know-how. For Frizzell, there’s no overblown attempt at the sublime, no metaphoric overlay or political reference. This is about image making and Frizzell is using his graphic smarts for the express purpose of making a great picture, full stop.

For Frizzell, “it’s all about the image” and that is what makes his landscapes so relatable. Like the continuous stream of landscapes you see while starring out the window as a traveller, the experience is a visual one, free of symbolic weight. Here Frizzell is giving us pure retinal nourishment, light on form, shapes of colour, patterns made in marks.

There is also something of the commonplace about Frizzell’s landscape. While it might look to lofty traditions in landscape in its technical concerns, this work is more comic strip than grand, more Hockney than Da Vinci. Frizzell employs a style that is accessible and this helps us relate to his work. This is art making for all, storytelling for people, and of that, Frizzell is an absolute master.

Image caption: Just Outside Taumarunui, 1989. By Dick Frizzell  

14 June 2020

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