Painter Dick Frizzell MNZM is best known for his Pop-inspired paintings and prints. His artworks—which combine both fine art influences and low art sources such as comic book illustrations, kitsch Kiwiana icons, signage, and food packaging—have become some of New Zealand's most well-known images.Read More
His work spans a wide range of subject matter and styles, including faux-naive New Zealand landscapes, still life, and parodies of modernist painting.
Dick Frizzell studied at the University of Canterbury Ilam School of Fine Arts from 1960 to 1963, where his tutors included Rudolf Gopas and Russell Clark. In 1965 he began his career in commercial art and advertising, which proved to be a formative base for his future art practice. He created characters such as Ches'n'Dale for a Chesdale Cheese campaign as well as the iconic mascot of the national Four Square grocery chain.
Dick Frizzell's artistic practice has always been influenced by popular culture. He rejects the intellectualism of modernism, appropriating the style of international art movements as backdrops for his comic imagery. His early work like Cubist Still Life with Hulk Cover, Lemon, and Jug (1974) and The Metaphysical Cheese (1977) are examples of his pastiche of high and low art.
In 1975 Frizzell was included in a group show at Barry Lett Gallery titled New Year, New Work. He then held his first solo show, also at Barry Lett Gallery, entitled A-Fishial Art Show in 1976. During this period, he produced his iconic pop-art enamel paintings based on fish tin labels, such as Black Geisha (1978).
Further bridging the gap between low and high art, in the 1980s Frizzell began to re-work the genre of New Zealand landscape painting, creating faux naive rural scenes, a tongue-in-cheek reclamation of the earnest national landscape tradition. Producing patchworks of roads, sheds, fences, and tree stumps, he dubbed these paintings 'bad landscapes'.
In 1992 Frizzell exhibited his controversial Tiki show at Gow Langsford Gallery. Depicting Māori motifs in a variety of styles derived from modern art and comic imagery, the exhibition was deliberately provocative and ignited vigorous debate about cultural appropriation and post-colonial politics. In Goofy Tiki Study (1992), featuring a stylised hei tiki with the words 'Goofy Tiki', Frizzell responds to the tourist art produced in New Zealand that exploited Māori iconography while stripping it of symbolism and cultural significance.
One of the most recognisable works of contemporary New Zealand art is Dick Frizzell's Mickey to Tiki Tu Meke (1997). The image of Mickey Mouse is morphed over a series of painted heads until it becomes an image of a Māori tiki. Frizzell created the original watercolour and gouache on paper for a fundraising auction. Following the success of the work, Christchurch Art Gallery reproduced the work as a poster and t-shirt. Mickey to Tiki Tu Meke has become New Zealand's best-selling print. In 2013, the original Mickey to Tiki Tu Meke sold on an online Ocula Black auction for NZ $94,000.
After the Tiki paintings, Frizzell went on to produce mock-modernist works. These included Big Soft Stella (1994), which parodied Frank Stella's minimal, hard-edged, and intellectual Black Paintings. Frizzell, by contrast, created a wavy blob-like version in a witty rejection of modernist sensibilities around purity of form and technique.
In many of his more recent paintings, Frizzell has turned to realistic landscapes of rural New Zealand and still lifes, without the parody of his earlier works. The paintings showcase the artist's stylistic range, which has seen him work across abstraction, still life, illustration, Pop art, and folk art.
Frizzell also produces an extensive range of works on paper, including lithographs and screen prints, which include some of the most popular reproductions in New Zealand. He is the author of Dick Frizzell: The Painter (2009), It's All About The Image (2012), and Me, According to the History of Art (2020).
Dick Frizzell's major retrospective exhibition Dick Frizzell: Portrait of Serious Artiste was held in 1997 at City Gallery Wellington. His work is held in collections throughout the country, most notably: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand; Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; The Chartwell Collection; and Auckland Art Gallery. His commissions include creating official artwork for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and a major commission for the Sky City Casino in Auckland.
Frances Crombie | Ocula | 2021