Dick Frizzell talks to Good about spectacles, artistic visions and charity.
Words Carolyn Enting.
It’s fair to say that artist Dick Frizzell has made a tangible difference in 2016. The sale of each pair of limited edition Frizzell Frames featuring his iconic woodgrain print for Specsavers saw $25 donated to Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, funding cataract kits for its Pacific Outreach team. The frames sold out after just six weeks!
Another recent collaboration for a good cause is with Blunt umbrellas for which Frizzell has created a limited-edition ‘weather bomb’ design to raise funds for Oxfam’s climate change initiative. The 1000 pre-sale Christmas orders sold out in six and a half days, raising $40,000. Blunt is now taking orders for a second delivery in March, timed to coincide with Oxfam’s Trailwalker ( oxfamtrailwalker.org.nz ). Blunt’s goal is to raise $60,000 for Oxfam to make a real difference to Pacific communities severely affected by adverse weather.
Dick, you’re a spectacle wearer yourself and always have really interesting frames, how long have you been wearing glasses?
Since the late 70s when I was seriously thinking of sawing [down] some of the chair legs at my office because everything seemed too close to my face. I thought maybe spectacles were needed.
Why did you say yes to working with Specsavers and Fred Hollows Foundation NZ?
One of the reasons is that I related to Fred Hollows personality and sense of adventure. He just threw himself out there. He was kind of an Ed Hillary type, you know what I mean? … I was dead chuffed to be asked actually, yeah, flattered.
The special edition Dick Frizzell glasses feature your iconic woodgrain print. What did you originally design the print for?
Years ago somebody had this idea of taking a bunch of artists out to the Crown Lynn pottery and I was one of them. They had all these blank plates and jugs and we were to decorate them … I thought it would be fun to make the ceramic look as though it’d been made of wood. I did this Fred Flintstone sort of cartoon woodgrain. It was very popular. Then later in Hawke’s Bay I re-jigged the design for fabric. So I had a signature thing going. [For the glasses] I wanted a design that flowed naturally along… I mean, there was a very small space to operate on.
Do you have a design philosophy, and how do you bring that into your work?
My design philosophy is to not superimpose a pet idea into the first opportunity you get to express it. That’s why you have to approach the question totally pragmatically, like the answer’s in there, not over there waiting to be jammed into the question; that’s the secret that I think a lot of young people don’t figure out. They see something in a book, you know, Tom Ford or something, and the next job they get they jam a thing in there even if it’s inappropriate, it doesn’t work. I mean, you can’t put a sans serif font into an ad for a Bentley or something you know what I mean? That’s the bottom line, you know. So hopefully the ego doesn’t sort of take charge.
Do you do much in the way of product design, or do you mainly call yourself an artist?
Painting is the core business and everything kind of flows from that. But I do like design, I like the challenge of design. To me, painting and design, it’s all a conceptual challenge anyway… I mean painting is a really weird private activity, you just work on your own, you pull the stuff out of your head, no one even asked you to do it. And then you put it in an exhibition hoping it will connect, that it might sell something or whatever. And sometimes you’re in tune with what’s going on, sometimes you’re not. It’s like being an old blues musician, you go in and out of fashion. But the design work, there’s always a specificity about it. People come in, they want this thing to be made to work, or whatever. You know, “we need this”, and so the trick is to figure it out, to find the answer.
You get approached to do a lot of collaborations including recently designing a chair for Bowel Cancer awareness. How do you choose projects you want to be involved with?
Like I said earlier, I related to Fred Hollows because of the whole personality and the project, but the other thing that I was talking about earlier is that this is one of those charities which is totally transparent, you can see where the money goes in and where it comes out … the thing is, I can do it. It’s only a day’s work or whatever.
Have there been particular highlights from 2016 that stick out for you?
Well I’ve got 30,000 cookbooks coming down from China, that’s a bit of a highlight – Cooking 4 Change. That’s for charity too. [The Cooking 4 Change Foundation was created to support organisations who do the right thing by helping to feed people and reduce food poverty.] And I did a really nice silkscreen print to raise funds for the Hundertwasser art gallery up in Whangarei.