Dale Frank

Dale Frank’s work from the early 1970s to now appears to be without a beginning or an end, constantly evolving from one work to the next. Whether it’s his films, paintings, sculptures, performances, drawings or installations, they all seem to be elements of an ever-expanding whole. They offer everything and yet are elusive. They have rules where there are no rules. Being in their presence can either repel or entice, yet both experiences stay forever. He works at an uncompromising pace with no exhibition in mind. Yet his works have been exhibited and collected worldwide. For Issue 42, 2018, Artist Profile stayed with him in his extraordinary home and studio in Singleton, NSW.

What were the younger Dale Frank’s interests?
David Bowie, Lou Reed, Television’s album Marquee Moon, Karl Heinz Stockhausen, Beethoven, geology, geography, maps of all kinds, European history, Napoleon, Hitler, Modern Art, all modern architecture (except Frank Lloyd Wright), Shaun Cassidy, physics, astronomy, Kenya, Tanganyika, Mark Rothko, everything on television, all movies, astrology (especially Virgo with Scorpio rising), exotic gardening, Dunhill and Kent cigarettes, money.

Were you inspired by any teachers?
No. From the age of 15, my high school art teacher Robert Robertson, also a painter, would enter my name in state art prizes. After a time, I was invited and exhibiting in group exhibitions (Wynne Prize, AGNSW; Cooks Hill Gallery, Newcastle). I was invited to the Mildura Sculpture Triennial when I was 16. I was hiring buses, organising bus tours to rabbit warrens along the Sturt Highway as sculpture installations; and starting a public petition locally to have Mildura join Adelaide time, 30 minutes behind, as sculpture. Then the following year finishing high school. I was invited by Noel Sheridan, director of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, to do several ‘artist in residences’.

What about tertiary art institutions?
In 1979, I moved to Europe and considered active participation in the international art world to be the ‘best’ university art school any artist could imagine, proceeding from naive ambiguous yet ambitious innocence to professional exhibiting artist.

Which artist inspired you the most when you started?
As a kid I had Robert Rauschenberg images pinned to my bedroom walls – his goat and tyre. At the age of 14 or 15, I saw a series of paintings by Robert Ryman in an American exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Ryman’s work built upon my emphatic love for Rothko. Equally, at the same time or shortly after, I came across Vito Acconci and Paul Thek. Overlaying all this was the view of artists in movies. It may seem superfluous but Shirley MacLaine played Louisa in the film What a Way to Go! (1964), in which she is married to avant-garde artist Larry Flint (played by Paul Newman), who devises a machine to respond to sound and music to create automatic violent paintings. In another film, The Art of Love (1965) Dick van Dyke was an artist who falls into a river. People mistakenly think he’s dead, and this results in his prices going up and up, so secretly he keeps painting to keep the prices rising. And, there’s the 1971 film Goya, by Konrad Wolf, and of course Lust for Life (1956), with Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh. TV documentaries and films have always been a major influence over the last 40 years.

Were there others who influenced you along the way?
Firstly not in the way you may think. In 1981 I moved into a studio in Amsterdam. Vindictiveness, when an artist’s vision of their reality is collapsing, is not a trait in an artist to be emulated. Helena Kontova, the editor of Flash Art magazine, was a great supporter and influence. For the five years I lived in Milan I saw her regularly and her ability to aesthetically and critically relate my work to what was happening in art at the time was both profound and enabling.

In the mid 1980s there were plenty of sales, but artists, even the best, were never ‘paid’. Payment for sales usually involved taking the train to Geneva to be fitted out with shirts and outrageously expensive suits, or finding out you had a fully paid penthouse apartment, with a butler, on a beach in the Canary Islands for three months. All the while you lived from one dinner invitation to another dinner invitation. But at least you knew whatever paint, canvas, stretchers, photography, anything you needed, the bill could and would be sent to your gallery. It was a difference I appreciated when five years earlier, starting out in Europe, existence was living on a dozen apples from one night to the next night. It was an influence, in that I saw the all-encompassing approach by European galleries, which as a result, even today, when certain galleries do not pay sales, I am a little more relaxed than most artists.

On the other hand the local galleries today and even back in the 1980s, did nothing, in respect to galleries in Europe. Finding that they had costs to meet is not relevant. Over the time I met many, then prominent, now historically important artists, as well as gallery dealers, as well as several fashion and music industry performers who became friends. All had an influence in my seeing the long-term picture. Again also, in TV and films, from Stanley Kubrick to Melancholia (2011), Interstellar (2014), The Idiots (1999), Marfa Girl (2012) and Arrival (2016).

Did you intend to remain in Australia after your return?
No, there are never set plans, predetermined or calculated. The fact is I had been based away for 10 years, then spent slightly too long back, longer than previously. My situation with my local gallery made it difficult for me to return to Europe. I had children, which presented different circumstances. I became settled in Australia in 1989, but after losing my house and studio to Westpac in the financial crash, I returned to Europe in 1992 for one year, having a show with Galerie Albert Baronian in Brussels and with Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. Unfortunately it was the depths of financial recession. It was a difficult 12 months. I decided it was better to concentrate on the work regardless of where I lived, even though I knew Australia would not be open to my work, as I had not followed the anticipated path.

Have you maintained your early contacts?
Definitely yes with some close connections. The artist’s media may come and go. The art world today is perceived to be fickle, only interested in the next five minutes, but the people you connect with are life-long, just as the place and reference of your own art is within art history, as distinct from media. The wise people are nice to me on their way up because they know I will likely greet them on their way down.

Your application of varnishes and paints is unorthodox.
The earliest paintings used palette knives to push and spread accumulated poured acrylic. Then they were poured and physics was used rather than a knife. There are distinct evolutions in the visual-ness of the work. The problem has been that people have not been presented with an overview. So they are left with only their scattered memory and momentary viewing. Each show has been an evolution. Institutions only survive on numbers, attendance, public pre-determined thrill, so I don’t expect you will have the ability to get a conscious overview of my 40-year practice until sometime after I am dead, curated by a brave curator, currently still owing nothing to no-one.

How does time operate in the development of your biomorphic forms?
Time is just a material I use and must master, as with paint. Time is context. Time is a physical, solid property. Time is as fluid as gravity and varnish but as regulated as concrete. Time is the only constant material I use across all other mediums in my work. Time is the agenda and completion of lists that marks out both the individual works and the life of an artist. Everything can be forgiven, except killing time.

Do the titles of your paintings come before or after the painting has been completed?
Always after when I am needed to provide a title. The titles are a parallel universe verse.

Many of your 2004-1997 Monochromes have specific male titles suggesting that in non-objective painting, portraiture has always been a concern. Is this so?
No and yes. The Monochromes were always titled after sexy or cool male actors, usually with connections to films I liked, sometimes actors falling into old age, sometimes actors falling into disgrace, sometimes actors whose star has risen and fallen, actors in the Good looking Top 50 List, actors sometimes known only to a select fan base.

Can you discuss the concept of reflection in your paintings? Do you mean to refer to the viewer’s reflection?
The reflective surface is like escapism; it shows the image of something that happens somewhere else. The work in its pure form exists only when you are not looking at it. You never know what the work is, conceptually speaking. I oppose the entire idea that artworks exist only insofar as they are available for human viewing. Artworks tend to be more interested in pointing out how they exist, act, and live beyond the realms of human perception, a paradox of sorts given the contrived nature of artworks. On one hand, my work likes to observe the society we live in, where everything is individualistic. We are trapped in ourselves. As soon as you enter, you are trapped in mirrors, trapped in the paintings, with yourself reflected. On the other hand, the painting actually only exists when you are not looking at it. The real paintings live life outside the gaze of the viewer and the artist.

Has your commitment to beauty meant that everything you make is worthy of presentation?
The force, the beauty, that remains, the art, is ‘charisma’. Charisma pouring out of anything whatsoever. The charismatic pull is the ‘art’ of the object, the painting, acting on its viewers, a property all objects can possess. It is art-like and lives a second life around and about art. Painting can be described not only in terms of the logic or strategy, but also in terms of an aesthetic of its own. Developing its own language, signs, its own beauty, these elements are always present in my work. Then on the other side there is the image and the seduction of communication expressed through forms and pictures. I like art that seduces, that the content is provocative and aggressive at the same time. I like contradiction. But finally and firstly for the viewer, my paintings, like all good art, exists through the complete sensuous seduction of the eye – you have to look at it.

Can you discuss the three recent films you have made and when/where are you planning to present them?
Three films were finished in 2017. Filming has started on the fourth, due to be finished before April-May this year and probably to be screened in Germany. Not in sequential order, but the first film, GOYA, was filmed in Hong Kong. I went with a cameraman from Sydney. Pearl Lam Gallery in Hong Kong supplied four assistants and further equipment, and a sound recording man. The gallery did all the initial meetings and gained the approvals from the clubs and organisations. This 60-minute film is around the boom in Hong Kong of Salsa Kizomba dancing. Asia is the dominant force and Hong Kong the focal point of world Latin salsa dancing. The film captures dance plots in three Salsa dance clubs over a week period in the steamy Hong Kong summer, interlaced with personal visual narratives of certain people coming and going to the city. Equally important are the Filipino house maids, who fill and close the upmarket shopping streets on their Sundays off, to dance, Vogue dance, Salsa dancing in groups. The film’s eight-layer soundtrack is an orchestrated editing of the movie theme music, as well as major Salsa and Kizomba scores.

The Creation of the World thru Fluffy’s Arse, the second film, is completely abstract, a 40-minute deluge of optic kaleidoscopic, visually pulled in and out with the overplayed layered sound track of Bernard Hermann’s theme music from the film, Vertigo (1958).

The third film, First Date, of 30 minutes, was filmed in China, Australia and the US, and rolls around many segments, 13 episodes, or 13 ‘first dates’ by two young men and two women. Anticipation, disappointment, indifference, possibilities searched for in a fleeting glance from another. And the fourth film, which will be about 75 minutes, is still being filmed and is maybe a suspense, maybe a murder, maybe about love. Two 19- or 20-year-old male actors, driving, parking, drinking, on the lookout for parking, talking truths.

What I love most about filming work is laying out first in my head what I want in scenes, directing, and letting the reality and the risk of the participants spill. Then with five times the amount of film I need, editing a story. It is the same as in the studio, the materials are brought together, they react, take on their own life, and I edit, place together in unexpected associations what I want to create in a story.
As to where I will present them, I have thought about it, but it is not a serious consideration just now. I want to get these works done, and a few more. Several films will be screened in New York in 2018, and at two venues in Europe, later in 2018.

It is too difficult in Australia due to preconceptions, A dealer says, ‘But you’re a painter, the films must be boring.’ And an institutional director says, ‘You are doing films, maybe we might show one in the summer holidays when the gallery is really slow.’ So what can one say?

How far ahead are you usually planning the next work?
Evolution of works, evolution of materials. Within five or six types of works I am working on the evolution, the visual of a thought of them. My night is then spent online in research and ordering materials from the Ukrainians or Chinese.

Are works discarded if errors occur or do you work through errors?
RULE ONE. There is no such thing as an error, nothing is a mistake.

Is your aim to begin a new work every day?
It is not my ‘aim’. It is my practice, RULE TWO. Always has been, always will be.

Is there any specific period of your process that you begin using the readymade onto your work?
I adhered LP vinyl records to paintings in 1982. In the 1980s, in my show at Albert Baronian Galerie in Brussels, I dragged the dealer’s original Joe Colombo chair from his home into the gallery and it was part of the painting hanging behind it. In my exhibition at Massimo Audiello Gallery in New York, I had taken all the gallery’s paper rubbish from their bins on the street, piled it into the corner, and stood my painting in front of it. I had an exhibition of paintings painted onto an inflated double bed mattress. In the 1990s at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, it had readymade components. At Sherman Goodhope in Sydney, a large cotton-covered sofa was painted red, its timber legs resting in pink plastic funnels. And I painted the inside of a VW Kombi van and wheeled it into Sherman as a painting. In Canberra, I filled an above-ground swimming pool with varnish. The readymade is no longer a component, but the structure. At Anna Schwartz, Melbourne, hundreds in pine tree shaped air fresheners were suspended, filling the gallery with the scent of pine and vanilla, wafting out the permanently open doors down Flinders Lane. The answer is always.

You seem to demand a lot from your materials.
I am told I demand a lot from everyone and everything. But that is only a fraction of what I demand from myself, and my work.

Dale Frank is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland and Pearl Lamb Galleries, Hong Kong  

This interview was originally published in Artist profile, Issue 42, 2018

Dale Frank: Shaun Taught Piano
17 April – 16 May 2019
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney ~ online only


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