Whaddaya lookin’ at? Dick Frizzell’s The Sailor Returns!

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The Sailor Returns (2007), Frizzell


The ‘maverick of parody’, the anti-traditionalist, the artist – Dick Frizzell (New Zealand b. 1943) may be the quintessence of contemporary art. His work simultaneously takes influence from his previous involvement in advertising and commercial illustration as well as various artistic movements such as Cubism and Pop Art. Unafraid to blur the lines between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, Frizzell’s work knows no boundaries. Faux-naive New Zealand landscapes, figurative still-life and comic book characters are but some of the endlessly inventive subject matter that characterises Frizzell’s oeuvre, along with his witty parodies of modernist abstraction, seen here in this playful take on a modern classic.

The Sailor Returns is a parody of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which is often hailed as one of the first Cubist paintings. The image depicts five women who are believed to be from the brothel on carrer d’Avinyo (Avignon Street) in Barcelona. The figures are painted under the influence of Primitive African sculpture and Iberian art, allowing Picasso to paint in a stylised way. In their simplicity, they portray a sense of savagery and primitivism that in Frizzell’s version, is somewhat muted.

 Despite the similar use of dark outlines and rigid faceting, unlike Picasso’s nudes, Frizzell’s women hold a less-direct stare, softening the overall feeling the work conjures. Picasso’s early sketches featured two men inside the brothel – one a medical student and the other a sailor. It is the latter that Frizzell includes here, cheekily poking out from behind a curtain. The comical sailor appears in stark contrast to the nude women, who have now become subject to Frizzell’s unique addition of traditional Polynesian garb – the left-hand figure wears a decorative pink lava-lava while the kneeling figure at right has her Iberian and African inspired mask replaced with one that is distinctively Polynesian with its Maori tiki design. Thus standing as a visual synthesis of old and new artistic convention, The Sailor Returns boasts an excitingly innovative style particular to Frizzell that essentially reflects the dynamism of variation characteristic of the 21st century.

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