DICK FRIZZELL: PAINTING THE HUNT

7 February - 4 March 2012

Frizzell and Hunt team up for exhibition
SARAH CATHERALL

"This is how my poems are supposed to look," says Hunt.

Visual Arts

Take one of New Zealand's best-known artists and pair him up with one of our iconic poets and the result is a range of unique artworks that celebrate both their talents.

Since splashing Sam Hunt's poems over canvas, Dick Frizzell is now moved to tears when he reads his new friend's poems, which is an interesting confession for an expressionist pop artist who admits he's never been keen on poetry.

"I avoided it at school. I always thought, 'Poetry, poetry, what the f… is poetry'?," he laughs.

"But I've been converted to Sam's poetry. It's funny, when you spend a lot of time working with them, I can now hardly quote them without choking. They are so profound."

Frizzell's light-filled studio on the edge of the Haumoana shoreline is filled with art and graphic design books rather than literature. But the Hawke's Bay painter pulls out one book that has consumed many of his hours over the past year - a complete collection of Hunt's poems. Frizzell has always been restless to produce new works and to challenge himself with new projects, and when Arts and Entertainment visited his home, the result of that energy graced his studio walls. An exhibition of Frizzell's efforts, Painting the Hunt, has just begun at Paige Blackie Gallery in Wellington.

But Frizzell and Hunt's collaboration only came about by chance. About three years ago, an advertising agency approached the artist about creating a new Kiwi icon for giant billboards similar to Frizzell's famous Four Square man. That idea didn't take off, until one of the creatives came up with the idea of Frizzell painting a Hunt poem. Frizzell was also keen to capture the Kiwi spirit, rather than an image.

Frizzell took Hunt's work, Wave Song, and put others on big canvases, sending the images off to the poet.

"He was ecstatic," recalls Frizzell. "He said, 'Dick, this is how my poems are supposed to look'."

By this time, Frizzell recalls that Hunt's poems were starting to have an impact on him. He found poems that he was personally drawn to, and Hunt would explain the meaning behind each.

Says the poet: "The page is just a store of the poem. When someone else comes along and puts the poem out there in a different way, it makes you see the poem again. For me, seeing the poem on canvas is like literally seeing the poem in a new light."

It's not the first time that Hunt's poems have been transformed into another genre. He regularly collaborates with the guitarist/singer, David Kilgour, who has turned his poems into songs for the album, Falling Debris. Hunt, a performance poet, has also worked with country and western band The Warratahs, modern classical musician Gareth Farr, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

New Zealand has long had a tradition of celebrating text in art - the legendary Colin McCahon is best known for it and Ralph Hotere has also incorporated text. Frizzell, a graphic designer by trade, has been well known for turning iconic signs into art. In his Haumoana studio, he has huge reference files of signage that have inspired art like his fruit and vegetable signs, and books too.

"I've always been fascinated by the lettering form and by pop art."

Hunt is hundreds of kilometres north, on the Kaipara Harbour, on Northland's west coast, where he's currently working on another book of poems spanning his lifetime. While he has only met Frizzell twice - at the launch of their first exhibition in Auckland last year, and again in Wellington at the Page Blackie launch last week -  he has been a fan of the artist's work. When Hunt's adult son, Tom, was young, they regularly devoured a book that Frizzell had illustrated, The Magpies, which was written by Denis Glover.

"Dick has sent a copy to my grandson, Loki," says Hunt. "I've always known a lot of his art over the years."

The rest of the time the pair communicate online, Frizzell eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hunt's emails which read like poetry, and are even presented like poems.

"What we do both have in common," says Frizzell, "is that we both inhabit this peculiar space. We've both committed the ultimate sin of being understood."