Dale Frank

Dale Frank is a phenomenon. He is closer to a force of nature than a run-of-the-mill human being. I almost felt lifted off my feet with the power of his new works at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. The MONA-esque, uniform black walls gave it the overall feel of an installation. Yet each spot-lit painting – so encrusted, so flooded, with pigment as to be objects in the here and now rather than two-dimensional windows on to another world – was like a psychedelic aquarium, frozen in time and submerged in a post-diluvian world. Strap yourself into this big dipper of a show, and surrender to Frank’s Magik.

There is an argument to be made that his work is a by-product of his very remarkable life; or that his paintings exist to support a range of other, very diverse, passions and projects. 

I could write about the way his multi-coloured pigment is poured like liquid toffee, and how the pull of gravity creates loops and gloops, all played by the artist with the intensity of concentration needed when engaging with a pinball machine. His methodology includes: pouring, burning, scratching, adulterating, and “pushing it until that moment when the process becomes an experimental science unto itself.” 

There is not much room for chance here. The accuracy of his visual experimentation is closer to Sigmar Polke or Jessica Stockholder than to Jack the Dripper. Then I remember the advice of my old editor at Artscribe magazine, Matthew Collings, who cautioned that “readers don’t want descriptions of brush strokes or dripping paint. It’s boring. Find other ways.” This was in the pre-YouTube era. Now, thirty seconds of YouTube is worth a thousand words of text. But better still, look at the trailer for a film about Frank’s life that he’s released as a way of raising $400,000 to complete the film. (“I have to do this,” he says at one point. “I’ve doubled my overdraft and spent it all already”). Hopefully it’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. It will also give you an insight into the man who is described in the promotional material for the film as “a very high functioning neuro-diverse and socially phobic hermit.” Intrigued, I read on: “The stakes are high, the art world is fickle and Dale spends as lavishly as he creates. Dale’s art works fund his other projects: his ever-evolving rural estate where he lives among the largest private natural history collection in Australia, and the fifty-hectare exotic arid zone Botanical Garden he is creating.”

This is his fortieth exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. It also celebrates forty years of the gallery’s operation. Artist and dealer are very close friends.

Part confessional, part pitch to raise funds that will be channelled back into the one-man-band that is the reclusive Dale Frank, we are told: “Dale has inner demons and health struggles to contend with. Due to debilitating illness Dale battles chronic and excruciating pain. But with help from morphine, medicinal booze and cigarettes, not to mention his good-humoured assistants, James and Trev, Dale’s resilience, creative drive, and capacity for hard work bulldoze through each day to get the work done.” Bravo, James and Trev, who feature in the trailer, lifting and pouring, positioning canvases as well as full-grown palms in the fifty-hectare garden. 

These artworks have become more ambitious and more experimental with each of his forty exhibitions. I first looked long and hard at his work when I awarded him the Geelong Art Prize back in the 1990s (the fact checker for the Geelong Advertiser must have been asleep at the wheel that night, for the next day the headline in The Addie was “Frank Dale wins Art prize”). Since then, I have seen his work at art fairs in Germany, and public and private collections all over the world. The last big Frank show I visited (several times) was the opening exhibition of Melbourne’s vast Neon Parc gallery in Brunswick. It couldn’t have been more different to this. White walls, filled with light, many of the artworks used mirror effects and kinetic elements. This is good, it shows continual experimentation, constant evolution. 

I will only give you the name of one of the works at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, for each has a title that is halfway between a haiku and a narrative short story. One of my favourite paintings has been baptised “Cassy lived in Jenner Parade Newcastle West and divided her time between working at Innerself Holistic Therapy Centre and assisting in the Girls Sex Education Classes at Newcastle High where she meets Julie who shared her passions for getting blind on a Friday night and for Rihanna, 2021; Interference colour pigment in Easycast, Epoxyglass, on Perspex; 200 × 200 cm.” All the works in this show are this size, adding to the feel of an immersive installation.

As I walked around the exhibition for the third or fourth time, one of the gallery managers came across to tell me that Frank had just phoned in to say he wanted Lou Reed’s Transformer played continually on a loop for the remainder of the show. His experimentation never stops. I had viewed the works in silence. But I had my noise cancelling headphones with me, and Transformer was on my iPhone. I made a final tour of the show listening to It’s Such a Perfect Day. Which it was.

this is a flotation device, this is not a lifesaving device
3 June – 2 July 2022
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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