David Frazer

'Love Letter' is David Frazer's ninth book illustrating lyrics from the artist's beloved rock musicians. Having previously drawn from Paul Kelly, Martin Flanagan, and Cold Chisel's Don Walker, Frazer turns now to the work of Nick Cave. The book stands at the centre of 'A Kind of Prayer': an exhibition of responsive, painstaking images created using woodblock printing techniques, in a labor of love which defies the "depersonalising" repeatability with which printmaking is too often associated.

The book Love Letter takes up the lyric mode of Nick Cave’s song of the same name, from the album No More Shall We Part. What, exactly, might it mean for visual art to partake of the lyric mode – a way of writing, and of reading, usually associated with poems in the first person, full of self-interrogation, yearning, and and (lost) love? The lyric lonesomeness of Frazer’s prints is not just to do with their foregrounding of a single – male – figure, usually facing away from the viewer, as if to seal his own solitude. It is also in the material intensity of Frazer’s process: the hours of focussed work which these woodblock prints imply. This sustained work, too, requires a degree of solitariness, and reflection, and indeed love; Frazer is demonstrably devoted both to his craft and to the music with which he works in concert. 

The book is comprised of twenty-one wood engravings, which have been bound together by artisan George Matoulas. In a catalogue essay for the exhibition, Caroline Field writes that the physically demanding nature of working in this medium, and to this scale, was part of Frazer’s effort to ‘remove the peripheral’ from his work. The illustrations in Love Letter were engraved on English boxwood, printed with typeset on a Columbian platen press built in the 1850s, and hand bound into an edition of twenty on Zerkal 145gsm paper. An emphasis on the weighted, resolute materiality of the carving and printing process lends these pieces an auratic sense of correspondence to the artist’s body, and to the affective and intellectual states in which the work was made. The ‘peripheral’ is indeed shaved off the work, to allow a searing focus on the emotive focus of both Frazer’s images and Caves lyrics, with which they interact. This is a far cry from any notion of printing as an exercise in flat repetition.

The book forms part of an expansive exhibition, A Kind of Prayer, throughout the space at Australian Galleries Melbourne, in which woodblock prints are shown alongside corresponding enlarged linocuts which, in Field’s words, “describe the same cutting in broader strokes, simplifying and reducing detail.” The show, itself, can be usefully understood as a love letter of its own sort: to Cave, to the misfits his lyrics speak to and represent, and to printmaking, a craft to which Frazer has now committed almost three decades of his life. 

David Frazer: A Kind of Prayer
24 November – 18 December 2021
Australian Galleries, Melbourne


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