Neil Frazer Exhibitions

Neil Frazer

Southern Elevations

26 Jul - 20 Aug 2007

Exhibition Works

Maximum E
Maximum E (2005)
Pinnacles (2007)
Deep Point
Deep Point (2006)
Ice Breaker
Ice Breaker (2005)
High Time
High Time (2006)
Passageway (2006)
Altitude (2006)

Exhibition Text

Landscape has been the dominant subject of New Zealand art. Colonial artists recorded an arcadia through the rose-tinted glasses of European pre-conception and artistic convention. Then stutteringly - as seen in Van der Velden’s series on Otira Gorge, and then later in John Weeks and his, cubist interpretative, fascination with the landforms of the King Country - the development of an indigenous perception of New Zealand began. The first full flowering of an art informed by mood, mass and geological structure emerged with the pioneering efforts of Woollaston, McCahon, Angus and Sutton. To this, Binney and Smither added narrowed focus and ecological debate about how the land was being used. More recently, the ‘road to nowhere’ visual poems and horizontal compositions of Sydney contrast sharply with the broad detail of Hight’s farmed landscape, where the sculptural reality of the beehives’ shapes, surface and contradictions sit in amongst the landscape they depend upon and service. These leading artists have added and deepened the debate about the particularity of place and the specifics of location, ‘discovering’ points of view to argue and in this process established their character of style and individuality of voice.

Just as the landscape has been the predominant subject of New Zealand art, it has also become the marketing tool of the tourist trade. Interpretation has been replaced by the pictorial renditions of the New Zealand landscape, where the only objective is recognition. The result is conventional representations of what exists, in a style practised for so long it is now everybody’s – and nobody’s.

It takes courage then for a substantial artist to take on – as Neil Frazer has - the core subject of the tourist industry, the alpine landscape of the South Island. And to approach it with a fully formed style and expressionistic abstract technique which is noticeably sculptural in character. How could the language of abstraction – commonly regarded as being in complete opposition to the issues of representational art – make the transition, retain validity, and succeed?

Frazer has used paint as both a descriptor and subject throughout his career and there has always been a mix of allusion, illusion and literalness in evidence also. This plurality of dialogue and mode has consistently referenced the real world, and has necessarily varied from description and implication to reductive essences. He has used paint in a sculptural way with a mastery of spatial illusion and material literalness.

The continuum of Frazer’s work is ‘how’ he uses paint. Witness Maximum E (2005) where the physicality and monumentality of the ‘actual’ landscape becomes the subject. It is as if the artist has hewn this directly from the Southern Alps. It is old ice, cold and utterly menacing. Equally, he has captured the enormity of scale and done so in a way the viewer implicitly senses and understands, and thus the narrative relationship alters, for now it is as if the viewer is actually standing in front of the real scene itself. Up there. This ability to convince and transpose, to achieve physical accuracy and emotive resonance, is very rare. Frazer uses the dialogues of texture, a fusion of fact and memory, diagonal devices and the evocations of colour. He has also come up with new ways of working (such as the negative space of the silhouette, the outlining of the landscape edge by an implied sky) where he creates the allusion of deep recessive space and contrasts it with the actual use of three-dimensional paint. He uses the real to create the imaginary, uses painter’s depth and sculptor’s volume.

Each painting in Southern Elevations has achieved the accuracy of belief; fact has emerged from the artist’s fictions. He has described place and also established the substance of the land, earth, bush and the roles played by light, water (in all its forms).

All of the works have the hallmark of being both ‘of’ and ‘about’ – no artist before Frazer has dared confront the landscape of the Southern Alps so directly, and absolutely none with such comprehension or so convincingly.