Dale Frank

Milburn + Arté , Brisbane
26 February - 26 March, 1988

Dale Frank has made his name on the international scene with a number of successful exhibitions. In viewing his recent exhibition at Milburn + Arte in Brisbane one can see why. It is sad to observe that, while he is very successful in the more sophisticated international art market, he is relatively neglected at home.

Frank's art is a battle ground - a staged confrontation between Formalism, Abstract Expressionism and Conceptualism; his weapon, Dadaism. Frank creates a scene of implosion where each faction collapses exhausted upon the other - the only victor is Frank himself. Dale Frank plays an expert role of arson and subversion, setting up a situation, igniting and collapsing it, breaking rules by playing games, and exiting from the scene, "in-tact", in order to repeat the process. His work represents a stage for a continual dialogue with the problems of painting, the art world, the subversion of the history of twentieth century art, and his own work.

The Art of the Artful Hook, Line and Sinker of the Pocket Fisherman Willow, Pillow and Sincere is mixed media on canvas and the major work of the exhibition. An arm rest of a foam rubber sofa projects from the upper section of the canvas. Sections of its large three dimensional form are flattened by coloured De Stijl-like rectangular configurations. In places primary coloured "Constructivist" constructions assembled from children's blocks proliferate over the sofa. In these works, blocks, square holes, woolen strands, and canvas patches constitute Frank's quotation of formalism. He applies Formalism as both a way of highlighting its failings (its ultimate reduction to the blank canvas), while offering us its opposite - the excessive and chaotic surface.

In The Art of the Artful Hook, Line and Sinker of the Pocket Fisherman Willow, Pillow and Sincere Frank has hacked uneven planes in the foam, and in true radical fashion has sliced squares out of the canvas. This unusual technique is a Dadaistic negation of planes: a negation of formalism. His square holes also allude to the void into which formalist abstraction ultimately leads, for example, Malevich's Black Square. In addition the tacky tasseled cushions can be taken as a Dadaist parody upon Malevich's square motif.

In this and other works, Frank's square voids are given the chance to "heal" by a homely, "feminine" (or child-like) stitching of the holes. The stitching tries hard to heal the self-destructive impulses of formalism, but its warm humanity can't help becoming a scathing commentary upon the intrinsic inhumanity of formalist rationalism.

Overly corporeal projections of square cushions and rectangular pillows negate the metaphysical flatness of Frank's formalist quotations, and his use of tacky enamel paints subverts the transcendental perfection demanded by the formalist aesthetic. Frank's games with squares, rectangles, blocks and cylinders are an ironic commentary upon the Formalist aesthetic, turning it into a destructive "Dadaistic Formalism". Superficially his use of discarded and tacky materials and arbitrary painting appears to be crude, but one has to realise that Frank delights in using the "left-overs" of other peoples' "good" and "bad" taste as the raw materials for his neo-antiaestheticism.

Frank's choice of reject materials and revolting surfaces is a deliberate application of the antiaesthetic of the sublime: an ugliness unacceptable to a lay majority. This is Frank's way of asking the eternal avant-garde question - "What is Painting?" Frank's constant pushing of himself and his spectators to their absolute limits is his way of fighting against institutionalized beauty.

All the Unhappiness That Had Ever Been the Platypus And the Mystro Prism Abstract is another extraordinary work. Paddle-pop sticks have been arranged to parody bamboo wall linings fashionable on the '50s and '70s. Its tacky false veneer is the result of a game with the Bauhaus philosophy of "truth to materials" and "form follows function". A perspex side table and bowls jut from the canvas in an impossibly unfunctional manner - another negation of the principles of "good design". Across the immaculately constructed tackiness of the surface is a flamboyant "Jackson Pollock" splatter of paint. While this is representative of the essence of expressionism and gesture, it is also a joyful violation of the surface.

Part of the fascination of Frank's work lies in his ability to quote previous styles of high modern art while bringing them to an everyday level - an attitude which is very skeptical of High Art ideals. The interaction of the "High Art" within the realm of the mundane creates strange explosive/implosive surrealist disjunctions. Frank brings together two distant realities - the banal and the metaphysical. Frank's appropriation and disruption of Formalist and Abstract Expressionist aesthetics brings High Art to its knees in a truly Dadaistic spirit.