Cuts So Deep
STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH
PHOTO BY SEAN MCKENNA
On the outskirts of Castlemaine, where the houses give way to bush, is David Frazer’s studio. He is a print maker. He uses tools to cut into wood, linoleum and copper to make plates which are coated in ink and then pressed onto paper. You will have seen his work. Melancholic renditions of the Central Victorian landscapes. Lone caravans cutting a silhouette against the dusk sky and solitary men standing outside their family homes looking out to the stars. Frazer’s ability to capture the emotional alienation of the male and depict the Australian bush with an almost mythical reality quality has seen him described as the Tim Winton of the printing press.
Presently he is working an epic piece, engraving four 30cm by 40cm copper plates that will be printed together to make an impressive 80cm x 120cm print called Tangled Wood. It is heavily influenced by the country that can be seen from Dog’s Rocks near the summit of Mount Alexander near Harcourt. It will be also be printed as a series of single frames and diptychs. “There is a lot of work involved in these big pieces,” says David with a little weariness in his voice. He has moved across to copper from lino because it is less manually taxing. “When I start a piece, which may take three to four months to finish,” says David, “I start with a bare block of lino or a plate of copper. I look at it for a while and simply start with no real plan. It is an organic process.” The process is painstaking slow. A knife, blade or etching tool is taken to surface. Stroke by stroke, dot by dot, the plate is engraved to create the negative of the final piece. “Every mark I make is considered,” says David. “But it is killer on the joints.”
Arguably David’s most recognised work is Mr. Vertigo. The lone man on the roof of his house leaning out into the sky as if he is about to fly off. He appears in many guises in David’s work. David himself spent hours on the roof of the family home in Murtoa in the Wimmera. “As a young kid I’d climb on top of the house on Saturday afternoons and look out onto the deserted town,” he remembers.
His father was a teacher so David moved with his father’s postings. He lived on the Mornington Peninsula at Rosebud where he was nurtured by his high school art teacher. Despite gaining great satisfaction drawing cartoons he went to art school and studied painting and sculpture. He took another path through the share houses of inner Melbourne dabbling in performing arts before he returned to the strong graphic and narrative opportunities that print offered.
David says his strongest influences are “Bewick and Waits” referring to Eighteenth century engraver Thomas Bewick, who etched the natural world around him in rural England, and gravel voiced American singer Tom Waites. “There is humour in the darkness of the Tom Waits world that appeals to me,” says David.
Other musicians who have had an impact on his life are Paul Kelly and Cold Chisel’s Don Walker, both of whom he has collaborated with to make limited edition hand printed wood cut books. He is soon to work on a similar project with Nick Cave.
David also draws great inspiration from the landscape of the region. One of his most successful recent works was the epic Waiting For Rain depicting an intricate landscape viewed from a high vantage point. It was inspired by the outlook from the Rock of Ages near Maldon. “Those places have a certain energy,” he says. “I am sure they are (indigenous ) sacred sites. They always evoke a certain feeling. A certain mystery.”
Tangled Wood limited edition prints will be released in August.