See article in its original context here by Linda Morris for The Age.
Frazer wanted to write the kind of songs that would make people cry, and win public adulation as a rock star idol along the way.
It turns out Frazer was too impatient for songwriting, and he couldn’t find subjects he cared enough about to write the kind of poetry that would bend an audience to his will.
Frazer instead became a karaoke act, and then moved on to acting, but didn’t find much success there either beyond a few bit parts in films and commercials.
”I was really bad at showbiz,” says Frazer. ”My last gig was as a gorilla spruiking customers outside a cafe in Sale, and I thought, ‘I can’t get any lower than this’, and that’s when I retired and thought, ‘maybe art is something I’m best at’.”
For Frazer’s forthcoming solo exhibition, HUG, the artist has stuck with what he is best at and taken the lyrics of Paul Kelly to create a series of broadsheet wall prints and 20 limited edition artist books.
The prints and book have been made the old-fashioned way, utilising the mediums of etching, wood engraving, linocut and painting mastered by Frazer in the years since his flight from songwriting to art.
Each illustration has been engraved by hand on English boxwood, printed with letterpress on a Columbian platen press built in the 1850s, sourced from an ink factory in Footscray. The book was bound by hand and stitched with a needle and thread. The front cover features an original linocut print.
Every page carries a line from Kelly’s Little Aches and Pains from his 2012 Spring and Fall album.
”I just like the imagery of someone who is reflecting on life and what could have been,” says Frazer. ”Disappointment and sadness, that sort of thing.”
Kelly not only gave Frazer permission to use his lyrics but the latitude to interpret them as loosely as he wanted. The songwriter was simply trying to make ”rhythms and rhymes and bend some cliches” but he felt an affinity between Frazer’s eye and his artistic storytelling techniques and the visual elements of his own lyrics.
The final book is ”very beautiful, both to look at and to touch”, says Kelly. ”My house feels richer for containing it.”
Frazer’s favoured subjects are that of rural isolation and youth and bewildered and melancholic men and youth. The artist admits to being drawn to ”crappy stuff” – tableaus of tumbled-down bush slab huts and old caravans marooned in scrubby paddocks. Woodblock printing, too, suits his ”anal, methodical, borderline OCD kind of nature” and the format is ideal for Frazer’s narrative style.
”When I was a kid in the Wimmera, I was either up a tree or on the roof of the house a lot, and I used to look out to yonder, dreaming of flying away to somewhere more exciting, and possibly being someone more exciting,” Frazer says. ”That’s probably the crux of my imagery, that feeling of wanting to escape, yet wanting to stay and be loved.”
Little Aches and Pains is Frazer’s seventh artist book. Copies have been purchased by the State Libraries of New South Wales and Victoria and Monash and Melbourne universities. Frazer hopes to approach Cold Chisel’s Don Walker for his next collaboration, which will be old-style.
”It’s amazing what can be done on a computer, and it’s quicker, but nothing can match the hand press,” he says. ”When you do the letterpress, which is all the little lead letters, and even the engraving box, they sort of emboss into the paper and become part of the paper, which is quite beautiful. You never get that with an inkjet print.”
HUG at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, runs from July 22 to August 2.