The books Cave, Kelly and Walker, which lasted about three years each, are published by Frazer’s Unstable Press in limited editions (up to 20 books). The engraving process means that each individual book is a work of art in its own right, with subtle differences between the versions. The Waits book, which Frazer hopes to complete next year, follows the same process.
The genesis of this ongoing project goes back beyond the 1981 Waits concert: Frazer recently stumbled across a childhood sketchbook containing cartoons he made for and about his family. âThey were very funny and insightful about the human condition,â he says. “This is who I always am: human nature, storytelling and expressing a little humor, love and empathy.”
When he went to art school, Frazer knew he wanted to be an artist, but “I probably would have preferred that I could have been a rock star with an international career”.
âI tried to do it but I was not very good. I was more of a karaoke joke. I couldn’t write songs other than the occasional silly songs and wanted to write songs where people would cry and be moved. And, also, I wanted to be chased through the streets by the fans. Instead, I decided to focus on art.
When he did honors in engraving, he discovered wood engraving. With its long history as a traditional form of illustration in books and newspapers, woodcut looked perfect. âIt blew me away because it suited storytelling, cartoons, book illustration, and poetry. It was the closest thing in the artistic medium to writing a song. I took that and started doing sad little stories.
After a while, he decided that it would be good to combine unique woodcuts into books; he meets the bookbinder George Matoulas and begins to use old-fashioned type. He tried to collaborate with fiction writers, but it never really worked: âI think novelists are very precious with their words. Musicians are more open to people who cover their songs and adapt. Musicians like their songs to be associated with fine art.
When he befriended Cameron Bruce, Paul Kelly’s keyboardist, he asked the singer to make art while thinking about his songs. Kelly agreed. âHe trusted me to do his work justice. “
For the Waits project, Frazer uses fragments of three songs: The last rose of summer, Take it with me and The heather and the rose. âIt’s hard to choose a song. I like a song that has an emotional impact and that is moving, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the creation of images, âsaid Frazer.
Once he chooses a song, Frazer makes several sketches, pins them like comics, repeatedly listens to the music, and lets everything ferment – it can take a long time before he’s ready to start burning. on wood. All the time he’s trying to capture the essence, something sincere and empathetic. âI always try to simplify things. You are trying to say the same thing but with less.
What he loves about Waits’ work is that the songs often glorify a loser or misfit, making their woes look pretty. Unlike her previous picks, which are reminiscent of a lost girlfriend, Waits’ lyrics are about a long-term partner. âIt’s more about staying together and getting old,â says Frazer. He thinks it’s a nice connection with Waits, who has been married to Kathleen Brennan since 1980.
With simplicity at the heart of Frazer’s efforts, it’s no wonder his studio has a simple industrial vibe, with worktables, presses, and tools, and the warm, unpleasant smell of ink that dries. The bush is close by, but the wood Frazer uses comes from afar: he imports blocks of English boxwood and lemon from the British engraver Chris Daunt, who only supplies traditional end grain blocks to order.
In his well-lit workspace, Frazer says he’s happy, even during shutdowns; he doesn’t feel guilty for being unsociable. âAnd my style relaxed a bit,â he says. “After 30 years, I feel like I’m doing the job the way I want it to.”
that of David Frazer Love letter, signed by Frazer and Nick Cave, is being launched by Australian Galleries ahead of an exhibition later this year. Pre-purchases can be made via [email protected]
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