Male mosquitos, resin and Pepsi bottles: The story behind Dale Frank’s art

It’s hard to miss Dale Frank’s paintings. Often colossal in size and colour, his large abstractions feature sweeping lines and brushstrokes that are bestowed narrative titles like Cynthia’s hot profile was a hit on Tinder but when they found out he was a 3rd year plumber’s apprentice things got complicated. They’re now staples of modern abstraction, appreciated for their experiment in form, with the artist particularly known for his technique of using translucent dye in tandem with various resins.

Yet just as interesting are his earlier works that experiment with the compression of foam, Pepsi bottles, male mosquitos, hair wigs, clown masks and foil ducting — all of which is explored in his current retrospective Growers and Showers at the National Art School (NAS), bringing together his large-scale paintings, sculptures and installations.

But what’s the story behind these works? Read and view below as NAS curator Olivia Sophia takes us through a journey of Frank’s practice, beautifully explaining his key works and what they mean within contemporary art.

Dale Frank, He grew up outside London Ontario, 2012, tinted varnish on canvas, 200 x 260 cm.

Olivia Sophia: Following his ground-breaking exhibition Views from the Bruce Highway at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 2003, Frank became well known for large-scale poured varnish paintings. Created using tinted wood-varnish, these seductive, abstract compositions became increasingly complex over the decade as Frank experimented and refined the use of his unique medium.

Dale Frank, Saint Petersburg, 2017, human hair wigs on perspex, 200 x 200 cm.

Olivia Sophia: Frank has always been interested in exploring the edges of painting. Throughout his career he has employed a variety of diverse materials to create his compositions—from hubcaps and ashtrays in 1984 to Pepsi bottles and male mosquitos in 2000. The monochrome work Saint Petersburg is an example of his expanded painting practice. A lustrous arrangement of human hair wigs, the ‘painting’ nods to minimalist and surrealist histories.

Dale Frank, He thought no one noticed he always looked down at any sign of a bulge in another man’s pants rather than at their shoes as he had been taught, 2018, silver foil vent ducts in epoxyglass on Perspex, 200 x 200 x 28-40 cm (variable).

Olivia Sophia: Silver air conditioning ducts explode from the highly reflective, metallic surface of this painting. Frank informally refers to these kinds of works as ‘assemblage’ paintings, referencing the idea of the readymade. The tubular shapes of the vent ducts recall biological or anatomical forms.

200cm x 260cm

Olivia Sophia: Sam squatting… is an example of Frank’s recent series of works that reveal a powerful evolution in his practice. Using a new medium—powder pigments in concert with easycast resin and epoxyglass—this work presents meandering lines and rich colour locked in a clear, high gloss finish.

Dale Frank, Cynthia’s hot profile was a hit on Tinder but when they found out he was a 3rd year plumber’s apprentice things got complicated, 2023, colour powder pigment, translucent dyes in epoxyglass, epoxyglass, on Perspex, 180 x 200 cm.

Olivia Sophia: Another example of Frank’s new work using epoxyglass on perspex, Cynthia’s hot profile…demonstrates the artist’s skill in working with unconventional art materials. Like a scientist, Frank is able to manipulate and work with the chemical reactions taking place on the perspex surface to create aesthetic arrangements of line, colour fields and marbling. Brilliant hues ranging from neons to deep reds and blues, move between scattered constellations and three-dimensional lumps of highly-pigmented resin.

Dale Frank, Vinyl mural based on the painting, Laura, 24yo, is a sweet caring live in carer at TLC Assisted Living in Mordialloc but some staff are concerned she has become obsessed with assisting Roger, 60yo, ex Demons footballer, bathing him intently every morning and helping him in the shower every evening, providing afternoon full body Thai style massages, playing and singing along with the Mariah Carey Merry Christmas album in his private room as he falls asleep 2022, printed vinyl, 480 x 2,250 cm.

Olivia Sophia: For Growers and Showers, Frank created a new, large-scale work using a new medium for the artist: a 22-metre vinyl mural that occupies nearly half the wall space of the first-floor gallery. Using a computerized system, Frank took an image of an existing painting and enlarged, stretched and distorted it to create a “deviant offspring” of the original work. The resulting surrealist landscape envelops the viewer, and also forms a backdrop for three shimmering paintings that punctuate the surface.

Dale Frank: Growers and Showers
National Art School
Sydney / Eora
On now—1 June

Feature Words by Olivia Sophia