Renowned printmaker and Castlemaine-based artist David Frazer identifies with rock n’ roll. He even tried to be a musician before realising his strengths were more in fine art than music. And while he says he was “hopeless at songwriting”, the lyricism of storytellers like Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Paul Kelly have soundtracked and motivated his own artistic practice.
Now, he’s created a very small run of handmade books titled More than Flesh and Bone featuring his signature wood engraved prints inspired by the lyrics of three of his favourite Tom Waits songs. Endorsed and signed by the musical master himself, Frazer is launching the book on Friday night 26 May, at the Castlemaine Art Museum.
“This was a long journey, and an even longer-held dream,” says Frazer. As a teenager in 1980, his ‘cool’ schoolteacher introduced him to the music of Tom Waits, and in 1981, accompanied Frazer and his best mate to what was to become, the last show Tom Waits performed in Australia to date.
He nearly gave up on trying to gain access to Waits, so when his UK manager finally replied to Frazer to say that both Waits and his wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan are huge fans of handmade woodcut and type books, Frazer “almost had a cow,” he said.
This isn’t Frazer’s first homage to great storyteller musicians. He has created similar small run handmade books inspired by other greats in the field, such as Paul Kelly, Nick Cave, Don Walker and Nick Lowe. Paul Kelly was the first, and even performed the songs that inspired the art at Frazer’s book launch.
“Lyrics from singer-songwriters are often incredibly visual,” Frazer says about how music readily inspires new artistic creations. “Songs help me find new stories to tell.”
Like songwriting, Frazer’s prints detail stories and worlds that are lyrical and intimate. Informed by narrative storytelling, the very techniques he employs are age-old relief print-making methods traditionally used to illustrate books. Even the press in Frazer’s workshop is an iron hand press made in the 1850s, so it’s easy to see the correlation between the two worlds.
Ever the devotee of the musical craft, the world premiere book launch at CAM will see Frazer himself step up to play the songs that inspire him, representing a step well outside his comfort zone. But before you ask, the books themselves won’t be for sale–they’ve all sold out. An unprompted plug on Tom Waits’ social media saw them snapped up almost overnight. At around three thousand dollars each, Frazer could have cried at the boon. Art isn’t always as lucrative.
When asked about future musicians he might like to collaborate with, he mentions Lucinda Williams and Bjork. But normally gravitates to “the hapless, hopeless bloke reminiscing about stuff” as his brand of muse.
The book launch is part of a broader exhibition titled For the Love of Song, showcasing Frazer’s other handmade books including collaborations with Paul Kelly, Nick Cave, Don Walker and Nick Lowe, on at CAM until Sunday 25 June. An artist talk about the exhibition is happening on Sunday 28 May. For more information, head to www.castlemianeartmuseum.org.au.
A painstaking ode to a parallel artform, the work of David Frazer is a celebration of creativity and the profound role art and music play in making sense of life.
This article appeared in the Tarrangower Times, 26 May 2023.