Dick Frizzell ‘Wacky Tiki Goes Monumental’

Dick Frizzell
Posted on 7 March 2024

Exploding from its sulphur-tinted backdrop like some demonic eruption from the Hell’s Gate or Wairaki thermal tourist wonderlands, Dick Frizzell’s Wacky Tiki Goes Monumental is unashamedly in-your-face. And yet it is a friendly demon, its tongue pointing merrily sideways, not downwards in the traditional unfriendly mode. This tiki wants to play. The work is one of the boldest of a series of ‘tiki’ works exhibited by Frizzell at the Gow Langsford Gallery in 1992. That show, called simply Tiki, is now famous in the annals of Kiwi art, or infamous, depending on your perspective, because of the controversy about cultural appropriations it stirred up. If the exhibition was deliberately provocative (as even Frizzell’s protagonists acknowledged), it was also deeply understanding about the public life of images, and devilishly clever as well. Frizzell’s idea was to use the motif of a Maori-inspired face design as the principal character in a ‘tour’ of European painting styles, presenting the motif in various guises, by turns cubist, surreal, monumental and pop-art. From a critical point of view the idea was dazzlingly sophisticated, yet to some commentators it seemed also gratuitous, a show-off. Yet what a show it was, and its influence continues to be felt almost two decades later.

Dick Frizzell

Wacky Tiki Goes Monumental

oil on canvas

title inscribed, signed and dated 29/9/92

1950 x 1500mm

$60 000 – $80 000


‘Tiki’, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, 1992.


Dick Frizzell, Dick Frizzell – The Painter (Godwit, 2009), p. 171.


Private collection, Auckland.

View lot here

Ironically ‘tiki-art’ and ‘tiki-culture’ are a global vernacular phenomenon, by no means confined to New Zealand. Indeed the briefest search of Google Images under ‘tiki’ serves up a tour of staggeringly vulgar misappropriations from Polynesian material arts (mostly of Hawaiian and Easter Island extraction). Beside such productions Frizzell’s ‘tikis’ seem refined, intelligent and sensitive to the energy with which Maori culture has so resolutely engaged all comers through cultural tourism, for mutual benefit and entertainment. Leaving aside the academic niceties of critical designation – ‘tiki’ is almost always a misnomer – Frizzell’s overriding appeal to viewers of his Tiki series is to enjoy: to enjoy cultural exchange, to enjoy play with imagery in all its impurity, to enjoy the mix and match of different visual vocabularies, to enjoy the inescapable influence of Polynesian visual styles on other styles.

Wacky Tiki Goes Monumental is the most ebullient of Frizzell’s Tiki works, hollering “FUN!” from every inch of its giant surface. Its exuberance has the delightfully ironic effect of actually de-monumentalizing the work, so that it makes itself equally at home in a gallery or domestic interior. Far from being overbearing, Wacky Tiki Goes Monumental is instantly engaging – an open invitation to come and play.

Oliver Stead