I don’t know much about art but I know what I don’t like. And much of it I don’t like at all. Artists I like more because they are often piss artists which makes them agreeable company, that is until they fall over and start insulting the furniture. For me wit is the thing I admire most in books, plays, movies, musicals and all forms of art with the exception of interior design. Wit in interior design tends to lead to Salvador Dali and sofas shaped like Mick Jagger’s lips, which is all very well but who wants to sit on... oh ok, I get it.
Wit is fairly rare in art. There’s that French geezer with the pipes and the trains coming out of fireplaces, though come to think of it he was Belgian (was it Magritte or Maigret – both used pipes and were Belges) and there’s Duchamp with his urinals, which are fairly funny, unless you are in a hurry when they are a godsend; and Gilbert and George, of course, who are the Patron Saints of Public Toilets and then there is Damien Hirst whom I am sure is trying to be funny a lot of the time, and pissed the rest of it from my brief experiences with him. (Though very agreeable company none the less).
Finally there are Cartoonists whose entire art form is trying to be funny, and yes that is witty, but outside of caricature visual wit is rare in art. Frank has it in buckets.
I first became aware of Frank from a grocery store front he had painted a startling blue in my local French village of C. (which lies between the towns of B. and D.) Normally I eschew shopping, but, intrigued, I entered, posing as an innocent vegetable shopper.
I was immediately impressed by a very fine painting of John Lennon hanging amongst the vegetables (the picture was hanging, not of course John Lennon. Although in my village I have seen Bowie hanging around amongst the vegetables, but I digress...). Hard by this image was another print, clearly by the same artist, of all four Beatles. While admiring these and a suitable aubergine I struck up an acquaintance with the inestimable greengrocer Remi, who told me all about his Scottish neighbour and artist pal Frank Docherty.
Now I am, I confess it, English and consequently I really like the Scots. It’s a weakness the English have which is not often reciprocated, but I was encouraged by the effusive grocer’s suggestion to call up this artistic Scottish person and beard him in his lair. (Pompous English for Go Visit.) Frank was very jovial and friendly on the phone, promised me a good cup of builder’s tea and invited me to come over and look at his paintings. I prepared myself for the expedition with some delicious little French patisseries, followed the usual Provencal directions (turn hard right up the nasty track, past the second gas station on your left and if you drive off the road you’ve gone too far) and found Frank to be excellent company.
But I also really liked his paintings, and before I left I sneakily made him a low offer for a triptych that was occupying his living room. His wife was absent and he may have had a glass or two of builder’s wine because he accepted my insult and I had my first Frank.
A few days later Frank was visited by a Scottish friend. Here is their conversation reported verbatim.
“I hear Eric Idle bought a triptych from you.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Does he have a taste for naïve amateur primitive art?”
“He paid me a good price.”
“Hmm. I never liked Monty Python.”
“And Eric Idle never made me laugh.”
With friends like this who needs critics? Happily that man has as poor taste in comedy as he does in art and you can see Frank is virtually saintly to tolerate such people in his house. At my house he would have been half way down the road with his head ringing with expletives, and fleas in his ears. But then comedians are rarely tolerant.
As I say I like wit in my painters. Frank’s art challenges us by the juxtaposition of incongruous images: zebras, penguins, ladders, fish, walls on beaches – “all easy to paint” he would say. His paintings are frequently narratives – a sultry nymphomaniacal Eve, hungrily eyes fourteen apples she has already nibbled while a pajama-less Adam tucked up in his single bed, sleeps it off under a very pale and exhausted limp snake. He loves visual puns: who else would call a painting of a kangaroo The Last Hopper? (complete with three Saints in a stained glass window so we get the echoes of the Last Supper) and a nice view of the Church at Tourtour. And of course anyone who sticks penguins in their paintings has my vote.
I also very much enjoy naked ladies. Frank does too by their frequent appearances in his art. I have always envied artists their ability to have nude women pose for them in their line of work. I once asked my wife to pose naked for me while I was writing and she kindly complied, lounging in the nude on a chaise longue in the center of the room , while I poked away at the typewriter in the corner, but sadly I didn’t get much done... well not writing anyway.
So yes, penguins and nudes and fish and puffins, and ark-loads of striped animals and ships and ladders and walls and beaches, Frank’s paintings make me happy. They make me smile. They make me contented. I don’t know why. I’m a fucking comedian...
Los Angeles, April 2009