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Dale Frank by Jane Magon
Jane Magon's account of Dale Frank's work is a remarkable piece of interpretation that veers from the plausible to the implausible and back again. It is a roller-coaster ride through detailed accounts of Frank's paintings combined with equally detailed accounts of Shamanic and Chiliastic literature. When the two layers interconnect the result is both convincing and often beautiful. Magon's use of mystic literature gives rise to poetic metaphors that illuminate Frank's work in exquisite ways: for example, when she speaks of "spirits who mysteriously travel through rock crystals which in turn are regarded as magical 'solidified ' light" (p. 26). Images such as these certainly enhance one's appreciation of Frank's paintings.
However there are also occasions when the connection drawn between the mystic literature and Frank's work does not convince. Nevertheless, in spite of some faults this book provides a welcome relief from analyses framed by the dominant discourses of our time. Of particular interest is Magon's notion of "postmodern spirituality ", whereby she attempts to accommodate her use of ideas from the literature on mysticism to the fact that
Frank has been working in a postmodern context. She does this by arguing that Frank's use of postmodernism is 'Romantic'-which is an interesting notion, especially with regard to the analysis of a white Australian artist. In this respect I think her work is potentially quite innovative. On the whole she gives the reader an original and academically substantiated entry into this previously underrated but obviously major artist.
A major strength of Magon's text lies in its exhaustive cataloguing of Frank's motifs set within an interpretive framework of academic literature on mystic experience. However, there is a weakness in that the catalogue could have been more fully edited and focused on central themes, rather than being so broad and all-encompassing. Narrative momentum, and consequently the reader's interest, sometimes tends to be swamped by a morass of detail.
Narrative momentum is also sometimes lost when fragments of related information are dispersed across the whole text rather than being concentrated in particular sections . For instance, this reader was at first unconvinced by the allegedly traumatic circumstances of Frank's life which Magon argues led him to become involved in shamanic-like imagery. However, as one reads on, the biographical details build up and become more convincing. It is a shame that Magon did not consolidate all these facts in one place and thereby create a more forceful impact upon the reader. If she had then I think her account of Frank's personal propensity towards shamanic imagery would have carried more conviction. One example of a potent biographical detail which was dropped in as a fragment halfway through the text was the story of Frank's friend who shot herself with a ship's flare gun (p. 23). 11 is details such as this that could have come earlier in the text and thereby created a much more powerful psychological account.
In spite of the criticisms that one can make of the text its major contribution is its often intense insight into Frank's apocalyptic imagery. Whether one is in the end convinced that Frank is a 'shaman', or 'Orphic', or 'chilip astic' is less important than the potency of the frameworks as sources of metaphors for understanding Frank's work.
My afterthoughts on Frank's work are very much coloured by this text. I still have trouble in believing that Frank can be described as a shaman, but I can readily accept that his work can be interpreted within shamanic and mystical frameworks in a valuable manner. Magon's comments regarding the influence of dreams and nightmares on Frank's paintings is particularly convincing with respect to the appropriateness of such frameworks. After reading Magon's text one is left with an understanding that Frank's work is indeed frequently an internal landscape which harbours strange insights into a domain where beauty and terror intertwine.