The portrait of Dame Catherine Tizard

Taken from ‘Aotea Centre Works of Art’, edited by Tara Werner, written by Karen Scherer and Katherine Findlay.

The portrait of Dame Catherine Tizard was painted by well-known Auckland artist Dick Frizzell. Frizzell was commissioned by the Edmiston Trust to paint the portrait as a lasting tribute to Auckland's first woman mayor, and the driving force behind the Aotea – Te Pokapū | Aotea Centre project.

Frizzell has a considerable reputation for his landscapes and pop art as well as the occasional portrait, but deciding how to portray the woman who was at that time Governor General of New Zealand was no easy task.

As a professional, Frizzell regarded the job of painting a person, from the production point-of-view, as no different from a hill or a tree. As soon as he began work on the portrait, however, he realised that people were going to bring quite a different crucial point of view to bear on his rendering of the subject than they would to that of an obscure bend in some central North Island stock route!

"Meeting Dame Cath, taking reference photos, became something of a saga in itself," comments Frizzell. "How to present the subject, the context, the clothing, the lighting, the props, the prose? All these things come loaded with 'significance' as the current art jargon will have it – the body language, the 'hair' language, the 'chair' language..." Frizzell's aim was as much as possible to make the subject look how she looks. It was not to be a portrait to “shock the bourgeoisie”. The result captures the essence of Dame Catherine's qualities of leadership, and her considerable power and dignity. It is a portrait for posterity.

Dick Frizzell:

Having achieved what I thought was the right balance of dignity and aggression, toughness and softness, formality and informality I feel we all perceive in the subject, I drew the composition up on to the canvas.

‘Portrait of Dame Catherine Tizard’ can be found in the Level 5 Foyer of Aotea Centre, adjacent to Door G into the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre.


Artist: Dick Frizzell

Date of work: 1991

Medium: Paint

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