By Ulla Fazakerley
The Liverpool born artist Gordon Fazakerley was very charming and full of witty and unusual ways of seeing things. A fan of Monty Python, his humour was unpredictable, ever present, disrespectful, naughty, realistic and very Merseyside. Many were surprised by the breadth of his learning. He was self-effacing and unpretentious, but with low tolerance for stupidity and he could turn into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-figure. When his painting did not go the way he wanted, he could vanish on the spree, to fight with his demons, but he always came out on the other side, with the brush and colours ready to try again.
The forming years
Gordon Fazakerley was born in Widnes outside Liverpool in 1937 of old merchant stock. At eleven years old he began an education in “Pall Mall” an old Catholic grammar school with monks as teachers. In the streets during the war he had to fight in a brutal pecking order, but at school he found books on philosophy in the library and began to draw in the library´s loft with the extraordinary lighting created by the architect John Soane.
Despite family opposition Fazakerley enrolled at Liverpool College of Art marked by refugees from Hitler’s Reich. He was taught by George Mayer-Matin, one-time secretary of the Hagenbund, Vienna’s most progressive artists’ association and his teacher lived in the same house as the physisist Herbert Frølich. There one could hear local musicians playing from Bach to Bartok . Now and then the students were stuffed into a van and driven down to London to see an exhibition by Arthur Ballard, who became John Lennons teacher a couple of years later.
In 1954 Fazakerley went to Italy and saw the Biennale in Venice.
“This was my first meeting with modern American painting in the original state. And now everything became an expectation of a form of expression that was stronger and easy to manage”.
In 1956 Fazakerley enrolled in the painting and glass department at Central School of Arts and Craft In London with some inspiring professors: The painter Alan Davie, the writer Anton Ehrenzweig, the architect Reyner Banham and he sculptor William Turnbull.
“And through Bill I became acquainted with The British Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art(ICA) and the music of Schoenberg and Webern and modern sculpture”.
The secretary of ICA Laurence Alloway showed Fazakerley’s paintings to the critic Herbert Read and they decided that Fazakerley, who was serving his National Service, was worth an exhibition, that took place in ICAs library in 1959.
The flight to Scandinavia
In 1961 Gordon Fazakerley received an invitation to Scandinavia from his Swedish friend Hardy Strid. He wanted to get out of London, where the artists were engulfed in the new American Pop Art, that did not interest Fazakerley.
“I never made a pop painting”, he often said.
In the exhibition of Asger Jorn’s “Luxurious Paintings” in London 1959 he had found something different. Through Hardy Strid he came to know Asger Jorn and his brother Jørgen Nash, who like Fazakerley was a poet and brought him together with Uffe Harder and people from “Cobra” and “Helhesten”. Gordon began to work on Jørgens farm, that later became the artist commune Drakabygget. He joined the Situationists and collected material to the first two “Situationist Times” and became co-editor in 1964-65 together with Jacqueline de Jong. Later he was excluded by Guy Debors like Jacqueline and other artists, Gordon thought it was because of his poem Owen turned.
In 1962 Fazakerley’s collection of “Poems and Drawings” was published and together with Ansgar Elde he had his first exhibtion in gallery Gammel Strand in Copenhagen with paintings of birdlike figures inspired by the Swedish nature. In 1962 he was also in the exhibition “7 Rebels” in Odense, where Rudolf Westing bought the whole exhibition and opened his gallery of modern art. Fazakerley was connected to the gallery and had a studio in the loft, where he could paint large paintings.
His own private Berlin Wall
In 1963 Gordon moved to Copenhagen, where his wife, a journalist, got a job at the ladies magazine Søndags-BT. He on the other hand had difficulties finding anywhere to paint, but in the end he managed and found a closed dry-cleaner, where he painted a series of erotic paintings. One picture “The green man” was sold to a client in Stockholm, noboby else wanted to buy or exhibit it.
In 1966 his first main work a triptykon of a white/grey landscape with threadlike figures was in Ungdomsbiennalen in Charlottenborg. In 1965 he had an exhibition in gallery Birkdam and again in 1968 the exhibition “My Spanish Nightmare” with large watercolours from the Fazakerley’s six months travel through Europe, the last three months in Franco’s Spain.
In 1971 Ansgar Elde invited Gordon to exhibit in Albissola Mare i Italy. In 1974 he exhibited in gallery ” Nyhavn 14″. The same year he moved from Ringstedgade where he had worked in the bedroom, to a flat in Østbanegade 7, where he got a studio and worked with large canvases like “Die Flamingo” 1976 after a poem by Rilke. He also began a large painting “Interior/Exterior”. In a period in the 70’ties he worked only in black, white and grey, because he thought “the colours are lying”. In an exhibition the art critic Gunnar Jespersen was counting 22 grey nuances in a painting.
In the middle of the 70’ties Gordon Fazakerley was contacted by the art dealer Jytte Bloch, and he exhibited in her gallery “Helliggejst” in 1979 and 1981 and again in 1988 and 1989 in Bloch’s new gallery “Wallstreet Movement”.
In 1982 Fazakerley was visited by the Dutch painter Martin Engelman, who tried to persuade him to take over his job as professor at the art academy in Berlin, but Fazakerley refused. He would not ” be eaten up” by teaching. On the whole he has chosen to be in opposition to everything anywhere. He always entered a place where he could remain completely outside.
“He has used and misused Danish indifference as his private Berlin wall”, his wife says.
In the beginning of the 80’ties Fazakerley was after a periode of sickness invited to the exhibition “Drakabygget- kulturens myretue” in Charlottenborg 1982, and he again got connected with the German Group Spur, he knew from Drakabygget. Hans Peter Zimmer and Helmut Sturm invited Fazakerley to have an exhibition in Klaus Leas gallery in München in 1985.
In the middle of the 80’ties Gordon came in contact with Poul Lillesøe, the leader of the PRO -group and from 1990 – 2002 Gordon exhibited with PRO every year in Charlottenborg, and he sold the “Last parlementarish chair” to Københavns Kommune. In 1986 his painting of “Noahs ark, which professor Johannes Stræde called an “Alarming painting” of strange creatures of the future was taken into FDB’s calender 1986. Now Gordon could afford expensive colours and had a hectic red period with “Anabasis” from 1988. Also his favourite painting “The Makropoulus Affair” was from that time.”The Death of Virgil” from1987 was exhibited in Milano in “Studio Panigati” in 1989.
In the beginning of the 90’ties he wanted to make the colour new, the motive, form and content new, always turning things the opposite way, in pictures like “The little Saint George and the big victorious dragon”. After some time Fazakerley began a triptycon The “Studioscape” he fought with the next couple of months. “I am really at war with that picture. I repeat myself, it gets too boring”. Later he painted “The teeparty” of the many tee parties with old ladies he had attended after he in1992 went to England for the first time in 22 years.
Every summer Fazakerley and his family went to Sweden to the primitive summer house in Tunby, where he loved to stay. He drew studies for paintings of “Sillavadsåen” that flowed beside the house and the bluegreen stone walls around the fields and the dramatic burnt autumn fields besides many series of sepia paintings and tusch drawings and watercolours.
After the death of his mother in 1994, Fazakerley went to London every year to the international exhibitions of Monet, Cesanne, Picasso, Max Bechman and Philip Guston. He went through the exhibitons together with the art critic Peter Shield. In London he held a break with his fellow student at art school Brian Young and his former teacher William Turnbull, they were still disagreeing over Mark Rothko, whom Gordon liked since the time they were studying.
In 1999/2000 Gordon Fazakerley had a retrospective exhibition in Silkeborg Kunstmuseum arranged by the art historian Dorte Kirkeby Andersen and the art critic Peter Shield. After that he got a working grant from Statens Kunstfond.
In 2001 a right wing turnabout under the influence of Dansk Folkeparti gathered pace in Denmark and Gordon Fazakerley began a series updating the The Law of the Jante in eleven large tusch drawings. He sent them to Silkeborg Kunstmuseum, so that they could “disappear in their archive”. Dorte Kirkeby Andersen wanted to buy the series and got Kulturarvsstyrelsen interested. The series were bought and exhibited in Silkeborg Kunstmuseum in 2005.
Finding Edith Södergran
In 2003 Fazakerley was taken into the Rigshospital with heart problems. Some time after he happened to find a book of poems by Edith Södergran translated into English. As a young man in Liverpool he had read the poems of the Finnish/Swedish poet and the thought of illuminating her poems grew in him. He began to study her interest in the new way of thinking in Europe, in Nietzsche, and her life on the border between Finland and Russia, where war raged for years and burnt her home and everything she owned until her death from TB when she was 31. He saw Edith Södergran as an example of life in the 20th century. He started to paint episodes of her life and poems, all canvases of 100 x 150 cm, all different for a book. Some of them are published in “Billedkunst” 15. nr.1 may 2007.
Gordon was working on his “Project Edith Södergran”, when he got a letter from Tate Liverpool Museum inviting him to participate in the exhibition marking the 700 years of Liverpools foundation. As the only one left from the generation that was young in the 50’ties and 60’ties he was asked to write in the catalogue about the sparse life of the artist after the war period and to participate in the exhibition “The Centre of the Universe. Liverpool and the Avangarde” in 2007.
In the late summer 2007 Gordon Fazakerley got a pacemaker and did not want to travel any more. He stayed in his studio, except for the monthly lunch in BCCD with his English friends and the daily walk to the colour dealer in Strøget in Copenhagen. He read his daily Guardian, his many art books, listened to music and concentrated on his Södergran-project. He was convinced that the feminine element would save the world. And till the end in May 2011 he was engaged in the colours.