Frank’s exhibitions generate fevered and delirious atmospheres, flashing with mad, majestic pleasures and screeching with demonic hilarity so that even the ground seems to liquefy and heave beneath me. And with his now almost standard sized Perspex panels at two metres square (although they feel bigger than that when they pitilessly confront you), there’s nothing domestically scaled in his images, not even a human scaled foothold. You get lost across their fathomless span, but also you get locked into their rippling, shivering, feathered, luminescent magnetic fields. Consumed within fuming ectoplasmic veils. Swept along sinuous rills of gelatinous colour to be tangled in their cascades and avalanches of ignited pigment. Stung by DayGlo explosions of amoebic vapours that spit out spermatic filaments, like a sea wasp’s Medusan tentacles … It would be timid not to face up to these sensational demons.

The psychedelic miasma of Frank’s catastrophic world convulses into rivers of blood and flaming gravity waves, which can suddenly morph into a goonish, squirming, smiley face whose acrobatic features flex in a dreadful rictus but with the instinctual groping of an insect’s mandibles. Being confronted by these works is encountering a banshee in outer space. That’s how Frank’s work approaches me. As I try to write about its seductive magnitude, it pays me back with equal storm and stress. I may as well be precariously perched on a deck, pitching and heaving as massive waves swell ahead, scooping up the momentum of a seething ocean while sucking me into a muffled and sunken trough. If there’s the prospect of an obliterating shipwreck or of drowning, there’s also the rapture of inundation. This is the stage for an existential projection rather than a histrionic gesture, which prompts me to an even riskier figure of speech. I can’t help but compare this state of possession to the position of the ship’s captain (the ‘master’) in Stephane Mallarme’s radically inscrutable poem Un coup de des (A Throw of the Dice). The captain whose vessel – pictured by its more prosaic exegetical commentators – is about to be swallowed in a maelstrom and who responds with an equally unfathomable but ostentatious gesture: a throw of dice ... as if defiantly, perhaps resentfully, shaking his fist at the engulfing tempest. 

Okay, that may sound an oddly obscure if not pretentious comparison. But bear with me. Dale Frank’s art is tempestuous, and if we’re attuned to its agility we plunge and soar with its wave fronts of elegance and vulgarity. There’s no avoiding Frank’s pleasurably guilty taste for garish, scandalous, synthetic colour and the sort of slick, sleek tack and ostentation of disco psychedelics, the twinkling opulence of mirrored ballrooms or Comic-Con resorts, flamboyant hotel lobby decor and casino fantasias. But there’s little value in spotting allusions like these as if smiling at in-joke appropriations of kitsch, because much as he might indulge these trappings of decadent ornamentation, he deforms their gloss into twisted abstractions – engorged or etiolated, sprouting tumorous and tumescent fungal growths with seeping blisters, draped with threads of saliva or glutinous webs of rot, of slime, of uterine fluid, of caul. Those viscous monsoons and hemorrhages of opalescent varnish sway between phantasmic horror and rapture. But even when strokes and loops of greeting card glitter frivolously arc across pink or mauve panels in auroral calligraphy, they’re nonetheless drifting in an etheric treacle, a mystic molten looking glass where they flicker as if they were will-o-the-wisp incandescent shimmers signalling the advance of treacherous ghosts. There’s always a febrile and succulent corruption swimming within this atmosphere. 

In its oscillations between these poles of mayhem and mannerism, peril and finesse, ferocious comedy and visionary clairvoyance – automatistic, autistic – Frank’s art never ceases to put me in a state of crisis. Herman Melville’s errant narrator of Moby-Dick (1851), Ishmael, puts it this way: it is the stake for being enticed to ‘sail on forbidden seas, and land on barbarous shores.’ That’s exhilarating, even if it demands a wager - like the crisis of the besieged dice- thrower in Mallarme’s Un coup de des. Crisis puts me in the place of a critic, rather than that of curator or collector or connoisseur (all of whom, unlike a critic, arrive on the scene certain of their judgments and rewards). I’m spellbound on that ship careening into the maelstrom summoned by Frank’s fiercely enchanting daemon, by his unrepentant Prospero ... or by the prodigious silhouette of a great white whale looming on the horizon. And like an awestruck passenger on that doomed ship, I would finally find the words to say not in panic but as a fearless enticement: ‘Hell is empty / And all the devils are here.’ Dale Frank’s art opens the jaws of an abyss, to jubilantly let out its molten spectres. (‘But that is what everyone says ...’ adds Dale sardonically in the margin.)

– Edward Colless, ‘Call me Ishmael’, in ‘Dale Frank, Artist: Artworks 2006–2023’, 2024, p. 5-10

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