Frank Fidler, who will be a new name to many of you, decided that he wanted to become an artist while still at school. There he excelled at drawing and regularly topped his class in the subject. He was given no encouragement by his family and inevitably followed in his father’s footsteps and became a nurseryman.
The Early Years
Frank’s business, based in Hoddesdon Hertfordshire, expanded during the 1930s. He opened a greengrocer’s shop in Waltham Cross, followed by a second one a few years later. However, he began to paint seriously in 1947 when his work consisted largely of flower studies. These paintings were popular with those that saw them and he was able to sell them locally. Then in 1954, Frank sold his businesses and vowed to spend the rest of his life painting.
A Full Time Artist
He started out by making trips to the South of France where he would sketch and draw. However, the influence of Abstract Expressionism and action painting was spreading to this country and Frank Fidler became hooked. A chance meeting with Jackson Pollock in 1954 also had a lasting effect. This resulted in his work changing dramatically from being figurative to abstract yet still exploring his thoughts on nature. Frank saw “the coexistent beauty and brutality and stark inevitability of the growth-decay cycle in plant life as somehow even more terrifying than nature red in tooth and claw”.
Fidler became regarded as part of the Tachisme movement in Europe. He took part in his first major exhibition alongside other British artists in Moscow and the following year was included in the Paris exhibition “Towards the Future”. In October 1958, his first solo exhibition at the Drian Gallery near Marble Arch in London was well received. A review by the critic, H. J. Wilson, highlighting the “sense of progression …. always something fresh, exhilarating and vital, qualities which I am convinced will be apparent in Fidler’s work as long as he continues to paint.”
The London Scene
In the six years that followed, Frank had several other solo exhibitions at the Drian Gallery and became one of their top selling artists. The Drain “stable” at the time included the likes of John Bellany, William Crozier and Douglas Portway, so this was no mean feat. He exhibited at the Ben Uri Gallery and had a solo show in Denmark. He was made a Fellow of the Free Painters Group and was regarded as a significant name on the London art scene.
In the “FPG news” (The Free Painters Group Newsletter) of Spring 1963 there was an appraisal of the salient stages of Frank’s work, which included a personal statement, which went as follows: – “Fundamentally I am fully aware of the incessant struggle for existence in all living things. Not only in man and the other obviously predatory creatures but in vegetable growth too. The wonder of this cruel and ever-changing natural life is my fertile soil and the passionate will to paint, like a seed. The work seems to sprout and unfold like a living plant – never really complete. Even when a painting is physically finished the growth seems to continue, providing humus for seeds to come.”
Frank was never comfortable with London in the “Swinging Sixties” and he cut his ties with the capital around 1965. This unwittingly forfeited his rightful place in the history of Modern British Art. He did become interested in ceramics at this time and produced tiles as well as a few other functional items. Many of his tiles were accepted by the Council of Industrial Design and sold by the Design Centre London, as well as other stockists. A few of his individual unique tiles are shown in the slideshow below.
He also continued to paint and became an active member of the Harlow Playhouse Gallery. Through this he met and became friends with the sculptor, Henry Moore. Their friendship continued until Moore’s death in 1986 by which time Frank had abandoned abstraction. He didn’t stop working but began to record the countryside around his home in pastels, watercolour, and pencil. This he continued to do until his death in 1995 by which time he had become a largely forgotten.
The Harlequin Gallery
I first became aware of Frank Fidler in the early 1990s through the artists, Stephen Willats and Donald Wells. They had known Frank Fidler from his days exhibiting at the Drain Gallery. Willats had been a gallery assistant at the Drian before becoming the internationally acclaimed artist he is today and he was full of praise for Frank Fidler and his art. However, it wasn’t until just after Frank’s death in 1995 that I was able to obtain some of Frank’s work. The work didn’t disappoint and even today a painting and a coffee table with mosaic still adorn my home.
The Harlequin Gallery has always specialised in ceramics but from its concept it had shown other art on occasions too. I continued with this policy when I took over the gallery in 1999, as I always wanted to exhibit things that appealed to me. As a result I staged two “two person shows” featuring Frank’s work. Firstly, alongside Janet Leach pots in July 2004 and then 4 years later in conjunction with Gabriel Semphill’s ceramic sculpture.
Today some items of Frank’s work are available and can be found on the Post War British Art page.