A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense: A Portrait of Robert Fraser

Royal Academy, London


'A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense' press release by PACE Gallery

"Many know Robert Fraser from the iconic photograph that shows him handcuffed to Mick Jagger, in a police van, after a court hearing on drug charges. Reproduced by Richard Hamilton in Swinging London 67, the image has come to define a crucial period in Britain’s cultural history. Pop Art exploded. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles invented the concept of rock star. European youth finally broke free. Fraser was an instrumental figure of the era." – artnet News

Robert was very important to me, so I wanted to do a portrait of him. I regret not doing one. This exhibition is finally my portrait of him. All the works here were keys for me that unlocked doors leading from poetic prisons, and let me out into the fresh air. The choices represent memories to me of the madness and eclectic genius that was Robert. The selection is largely subjective—triggers of memories that remind me of his energy and personality.” – Brian, 2015.

A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense was ‘A Portrait of Robert Fraser’ by Brian in the form of an exhibition curated for and staged at the Royal Academy in collaboration with Harriet Vyner, author of Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser. The pink, neon artwork which was displayed above the entrance to the exhibition at the RA is in Brian's hand, spelling out the title of the exhibition, one of an edition of 3, executed for the exhibition.

"This exhibition, curated by Fraser’s friend, artist Brian Clarke, steers clear of academia and captures the flamboyant character of the art dealer, and the dynamism of his gallery programme. It’s more an intimate celebration than a formal revision that celebrates the career of Fraser as an art pioneer and revels in the London arts scene of the 1960s. Clarke’s selection of works in A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense represents the wide ranging influences and eclectic taste of a highly sophisticated aesthete. There are works that Fraser admired, that he owned, that were once on view at his iconic London gallery or passed through his hands or that reflect the cultural background in which the gallery flourished. The artists on view all once exhibited or had close personal relationships with Fraser. Hamilton immortalised his dealer in his Pop Art masterpiece Swingeing London 67, a screen print of a famous news image in which Fraser is handcuffed to Mick Jagger inside a police van, following their appearance in court on drugs charges. The title refers to the term Swinging London and mocks the judge’s decision on imposing what he literally called a swingeing penalty."