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

PACE Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London


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

"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

‘A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense’ was “a portrait of Robert Fraser” by Brian Clarke in the form of an exhibition curated for and staged at the Royal Academy of Arts, with PACE Gallery. The exhibition was a tribute to the legendary Swinging Sixties art dealer and maverick, whose gallery was a hub of global cultural change in the 1960s until its enforced closure in ‘67. Fraser’s Duke Street gallery – which had been the first in Britain to showcase Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein – reshaped contemporary art a second time on reopening in 1983, introducing Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring to European audiences, and promoting Ellsworth Kelly and Clarke, whose solo exhibition of new paintings was the inaugural show at the premises, now on Cork Street. The 2015 exhibition and accompanying catalogue, published by HENI and PACE, were created in association with Harriet Vyner, author of ‘Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser’.

"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."

An edition of neon artworks was made by Brian for the show, with one displayed above the entrance to the Royal Academy, one inside, and another on the exterior. Rendered in pink neon, in these multiples Brian's handwriting spelling out the title (taken from the police report of the '67 drugs bust) of the exhibition, which ran concurrently with a solo show of Clarke's works from 1977–85 'as curated by Robert Fraser', also at the RA/Pace Gallery. The desk installation was a recreation of Fraser’s own desk from Duke Street, modelled on a photograph of his gallery taken by Ian MacMillan, and bringing together the same artworks and objects as in the original.

"Robert was very important to me, so I wanted to do a portrait of him. I regret not doing one. 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. This exhibition is finally my portrait of him.” – Brian, 2015.